A basic goal of middle level student councils should be to empower young student leaders to become the driving force in shaping the activities and culture of a developmentally responsive student organization. Reaching that goal means that student councils, like any academic curriculum, must introduce and foster essential skills necessary for students to be successful. For many students, their council experience during the middle grade years will be their first foray into student leadership. Having a qualified adviser who can deliver the proper guidance and instruction over the course of their student council experience will lay the foundation for their leadership journey.

Middle level council advisers have a unique and rewarding professional opportunity to provide content and experiences beyond the traditional classroom and in ways that are exploratory and highly engaging. To their student leaders, advisers are teachers, mentors, role models, counselors, and confidants, and in many instances the ever so important “caring adult” cited in relationship mapping research as a key factor in student mental health and wellness and overall success. As Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, states:

“There may be nothing more important in a child’s life than a positive and stable relationship with a caring adult. For students, a positive connection to at least one school adult—whether a teacher, counselor, sports coach, or other school staff member—can have tremendous benefits that include reduced bullying, lower drop-out rates, and improved social-emotional capacities.”

Delaney Bon, far left, student council adviser at Western Branch Middle School in Chesapeake, VA, a 2023 National Council of Excellence.

In working with student councils, advisers are quickly challenged to develop the skills to recognize when to step in and when to step back, to facilitate rather than teach. They must be able to balance personal, professional, and leadership responsibilities. They must be advocates of student leadership as a practicum for student learning and growth. Advisers understand that early adolescents have basic social, emotional, physical, and psychological needs that directly impact student performance in both their academic and student council roles. When such needs are met, the odds of student success in multiple arenas from academics to extracurricular activities to healthy friendships vastly improve.

To ensure student success, advisers and principals must collaborate to formulate a shared vision for their middle level council and its members. As an example, I offer the vision I held as an adviser for the student council at my former middle school. It was centered on being age-appropriate, exploratory in nature, and accessible to all students. I articulated this vision with the following statements:

  1. Our student council leads with purpose, is responsive to the changing needs of our student body and reflects the values and mission of our school.
  2. Our student council upholds its purpose by removing physical, psychological, emotional, social, and economic barriers that serve to isolate and separate individual students and groups.
  3. Our student council members create opportunities and activities that are varied and accessible so as to increase student participation.
  4. Our student council teaches students to serve others and become ongoing participants in school life.

Advisers, as this school year enters its final leg, take stock of your council and where you are in your adviser journey. If you haven’t yet written down the vision you have for your middle level leaders and their council, take the time to do so now and then share it with your principal. And always remember that your ability to wear the many hats of a middle level adviser is what makes you a special, successful, and caring adult to your student leaders.

For more on National Student Council, visit natstuco.org/.

About the Author

Jeff R. Sherrill is the senior program manager for Leading & Learning at NASSP. Previously, he was a classroom educator and student council adviser for 13 years at Newton-Conover Middle School in Conover, NC.

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