As we begin to start this school year, through the myriad of things leaders must grapple with, we cannot lose sight of the most important things. That is empowering our students and providing them with opportunities for leadership in our schools. Below are the 10 Ways our school community works on this important aspect. I hope by sharing, it provides some reflective practices for you that perhaps you can tweak in your school or implement to help your students. By empowering our students and giving them leadership – we place students at the heart of our school and truly transform it to a student-centered school.
10 Ways to Empower Students and Provide Leadership Opportunities
- Get to know your students – Yes, this sounds simple – and it is! But taking the time to getting to know your students by name and knowing their passions (and challenges), this helps them to feel valued and connected to your school. This is for teachers and administrators. For example, in the hallways, do not just say “hi”, say “Hi Sophia” – use their names and be sincere with your interactions as that will help students feel a connection to staff and the school itself.
2. Tap into their passion – By knowing your students, think about how you can tap into their passions within your school community that allows them to lead. For example, this past year I had the pleasure of getting to know students that were super talented with making videos (filming-editing-final product). Therefore, I enlisted their help on several occasions. This included filming different students in our front office about how “the classroom experience is motivating to them”. We interviewed and filmed enough students so that each teacher was represented and mentioned in the videos. We then showed the entire staff this video for professional development – very powerful for staff to see how their efforts are appreciated by students and valued. These students also made videos of our assemblies and our traditions that we then put on our school website that helped to promote our brand!
- Get their Feedback – We try to visit with our students twice each quarter thru what we call “Feedback Loops”. We do this during student lunches and invite students to join us. We ask questions ranging from academic challenges, to if they feel supported and valued and what suggestions they have. Their input is so valuable and real – truly from their hearts. This has allowed us to make significant improvements in many areas.
- Listen to their needs and see trends over time – Changing our learning experiences to focus on things that can be hard to measure (ex. collaboration, communication, empathy) means we had to find a way to ask questions that allow us over time to see trends. The feedback discussions are awesome and very real. However, they do not involve all students. Therefore, to make sure we hear from all students we have developed a set of questions that we have all students respond to and we use these similar questions for many years so we can see trends in data over time. We typically do this 1-2 times each year to gather data and feedback. This is powerful as the trends in data can help inform us on so many deeper levels.
- Peer Mentors –We have developed an opportunity for students to be peer mentors and directly work with other students that have needs that need support. These mentors take this as an elective class or do this during their Advisory time. For so many mentors, this is the highlight of their day where they find value and success. This makes school relevant for them and it is heartwarming to watch how they succeed when they help others. Kindness at its best!
- Ambassadors – An area we learned from our students, they felt we could improve in how we welcome in our new 6th Yes, we have an orientation day where the 6th grade goes through their schedule but our students said they wanted more time to get to know each other (since they come to us from several elementary schools). Therefore, we formed our Eagle Ambassadors who are students in 7th and 8th grades that apply for this opportunity. We have started an Eagle Camp where the student Eagle Ambassadors lead the 6th graders through “get to know you” activities, Q/A sessions about middle school, and foster kindness and positivity. Huge success in terms of helping 6th graders feel more comfortable and the Eagle Ambassadors feeling like they are shaping our school.
- Student led parent teacher conferences – The thought of having parent teacher conferences and involving the student in the conference is powerful! We all are here for students so why should we not have them there so they can be the lead in that conversation! When students see/feel as if they are part of their education and not just that it is being done to them is powerful – true investment.
- Student Showcase – As principal, I have 3-4 “Coffee with the Principals” each year where during the school day I meet with our parent community and discuss different aspects related to our school. We have started having our students (10-15 kids) actually demonstrate their classroom learning experience so parents see their presentations and products so the parents better understand student centered instruction and why the skills are so important. Our kids are great at explaining why they do the things they do. We pick random 10-15 kids and not the Eagle Ambassadors so more kids have chance to lead.
- Student Voice/Choice – Within our student-centered instruction, our teachers have done a great job of incorporating “student choice/voice” into the lessons at appropriate times. This includes instead of just giving kids a test to measure learning, they give kids 3-4 options of demonstrating their learning (ex. video, skit, drawing, presentation) that is more relevant for kids and gets to their areas of interest.
- Recognizing the Human Element – As we are all aware, societal and work force needs are changing due to computers and AI. Students must have the essential skills and the human element such as being able to be empathetic towards others, be able to be adaptable/flexible, responsible, kind, respectful, and resilient and committed. These are all essential for our students. We have established our Eagles of Excellence recognition program where once each month we recognize 3 kids from each grade level that demonstrate a specific attribute like empathy. The teachers choose them, administrators congratulate them and we take their picture and put in our main hall, include their names in our e-newsletter to parent community and announce to the student body. We felt as a school if we truly cared about these non-academic skills, then we must teach them in our classes and celebrate them with our school community.
I look forward to hearing from you about the ways you empower students and provide leadership opportunities. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org