Empowering Students and School Improvement
By Heather Denton | Principal—Pacific Union College Preparatory School
A s educators and school leaders, we continually look for ways to improve our schools to help our students reach their full potential. We look to experts and colleagues for advice, reading articles and books for valuable tidbits of wisdom, or browsing school websites for sample action plans. Yet often in our looking, we forget to tap into the most valuable, expert resource, and they are right in front of us: our students!
Empowering students to partner in school improvement is the single most important step a school can take in creating a culture of growth. So, what does partnering with students look like? How do we open paths for students to actively participate in improving their school?
Ask the question. How often do we ask students what is working for them and what is not? How often do we engage them in solving problems such as increasing class engagement or improving learning spaces? As school leaders, we often utilize surveys to ask students our questions because of its value in gauging student perceptions about the school program quickly. But it's also important to consider other ways to gather information, especially active ways for students to share their ideas. Use large post-it notes for gallery walks in which students can engage with one another's ideas for school improvement, gather ideas about plans for vespers and week of prayer, or how to decorate spaces for learning. Reframe being sent to the principal's office to include problem-solving concerns or discovering the student body's needs. By considering various ways to ask questions, school leaders have a clearer picture of the whole student body.
Listen and respond! What do we do with our students' concerns and ideas? We need to show students we listen by actively incorporating their suggestions, putting their concerns or ideas on our faculty and board agendas, and even devoting whole school assemblies for students to problem-solve. Five years ago, my students voiced feelings of loneliness and a general sense of being disconnected from their classmates. Clearly, we had a problem. So, in classes, students brainstormed ways in which we could foster more connectedness at school. All ideas were gathered, put on large posters for a whole school assembly where students could see their ideas and vote (with stickers) for their top five. The school posted the top ten in the lobby, and we began making plans using the student-identified solutions.
Create opportunities to lead. Student voice does not end after the survey, gallery walk, or talk with the principal; in fact, this is just the beginning. Student voice also includes being a part of the solution. Invite students to be leaders and partner with you in evaluating surveys, identifying needs, and creating solutions. Empowering students by giving them opportunities to participate on leadership teams, creating Student Senate proposals for change, or providing for student choice and leading in the year's spiritual theme further lets students know that their voice matters.
Beyond school improvement, involving students will prepare them better for their future. They recognize the value of their voice and the choice to be engaged. They utilize their curiosity and imagination to solve problems. In short, empowering students reminds them that we believe in them, and not just who they will be, but who they are now...and that if they can make their school a better place, they can make the world a better place too.
Student Government and Organizations NAD Principals’ Handbook Excerpt
Effective schools have a well-organized, active form of student government that seeks to develop student leaders. Student government exists to serve the needs and interests of all students consistent with the school’s mission, goals, and objectives. The principal should work in close collaboration with the student leaders and provide them a voice in the decision-making process of the school. Given the importance of student governance to the success of a school, the principal should take extraordinary care in choosing the sponsors of student government.
In cooperation with the school board, faculty, and staff, the principal should seek to initiate, facilitate, and support a variety of student organizations on campus. The nature and number of organizations should be determined in light of the following considerations:
Step-by-step instructions on
how to start a club
Let’s get started! Here are some helpful step-by-step instructions to start a club guaranteed to be well run and last a long time:
The club is now up and running! One last item to consider is creating a policy for how long a club must be in existence or active before they are eligible to be shown in the school yearbook, newsletters, or used for marketing purposes. You don’t want to advertise that you have a robust and active robotics club as part of your marketing and enrollment strategy if the club fizzles out after a couple of months. Should a club stay active for at least a semester or one year before being shown in a yearbook or marketing materials?
Clubs take planning and hard work but, if done well, can positively impact your school program while inspiring students to be creative, relational, and leaders on your campus and in the future.
