Student Leadership Programs – 12 Tips You Might Find Useful

We believe that all of our students should have the opportunities to be leaders. Labelling a few as school leaders takes away the potential for others. I have been involved in upper primary school leadership programs for the last 5 years now and every year feels different. I view our leadership program as a constant work in progress. It’s important for our team to try new ideas and structures to see what works and what can be done better. Our school also has a Junior School Council Program involving class representatives across the school.

Our grade 6 leadership program works for our school. We have close to 100 grade 6 students involved- a large number. Our structure is that we have 10 leadership teams each with around 10-12 students. Each team has 2 captains that are selected based on an application made by students. Students meet in their leadership teams during class time once a week for 1 hour. I would like to share some tips below on setting up an effective, inclusive, student centred leadership program:

1. Make it fun and engaging and a program your students will want to take part in. As mentioned, we have 10 team leadership teams. They are digital learning, media, sport, student life, health and wellbeing, science and environment, green, arts, action and awareness and house teams. By creating teams that have a focus area, students are able to submit their preferences for the teams they most want to be in. This means they are engaged in their team projects and have something to offer the team.

2. Make your selection process clear to the students and parents. Depending on your school, leadership programs and positions can be a big deal. Many parents are keen for their child to have a position as it is good experience for high school, especially when applying for scholarships. Our school does have captains. I know some don’t. That’s a school choice. We are constantly telling our students that because they are in a leadership team, they are leaders. The captaincy positions are to help with organisation and facilitation as well as to allow some students to excel. Regardless of your structure, communicate the process to everyone involved well in advance. Keep it as transparent as possible. You will have parents and students want to know why their students weren’t chosen for a particular team or role. We tell our students the year before in orientation and the parents are informed at information evenings early in February when the year starts. Our selection process is in 4 stages: A written application, a team/hands on challenge, a speech to the cohort and a short interview. We keep scoring rubrics for all students as part of being transparent.

3. Pick your starting times carefully. We start our program in about Week 5 of first term. Some schools have the leaders chosen by the previous year. I don’t necessarily agree with this as it can rule out new students. Also, I think students need to time to settle in a new year, get their bearings, reassess their goals for the year, see what they are interested in etc. This also gives the new teaching team a chance to get to know the students and have some input into the best possible teams for them.

4. Involve specialist teachers and previous teachers in the selection process. If you are a school that has captains, get as much input as your can from people who know the students. Ask the specialist teachers as they often have a good picture of a whole cohort of students and speak with their previous teachers, too.

5. Have a ceremony to announce student teams. We make it a big deal. All students are named at our Grade 6 leadership assembly. And all students are presented with a badge. Minimal fuss is made of the captains- the team are announced first and I think that is really important. We invite the previous leaders from the year before to present the badges and we have a local politician talk about leadership along with the school council president.

6. Allow class time. Any good program won’t just happen. We allow 1 hour per week during class time for the students to meet in their teams. Each of the Grade 6 team (there are 4 of us) are given a few teams to mentor and all the students are mixed up and run meetings. We also have a captains meeting at recess where they report on the team’s progress and projects.

7. Model and teach leadership. Once our teams are chosen, we model leadership skills. We teach the students how to write and use an agenda, techniques on how to make sure all team members get a say, project management skills, how to write proposals and advocate for ideas, creative problem solving strategies etc. Reflection is also important. Students are constantly encouraged to share what challenges their teams are facing and ways they might address these.

8. Encourage teams to work together. We are constantly reminding teams that they need to hone in on each other’s skills. For example, the Sports teams may need the help of the Media team to publicise an event they are putting together. Or, the Digital learning team may be asked to edit and put together a video for the Green team. The possibilities are endless!

9. Projects should be authentic. Aim to keep the projects teams work on real, authentic and meeting the school’s needs. Encourage the students to meet with the principal who will be able to advise the students about events that are on during the year and what commitments the school already has. Students love fundraisers. It’s important not to have too many though. Students often think this is the only way to take action and make a difference. We limit our fundraisers to 4 per year (1 per term) asking for gold coin donations. We are constantly reminding students that making a difference comes in all shapes and sizes- starting conversations, raising awareness, changing minds……….

