As is the case with many opportunities, our thinking about student council at the American Embassy Middle School began with a problem.
It was about a week before school, four years ago, and faculty were signing up for extra curricular activities. In talking with the teachers about their interests, leading student council was avoided like 3rd class on a non-AC August Indian train. A lack of desire to lead our leaders left us questioning what’s happening with our “leadership” model? Forced to look critically at our “student council” model, we started to see some flaws. From the teacher perspective, this position was an enormous year-long commitment. From a student perspective, SC was more about popularity then leadership potential. Students who weren’t elected came away from the process with the perception that because they hadn’t been elected to a leadership position by their peers, they didn’t have the potential to be leaders at school. Additionally, students who were elected felt SC was a huge commitment that overloaded their schedules and forced them to make difficult choices.
If your school is like most schools, then each year your student body elects a small group of students as “the leaders.” How many students are selected for these positions? Is it the typical 3-5%? What if we shared that with our change we increased the opportunity upwards from 50%? In an effort to create leadership opportunities for many students, to enable more students to have a voice in decision-making to serve the school, and to relieve pressure on staff and students, AES stepped away from the traditional model and created our own model.
What does this model include and how is it better? Our goal was to create a program that promotes leadership qualities in all students in our school community and encourages all students to think of themselves as leaders. We were also looking at a way to facilitate shared leadership on the part of the teachers. We divided our model into three ongoing opportunities. The first opportunity utilizes our advisory program. Each month advisories select a different representative to participate in a leadership round table. Held at lunch, students from across grade levels address concerns and make decisions about topics relevant to the students and middle school. This is reported out at a weekly all school assembly. A second leadership opportunity all students have is to participate in specific steering committees based on the student’s interests. Some of our current committees include a student activities committee, a technology committee, a school climate committee, and an after school activities committee. Finally, we took a look at what we could do to support students in developing their understanding and thinking about leadership. Once a quarter, all students are invited to a Saturday leadership seminar that focuses on learning and practicing specific leadership qualities. These half day sessions are led by interested teachers, counselors and administrators, and are well attended throughout the year.
As you think about the new school year ahead, stop for a moment to consider who the student leaders are at your school. How were they chosen, and after the election, what happened to those who were not elected? Educating youth today is about more than a solid curricular foundation; it also includes guiding our students to be the leaders of tomorrow. As we think ahead toward a world that is vastly unpredictable, 21st century skills like collaboration and critical thinking will be essential. Are you utilizing a leadership model that promotes outside-the-classroom opportunities for all students at your school? Colleen Coady, AES Middle School Counselor, and Beth Coyle, AES MS Principal, will be presenting more about this topic at the AMLE Conference in Minneapolis in November.