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Beyond Student Council: On Inclusive and Servant Leadership

By Beth Coyle and Colleen Coady

01/07/2014

As is the case with many opportunities, our thinking about student council at the American Embassy School (AES) of New Delhi’s 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 third class on a non-AC’d, August Indian train. A lack of desire to lead our leaders left us questioning our “leadership” model.

Forced to look critically at our “student council” (SC) model, we started to see some flaws. From the teacher perspective, this position was an enormous, yearlong commitment. From a student perspective, SC was more about popularity than leadership potential. Students who were not elected came away from the process with the perception that because their peers had not elected them to a leadership position, they did not have the potential to be leaders at school. Additionally, those 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 three to five percent? What if we shared that with our change we increased the opportunity upwards of 50 percent?

In an effort to create leadership opportunities for many students, to enable more students to have a voice in decision-making, and to relieve pressure on staff and students, AES stepped away from the traditional model and created its 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 the middle school as a whole. 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 interest. 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 your school year moves 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? 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?




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01/09/2014 - ASIJ adv leadership teacher
I am so impressed by the example AES is setting by fostering and supporting authentic student leadership! I have been teaching a semester long course called Adventure Leadership to middle school students for 5 years and see tremendous growth in understanding leadership in all it's forms. It would be great if our students could share and learn together virtually!

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