10. Student voice and choice. This is so important to us for the students to be engaged. They must own the program and direct where it goes with their own ideas and initiatives. Of course they will need guidance but they need to feel the ideas are coming from them.

11. Celebrate Achievements. At graduation in December, every single students makes a speech. Not long ones- that would be a long night with 100 students! But our students do share 3-4 sentences each. They present in their leadership teams and reflect on the team’s success, learnings, and achievements.

12. Allow for mistakes to happen. We’ve all heard the students with the biggest ideas in the world. As teachers perhaps we know they may not work. How do we know that? Probably we tried, and failed. When appropriate, we need to let our students experience this, too. Mistake making is great way to learn and really powerful for students. Ensure adequate time to reflect on the mistakes.

What do you do at your school? What makes an effective student leadership program?

Here are some of our projects:

Fluro Day- Students organised a Fluoro Day where the whole school wore bright colours to stand out, be yourself and be against bullying. They ran recess and lunchtime activites focussing on frienship and standing up for yourself.

Junior Sports- Our sports team are running a junior running club before school weekly. We have a really popular senior running club and many F-2 students want to join so the team are running an onsite version from 8:15-8:40.

Film Festival– Our Media team are organising a Tropfest style film festival. The theme will be PYP attitudes and is designed to be an engaging activity for students to work on over the holidays.

Science & Environment– They have been working on a school energy audit with our science technician.

Green Team– They have organised a school wide composting program and raised awareness in each class.

House Captains– We now have a stronger school house spirit. Normally this is reserved for 1 day- our athletics carnival. But students have worked hard with teachers to make it everyday. Students can receive house points for following school expectations in class and at recess and lunch. Weekly house winners are announced at assembly.

Digital Learning– Making their own digital citizenship videos and presentations to show to the Grade 3 and 4 students.



Backchanneling in the classroom-

This post is inspired by some reading I was doing of Edna Sackson’s blog post here. Sometimes as teachers we can spend hours planning great lessons and other times those ideas that just ‘work’ literally pop into our heads at the last minute or even on the spot. This is an example of the latter.

So the context for me using backchannelling came about one very tired Friday afternoon. As part of the PYP Sharing the Planet Unit, students had been working hard on their summative tasks: making ad campaigns on environmental issues encouraging people to take action and make a difference. We had 9 ads to watch, each about 2-3 minutes and give each feedback; it was to be our mini film festival.

Unfortunately, it had been a week full of interruptions: cross country, rehearsals for a performance, a few students ill- you know what I mean! It got to Friday afternoon and we simply had to get the ads watched. So we sat down for an exciting afternoon of ad watching. The students were particularly excited to share their learning and ads as they had used a green screen app, Green Screen by do ink, for the first time. As we started to watch the videos, the students asked, “Are we going to be giving and receiving feedback?”. (They love it!) “Of course!” I replied while thinking that we were never going to get through them all in the amount of time we had. I had also wanted to record the feedback given by the students to use in reports but annecdotal notes on a Friday afternoon-no way!

So, How could we ensure each student received feedback? How could we ensure all students gave feedback? How could we record the feedback? How could we ensure all students remained engaged? How could I record students’ feedback? My idea: use a Todays Meet.

I wrote 3 ‘comment types’ on the board:

1) What issue was shown in the video and what action was proposed (easiest to answer)

2) What were some effective digital skills used to make the video?

3) What persuasive techniques were used in the video? (hardest to answer)

Students had worked in groups of 3 for this. As we went through each group’s video, another group of 3 students were individually given one of the comments from above to use as a basis for their comment in the backchannel. To keep track of who was saying what to whom, students had to use the @ symbol and the first letter of each students name (e.g. Michael, James, Charlotte would be @MJC).

