It is exciting times to be involved in student leadership training!
Many schools around the workld are beginning to rethink both the way they train their student leaders and also how they harness the tremendous leadership potential of their students.
Recently, I have been involved in two very innovative training programs that are worth noting.
First, a secondary school and four of its feeder schools conducted a training program together over two days at the end of 2004 for one hundred of their student leaders. The program focused on developing essential elements such as presentations skills and teamwork skills, as well as helping students clarify their roles. Classroom teachers conducted the sessions and the local secondary school was used as a base. A further training day took place at the start of the year to give the students an opportunity to develop their roles even further.
This training model has a number of benefits. Not only does it provide terrific professional development opportunities for teachers, but also it helps ease the transition to secondary school for many students.
Another good training program was organised by the Heads of Independent Coeducational Schools in Australia. Over two hundred and twenty elected student leaders gathered for a day of leadership workshops conducted by their teachers. Working in groups the students had the opportunity to expand their horizons when they mixed with leaders from over twenty different schools. As well as honing their skills needed for their particular roles this group began to look at ways to take their leadership to another level by developing self-initiated projects.
The use of self-initiated projects is a great way to develop the leadership potential of motivated, community-minded students, which fits the profile of the majority of student leaders.
Some examples of self-initiated projects that some primary schools have developed:
1. A student-lead fund-raiser for the Tsunami disaster.
2. An awareness-raising debate about the environmental effects of pine trees following storms that resulted in many houses damaged by falling pine trees.
3. A monthly Tea, Tots n Talk session to enable parents of toddlers to meet and discuss parenting issues. Child minding and refreshments were organised by the leadership team.
4. A High Fly Club established where students organise a range of speakers to visit the school and speak to students during lunchtime.
Such projects require supervision and a level of teacher assistance if they are to be conducted well, however the feedback I am getting from schools is that students are proving themselves to be extremely capable project and people managers when given the chance.
For schools looking to extend the activities of their student leaders beyond simply fulfilling their roles, by taking on extra projects, the following tips may be useful:
1. Form a leadership team. It is essential for student leaders see themselves as part of a team rather than as just a house captain or SRC representative.
2. Challenge them to devise a project with a set timeframe. The best projects come from the students themselves however they may need some ideas.
3. Alternatively, they can conduct a series of smaller projects in small teams. Some schools find breaking the leadership group into smaller teams is far more manageable.
4. Brainstorm activities then make up an action plan for students to follow. A sequenced action plan is essential to help them carry out the activities necessary to get their project happening.
5. Evaluate the effectiveness during the project and at the conclusion. Asking "what is working?" and "what do we need to improve upon?" are important questions for any project manager.
As schools look for new ways to develop student leadership potential the use of self-initiated projects is one way to make learning come alive for this capable, self-motivated cohort.