Unlocking Every Student’s Potential to Lead

Student councils give kids the opportunity to unlock their leadership potential and effect positive change in their schools and communities.

Student councils give kids the opportunity to unlock their leadership potential and effect positive change in their schools and communities.

There have been dynamic shifts in our schools in the last decade, as we work to educate the whole child. Calls for deep learning, 21st century skills, and the integration of social-emotional learning have become mainstays. The scaffolding of process competencies from a base of content knowledge is now common practice across curriculum standards. Educators seek out authentic learning opportunities, such as project-based learning, to help students to gain deeper knowledge and transferable skills. Student leadership development is woven throughout all these initiatives, but it’s not always fully explored for our youngest learners. Students need time and opportunities to build these skills in authentic ways.

Unlocking Kids’ Potential

In his book When Kids Lead, Todd Nesloney challenges us to examine a broader conception of what leadership entails, as it “manifests itself on many levels.” He asserts that all children have the potential to be leaders and adults have the responsibility to teach the skills and provide the platforms to unlock this potential in every child. Nesloney’s book has two goals: “to build awareness of the numerous possibilities that exist for students to exercise leadership within schools and to explain how to train students to capitalize on these opportunities.” He provides practical methods for doing both to empower kids.

President Joe Biden recently received a letter from a fourth grader named Izzie, who dreams of becoming the first female president. Biden shared the letter on his Instagram account, encouraging Izzie to pursue her dream and noted that student council is a great place to start.

We couldn’t agree more.

Elementary student councils are often the first opportunity for our youngest emerging leaders to experience a governing body, participate in elections, and take an active role in planning school activities. But they also provide valuable experiences for students to develop confidence, use one’s voice effectively, factor in another’s perspective, and collaborate to solve challenges. Student councils help students authentically learn to serve, motivate others, inspire trust, and take on or give up responsibilities.

Modeling Leadership

Think about the student council members in your school. The 6th grader who spearheaded the cleanup of a nearby park, becoming civically engaged. The 3rd grade representatives who went classroom to classroom collecting donated pet supplies for the local animal shelter, collaborating with their peers. The 4th graders who designed and hung posters for spirit week, motivating others to participate. The 5th grade student council officers who so movingly paid tribute to the honored guests during your Veterans Day assembly, recognizing the responsibilities of citizenship.

Your student leaders have dedicated themselves to service, leadership, citizenship, and school spirit. They have led by example and their efforts have made a difference in your school, your community, and the world.

Celebrating Successes

We invite you to recognize these young leaders during National Student Leadership Week April 24-30 and show them their contributions are valued and appreciated.

Here are some ways to celebrate your student leaders:

  • Morning announcements: Dedicate time each morning to discuss qualities of leadership and feature one or more of your student leaders each day.
  • Leadership breakfast: Invite local leaders to speak to your student leaders about their roles in the community.
  • Leadership gallery: Spotlight your student leaders with a portrait and profile in your halls.
  • Everyone is a leader: Dedicate instructional time to read aloud and reflections on civic responsibility and traits of leadership. Invite student leaders into classrooms to join these lessons.
  • Service project: Commemorate the week with a service project. Visit the ASCA Project Planning Database for ideas.
  • Student shadowing: Pair your student leaders with school leaders to shadow for the day.
  • Schoolwide assembly: End the week and inspire all students with an assembly to award your leaders with certificates and pins as recognition for their dedication. Shop the ASCA Student Council Store for items.

Join ASCA, NAESP, and NASSP in celebrating these student changemakers during National Student Leadership Week and help build the next generation of leaders

Susan Doherty is coordinator, NAESP Member Awards and Student Programs