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5 Tips for Empowering Student Leaders

From a young age, children learn about leadership by watching the people around them. By observing how others respond to criticism, confront failure, and communicate to large groups, children begin to develop their own habits and thought processes.

Through social and emotional learning, educators and parents can encourage students to begin analyzing their habits and behaviors to create long-term leadership goals.

“As we focus on self-awareness and self-management, students are encouraged to think about their own goals. Leadership development is an important part of that process,” said Diana Davis, MHS Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum Supervisor. “We want students to understand they all have the capability of being leaders, no matter what their age or involvement in campus activities.”

To gain leadership experience at a young age, 10 percent of Milton Hershey School’s elementary student population participates in Student Government Association.

As students gain responsibility and enthusiasm about being a leader, it’s important to help them develop specific leadership qualities, including:

These are specific student leadership characteristics: Accountability, Responsibility, Self-knowledge, Courage, Ability to lead through words and actions, Positivity (even when faced with adversity), Decision-making skills, Risk-taking abilities, Critical and creative problem-solving, Ability to accept constructive criticism, Community consciousness, Ability to inspire others, Consistent perseverance and dedication

Through cooperative learning activities, conferences, kindness challenges, and service learning projects, educators can build on these skills and empower students of all ages to embrace leadership and serve as positive role models for their peers.

Take a look at five ideas for empowering student leaders:

1. Develop self-advocacy through proposal writing

At MHS, proposal writing starts as early as elementary school. Adults on campus work with students to help them research, write, organize, and present proposals that advocate for specific student requests such as winter socials and dress codes.

“Writing proposals and self-advocating for themselves in front of adults has been really good for students who are going through difficult times or want something different in the scholastic realm,” said Michelle Weber, student government association coordinator at MHS.

At the high school level, proposal writing can be taken a step further. Selected students can meet with school administration monthly to discuss submitted proposals and reach mutual decisions. As student leaders, they also organize open forums to teach other students how to write proposals.

MHS student writing in journal

2. Plan leadership conferences

To create a passionate group of student leaders across campus, MHS hosts leadership conferences multiple times throughout the year for elementary, middle, and high school students. More than 200 high schoolers attended this year’s leadership conference where they listened to empowering speeches from local business professionals and alumni.

In addition to gaining knowledge, peer-to-peer interaction is one of the most important parts of student leadership conferences. Encourage high school students to organize and lead conferences for younger students—this gives them experience planning events and sharing their knowledge with peers.

MHS student leadership conference

3. Give students real responsibility

At the elementary and middle school level, adult-like responsibility is exciting and empowering for students. Ask students to read the morning announcements, serve as campus tour guides, volunteer to have lunch with new students, or complete tasks in the school office. At the high school level, consider giving students larger responsibilities such as planning basketball tournaments for younger students or helping at career fairs.

“Leadership opportunities benefit students because they are able to step up and take charge in a leadership role,” said Katie Peters, a middle school student program leader at MHS. “This also gives them the courage to lead others through their words and, most importantly, their actions.”

When students are given responsibility combined with the belief that they can succeed, they have everything they need to meet and exceed expectations.

Middle school student serving as student leader

4. Organize mentorship programs for all grade levels

One of the best ways to empower student leaders is by connecting them with role models who will guide them and give them a voice. MHS mentoring programs begin in August and continue throughout the school year—more than 250 high school students signed up to be paired with a staff member this school year.

When mentors display important leadership traits such as respect and compassion, it shapes how students approach their own style of leadership and gives them an adult they can trust.

Video Poster

5. Provide community service opportunities

Community-oriented projects allow students to come together and work toward collective goals. Through elementary food drives and middle and high school Mini-THONs, students learn that the world is bigger than themselves—and begin to take action on how they can make their mark on the community.

“We work very hard to help students realize they are capable of seeing what can be better and acting to make changes in their world,” said Juli Gerard, an elementary student government association advisor at MHS. “Hopefully, we can teach kids that they are an active and necessary part of MHS.”

Educators also can incentivize students by how much they give back through community service hours instead of focusing solely on fundraising. This helps empower students to form strong connections with specific charities and organizations throughout the school year.

Student at MHS Mini-THON

How are you empowering students to serve as leaders throughout your school community? Share your ideas with us on Twitter!

Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.