Two years ago, I accepted an opportunity to support 14 girl-identified youth who wanted to address sexual harassment in our school community and provide a safe space for their peers to learn, grow and excel in leadership, communication and self-empowerment. An exciting endeavor, but (*gulp*) what large goals. How would I support my enthusiastic students’ objectives while providing a successful model to help them grow as leaders in organization, initiation, delegation, communication, creativity, and collaboration? Answer: structure the group like a non-profit Board of Directors, and implement in baby steps.
Prior to my work in school heath, I was a project manager for non-profits that funded and provided community health services and medical research. There is a standard structure and expectations for most non-profit Board of Directors and its committees. This structure is successful for thousands of non-profits, so it should work well for students learning how to lead…right?
Year one was a pilot for the group with the expectation that students would learn from their experiences, however impactful they may (or may not) be. Students selected two goals: 1) host a Monthly Lecture Series open to girl-identified youth in their school community to address issues faced by young womxn, and 2) coordinate a school-wide photo poster campaign to denounce sexual harassment. Students met 2x/month to plan their initiatives and meetings were structured with an agenda and minutes.
By year two, students were eager to expand efforts and further develop their leadership. It was time I fully deploy the Board of Directors model. With student voice at the forefront, they established an overarching steering committee of group leaders and goals, and formed 5 subcommittees that established objectives and managed newly recruited members.
What an increase in confidence I had the honor to observe in these young leaders in just a few months of their new operating model! They initiated and organized monthly meetings, composed agendas and minutes, collaboratively developed goals, delegated individual responsibilities, and communicated progress to the broader group.
Some highlights of the group’s accomplishments include:
- 2 school-wide photo poster campaigns to denounce sexual harassment with more than 200 student and faculty participants.
- 12 Know Your Title IX Rights posters designed and printed in English and Spanish hung in all school restrooms.
- Developed and presented a workshop on consent to a community-based program for students 18-22 with disabilities.
- Hosted monthly workshops in partnership with non-profits to address self-defense, consent, healthy relationships, media literacy, and bystander intervention.
My advice for educators to empower student leaders:
- Student voice and choice come first and actions are student-led.
- Limit goals and objectives to be manageable to increase the probability of success.
- Be present, supportive and patient while promoting student autonomy. At the request of students, I was present for meetings about 60% of the time. Remember, it takes time to model and guide students through something new.
- Encourage students to hold one another accountable.
- Be their biggest motivator! Recognize and celebrate achievements, but also acknowledge growth and contributions when things don’t turn out as expected.
- Have fun and practice gratitude. What a privilege to support the growth of tomorrow’s leaders.
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