This month, I got an email from my publisher, sharing a story from the student body president at the local high school. Her daughter attends this school. The student was grieving the fact that he’d been asked to “lead”, but every single decision his student council made was shot down by the administration. In his blog he wrote:
“We have lost our motivation to try to engage the students, generate enthusiasm and a sense of community and make being a Greeley student more than capitulating to the arbitrary decisions of the administration. Why bother working on proposals and trying to innovate when we know the administration is going to say no? It’s funny that we are all so frustrated with our elected officials in Washington, yet the same thing is happening right here. Each time a new idea comes to the floor, we get filibustered, then are left to take the blame for not taking action.”
As an adult, I recognize school administrators are often trying to insure the safety of their students, or perhaps save those students from demoralizing failure. But I fear something worse could happen. In our effort to protect the kids or our reputation, we are killing any ambition in these emerging leaders. We accomplish the very opposite of what school is supposed to do: build future adults. The blog went on:
“I don’t feel as if I’m doing even half the job I ran for as President and the reason for that is the administration. For us, high school is more than just getting into college. It’s supposed to be an experience that matures us not just intellectually, but in other ways too…This school has become so resistant to positive new ideas that students actually care about…that nothing even has a chance. For example, how do we know that the event I proposed would have an attendance problem if it’s never happened before?”
I believe there is nothing more frustrating for a student than to be asked to lead and prepared to lead, then not given the opportunity to actually do something. I fear we are leading schools that actually hinder the development of true leaders. The student body president concluded in his blog:
You are denying leadership opportunities to the next generation of leaders by rendering those who do want to lead utterly ineffective. It’s simply not worth my time to think of fun, creative ways to bring the school community together when I know that there is no chance of any of our ideas actually coming to fruition.
My advice to These School Administrators?
- Negotiate ideas with student leaders and learn to compromise. Teens must learn to mitigate risk, spend money and even fail from time to time. Let them.
- Talk to parents as the year begins, and help them see the big picture: school is about learning and growth and that happens via both success and failure.
- Reward effort and virtue. Student Councils will “win” some and “lose” some. The point is to grow in them the life skills needed for adulthood.
Never let it be said that you run a school that hinders young leaders.