Here in Washington state, we have what I think is a unique—and powerful—relationship between the Association of Washington Student Leaders (where I serve as director) and the Association of Washington School Principals. The best way to put it is that we work in tandem: The principals’ association supports principals on down and we support students on up, and we meet in a really cool place in the middle.

There’s so much crossover between what our principals’ group does and what we do. We share a common language and values that collectively help us support school leaders (principals and students) throughout the school system.

Our most powerful collaboration has centered around a leadership framework that the principals’ association created for principals throughout the state. It includes elements like creating a positive culture, ensuring school safety, managing resources, and engaging families in the school community. We teach students the exact same concepts because we believe students and principals share the same goals and can do some of the same work together. I like to joke that students just don’t get the sweet paycheck and all the emails.

I’ve worked with schools where the relationship between the student leaders and the school leaders has not always been very strong. By contrast, when we share the framework and get both groups aligned, speaking a common language, and sharing a common vision, that has helped us create a strong sense of connectedness.

Another thing we’ve done in conjunction with the principals’ association is put together professional development workshops for principals that our students lead. During the height of the pandemic, we had four sessions that were all student-run and student-driven. Principals attended these sessions to listen to our students because they thought it was important to hear what they had to say and help students grow as leaders. All that came together because both organizations believe student voice is important.

We’ve also had many principals attend our summer camps for student leaders. They get to spend a week with the students, where they come together to network and collaborate on school issues and share success stories and other experiences. They really serve as mentors for our students. It’s always cool when you can get students and adults connecting, but it’s also a way to grow our future pipeline of educators and principals in the state.

Even though most of our members are traditional school leaders, including elected student government leaders and NHS members, we’ve tried to get away from that narrow focus. Many of our students aren’t elected to anything but they might lead some part of the school community, like band, DECA or FFA. Or it could be a student who has leadership skills that we can help develop. Every year, it becomes less and less a specific subgroup of students and more and more diverse, attracting students who want to lead and help the world be a better place.

Visit to learn more about NASSP’s student programs.

About the Author

James Layman is the director of the Association of Washington Student Leaders. Follow him on Twitter (@jlay28).

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