School-Based Student-Leadership Programs: An Overview

Vol. 14 No. 8

heads eletter Vol14 No8 student leaders

As one school year winds down to a close, the next looms only a few months away. That means it’s the perfect time to consider additions to your school’s programming that, come fall, can provide additional opportunities for your students to demonstrate leadership within the context of your school’s mission and priorities.

Student leadership programs can take a variety of forms, including:

  • Student-run conferences and community gatherings;
  • Internal student-led adjudication (like Student Councils) and mediation (i.e., peer-to-peer mediation for inter-student conflicts);
  • Student mentorship opportunities (e.g., a “Big Brothers Big Sisters”-esque program within the school); and
  • Specialized leadership training to encourage students to lead in everyday situations, in addition to “special event” type leadership opportunities.

At its core, student-leadership programs are about recognizing students’ ability to serve their communities in a greater capacity, which means giving these student leaders genuine leadership opportunities and not just “lip service” privileges, like reading the daily announcements over an intercom or recognition for academic achievement.

The students suitable for these programs want to “make a difference” to their communities. Offering them anything less than true impact makes your program unappealing to any participants but those seeking to bolster their extracurricular achievements on their college applications.

Therefore, when establishing a student-leadership program, you must consider:

  • How students will be selected or invited to participate within the program;
  • What kinds of duties and responsibilities are both mission-appropriate and suitable to surrender to student leadership;
  • Who would provide the adult wisdom and support these students need as they learn to become leaders within their community; and
  • How these student-leaders would be trained to have the skills necessary to complete these new responsibilities.

These elements may require inviting outside consultants and student-leader experts to campus, to teach your students basic leadership qualities—like the importance of teamwork, self-sacrifice, authority, and trust. These external trainers can also train the students’ advisors how to nurture the students’ growth as leaders without burdening them with more responsibility than they should handle.

Finally, remember to mold your students’ experiences to center around mission-appropriate duties and responsibilities. If your school emphasizes “civic leadership” as part of its mission, then establishing a student leadership program devoted to community service and greater voting participation might be an excellent choice. If part of your school’s mission is to teach students to resolve conflicts peaceably, starting a student-run mediation program might be the most mission-appropriate student-leadership initiative.

Even in schools designed to attract the exceptional, there will always be a small cohort of students eager to receive additional instruction in leadership—and anxious to prove themselves in small but impactful ways. Providing guidance to—and having faith in—these shining stars helps your school community grow in beautiful and unexpected ways.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Division Heads Vol. 9 No. 1 Your Advisory Program and Student-Led Conferences Are a Natural Fit
The Source for Division Heads Vol. 8 No. 5 Connect Students to Evaluation With Student-Led Conferences

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 31 No. 13 Faculty Evaluation, Student Performance, and School Leadership: An Update
I&P Vol. 38 No. 13 Teaching as Leadership: ISM Research

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