Student government organizations are a part of most high school campuses of both private and public schools. They are an integral part of the culture of these campuses and offer leadership experiences for students that often lead to college scholarships. These organizations need at least one faculty sponsor or advisor, depending on the size of the school. The question for principals of these schools is how to support those sponsors so that the student organizations can thrive and contribute positively to the school culture.
Student organizations are essential
pieces of a school. They help promote school culture and encourage participation in extracurricular activities. Sponsors are vital elements of these organizations, and supporting them is a primary job of principals. Altogether, they help maintain a positive and student-centered culture.
Create a Successful
By Datha Tickner | Superintendent of Schools—Southeastern California Conference
There will always be some students who think it’s a good idea to start a club on campus. Clubs can be an excellent way for students to participate in new activities, learn new skills, hang out with their friends (or new people), develop leadership skills, and build self-confidence. Clubs can contribute to a school program and even the community when done correctly. However, there are times when clubs never move beyond the idea stage because there is no clear outline or stated process in place. Most administrators appreciate the initiative it takes for students to start a club. Still, there may be concerns on what types of clubs are acceptable for a Seventh-day Adventist school. Are clubs to be extra-curricular only (e.g., baking, knitting, pickleball)? Can they be academic (e.g., honors, robotics, physics)? What about clubs for social or cultural causes (e.g., recycling, women in STEM, Korean culture appreciation)? Whether a small multi-grade school or a large K-12 academy, there are many questions to ask BEFORE starting a club on a school campus.
Questions to ask students
wanting to start a club?
In choosing the sponsor for this group, principals should look for a teacher that has strong leadership qualities. The principal needs to be straightforward with the sponsor and let them know what the expectations are for the student organization. If it is going to be an effective organization, the sponsor needs to know this upfront. The principal needs to have this conversation with the sponsor and let them know the time commitment that will be necessary. Choosing the wrong sponsor or not giving them the proper training or support can diminish student involvement.
According to Terry Hamm, a longtime adviser and director of the Texas Association of Student Councils, “Administrators help build student activities when they remember they are in this business because they love kids.” Principals should foster an atmosphere where the development of these student activities is a priority and the student groups, and their sponsors are supported. This support can take many forms. It includes listening to them, showing up to activities, being open to trying new activities on campus, and helping to find funding for these activities.
Often, these student organizations are not only a learning experience for students but also sponsors. If a principal can recognize this, it will help debrief activities that might not go well. Principals should always recognize sponsors for their achievements and thank them for their effort since not all activities planned by these organizations will be successful.
So, how does a principal balance the major sponsorship assignments on
campus with limited staff? It is a fact that sponsorship of the senior year of high school is a challenging load for any teacher, as is sponsorship of the Associated Student Body (ASB) or Student Association (SA). Therefore, it is essential for the principal to be involved and present with these groups. That includes allowing time for collaboration and sharing between the sponsors, especially if some are inexperienced. For instance, it is good to set aside time in the meeting schedule for all head sponsors to meet throughout the year and at least once a quarter. This allows for collaboration and sharing of ideas and solutions to problems that may arise. It also will aid in cultivating the school climate and culture. Principals should be present at these meetings and involved in the conversation.
With the current turnover of teachers, principals may find themselves with new teachers that don’t have experience as sponsors. As much as possible, these new teachers should be teamed up with more experienced sponsors. In addition, the principal should communicate to the veterans that one of the expectations of being a lead sponsor is to train the newer sponsors. This will include having them shadow the lead sponsor and gradually take on more responsibility. Unfortunately, this will add to the workload of the lead sponsor, and principals should be aware of this and offer even more support to the lead sponsor during this time.
Student organizations are essential pieces of a school. They help promote school culture and encourage participation in extracurricular activities. Sponsors are vital elements of these organizations, and supporting them is a primary job of principals. Altogether, they help maintain a positive and student-centered culture.
It is essential
for the principal to be
involved and present
with these groups.
Student Organizations: How Can a Principal Give Support?
History Department—Loma Linda Academy