California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Student leadership

In a distributed leadership system, adults find ways to include students in decision making. Effective middle schools use a wide variety of strategies to help students develop leadership skills and feel ownership for the success of the school community:

  1. Student council or associated student body membership
  2. Class (grade level) leadership
  3. Classroom leadership
  4. Team leadership (see Recommendation 5 — Relationships, Small Learning Communities)
  5. School site council membership (Education Code Section 33133[c] states that “in addition to the composition set forth in section 52012, a school site council at the middle school level may, but is not required to, include pupil representation.”
  6. Suggestion boxes or regular meetings with the principal that are open by grade/class or team
  7. Participation on planning teams for school events such as:
    • Lunch events
    • Assemblies
    • Spirit days
    • Multicultural events
    • Parent nights
    • Transition events for elementary students moving to the middle grade
  1. Debate teams
  2. Club leadership (credentialed teachers must be present in any clubs that are run by students)
  3. Sports leadership
  4. Training as peer helpers (see the Healthy Kids publication Resilience & Youth Development Module, page 49).
  5. Training as peer mediators (also on page 49 of the Resilience & Youth Development Module).
  6. Visitor relations (trained to greet guests on campus, including incoming students from elementary school)
  7. New member helpers (trained to guide new students around campus)
  8. Buddies (trained to help special education students at lunch)
  9. Planning team members for science fairs or other competitions

In the Spotlight

Toby Johnson Middle School, Elk Grove Unified School District, a 2006 Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage Model School
To foster student leadership, teachers encourage seventh graders to apply for the eighth-grade student leadership elective. Toby Johnson offers the leadership course as a one- or two-semester class so that students can fit other electives if needed. During the class (which serves as the school’s Associated Student Body), students plan and implement campus events and learn to serve as hosts for visitors to the Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage campus. For example, when Superintendent Jack O’Connell visited Toby Johnson to release the California Department of Education's (CDE) 12 Recommendations for Middle Grades Success, members of the leadership team welcomed all guests and served as guides for dignitaries who wanted a tour of the campus. Students in the class study leadership skills and team processes. The principal explained that the faculty established student leadership as an elective class rather than staging class elections so that a wide range of students would be able to participate. . .

Students in the class wear a T-shirt that quotes Jim Collins from Good to Great:

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”

It is critical to find ways to involve struggling students who are natural leaders but who may not feel engaged in the school community. In addition, some students may not exhibit “natural leadership” potential, but they can develop leadership skills when school staff members offer opportunities through leadership classes and mentoring from adults. By recognizing these students for their natural leadership capability and finding a positive outlet for their talent, middle school leaders can reconnect potential dropouts and use them to reconnect their followers.

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