If you’re seeking creative ways to recognize student leaders at your school, “Celebrating Student Leaders,” a recent NatStuCo webinar, is for you. Held on March 15, panelists offered seven tips for establishing a culture where students are consistently celebrated for leadership. “We want it to become almost organic in a school, so that celebration occurs not just during one week but all the time,” says Amy Krueger, NHS adviser at Rockwood South Middle School in Fenton, MO. “We are creating an atmosphere where students can excel.”
Besides Krueger, panelists included Shari Benites, NHS adviser at Yorktown High School in Arlington, VA; Laurie Birkenmeier, principal of Rockwood South Middle School in Fenton, MO; and Cassandra Suggs, principal of Wildwood Middle School in Wildwood, MO.
1. Give weekly or monthly character awards. Clearly define criteria and who can nominate whom. Rockwood South Middle School allows students to nominate other students and teachers to nominate students. Publish the winners wherever is appropriate: on your school website, in the local media, and through social media. Consider giving students a certificate or sending a letter home to their families describing their contributions.
2. Have kids write inspirational messages to boost mental health. Allow them to read these messages during schoolwide announcements.
3. Pair student leaders with children with disabilities. At Rockwood South, NJHS students partner with students in the Best Buddies organization, and the student leaders plan fun activities for the group to do together.
4. Empower student leaders by allowing them to create their own service projects. At Rockwood South, students came up with the idea of creating a garden, and a teacher helped them apply for a grant to make it happen.
5. Create leadership roles with related responsibilities that can occur during the school day. Not all students are available after school. For example, at Yorktown High School, Club Café is an activity where student leaders work with students who have speech disabilities. They have social conversations over the lunch hour.
6. Recognize unlikely student leaders. At Yorktown High, Benites tries to identify and leverage leadership potential in her students even if they don’t see it in themselves. For example, she says, some students have leadership ability, but they need to be shown how to use it.
7. Establish a Kindness Club. This allows students to recognize character in other students. At Wildwood Middle School, the Kindness Club purchased candygrams on Valentine’s Day for every child in the school and wrote thank you letters to members of the local board of education.