Examples of feedback from the TodaysMeet

Examples of feedback from the TodaysMeet


I had explored using TodaysMeet in the past with some mixed success. More often than not I found it more of a distraction than a help with students using losing focus quickly and writing silly things. However, the way it was used here worked really effectively. Students were really focussed as listeners, particularly as they all had individual accountability to make a comment. Everyone was really respectful- I think because they were all in the same boat of putting themselves out there. Once students had presented they quietly checked their feedback.

I think the key here was that it had an authentic purpose. I’m not saying it should replace verbal feedback but in this instance it really worked. It is also really useful having the comments recorded so I can gauge student comprehension of the videos (and their ability to provide useful feedback.)

So this was one of those ideas that just popped into my head- I’m glad I went with it and I’m keen to find new and authentic ways to use backchannelling in the classroom.

Here are the students watching the ads (not their screens!)

Here are the students watching the ads (not their screens!)



8 Things I Learned During Our First Class Skype/Hangouts

Inspired by encouraging words from the PYP digital citizenship workshop, I set a personal goal to conduct my first ever Skype or Google Hangouts with another class. It had always been something I had wanted to do and try- connect with another class but was never quite sure how to make it happen.

Well- it has happened now and I wanted to share what I learned and some tips.

Here we are in Google Hangouts with another class in the next suburb away

Here we are in Google Hangouts with another class in the next suburb away

#1 Connect with a teacher who you know. This meant that we were able to casually chat about the session without having to get to know each other. It was also the first time for his class so we were learning together. We are both at similar points with out digital technologies use as well so keen to experiment and try out new things. We also knew each others schedules really well and worked in neighbouring suburbs which just took away some of those initial potential blockers.

#2 Test the technology first. I think this is important! We both decided on Google hangouts and tested out the connection a few days prior after school. I had used my iPad in the staffroom and made the call. Everything connection wise went really smoothly, but the day before I realised I had been using headphones and hadn’t tested things out on my interactive whiteboard. So really, for this point I’m saying test the technology out in the exact conditions in which it will be used. I had to do a quick test at the recess before our session and had trouble with airserver and sound and ended up just running the session through the iPad with it’s own sound. Not ideal, but adequate for our first learning session!

#3 Build excitement with your class. Don’t just spring the session on them that day. I told my class on the Friday about our session to be run on the Monday. I gave them a little background as to why it was happening and then asked what they were expecting. Some of the first questions I received on the Monday morning were ‘Are we connecting with the other school?!’ and ‘We’re so excited for our Google Hangouts today!’

#4 Give some structure to the session. Do by considering different roles. I used the excellent Skpe Jobs Post here. We also took the time to explore these roles and the students were the ones who decided which were going to be relevant for the session. Allow time to do this as they had a lot of clarifying questions. This structure definitely helped the session have some structure and run smoothly.

Students learning about Skype jobs and deciding which one are relevant for our first session

Students learning about Skype jobs and deciding which one are relevant for our first session

#5 Allow plenty of time- more than you think you’ll need. We had decided on 25 minutes for our first session. I couldn’t believe how quickly that went! By the time we had established connection and done our introductions it was nearly time up! We only managed to get through 2 questions per class which was great but there were a lot more to share and the session could have been longer.

#6 Keep it Simple. Try and plan something easy for the first few times. Ours were simple introductions of schools and classes and then general questions related to our summative assessments and inquiry units. My class were asking about what environmental issues the students felt passionate about and what they thought some potential actions were to make a difference. The other class wanted to know about marine life and ocean protection.

#7 Use a back channel. This is one of the Skype jobs listed in #4. We set up a today’s meet and used that as our note taking tool for the session so that we might be able to refer back to it. As we were unable to project the other class onto the IWB we had the back channel up there and that added a ‘live’ element to the session.

Setting up the backchannel and initial greetings

Setting up the backchannel and initial greetings

#8 Reflect on the session with your class and the other teacher. Both the other teacher and I used email to take the time to reflect on how the first learning session had gone, focussing on the positives, challenges and unexpecteds. This debrief was really useful to know what to repeat and what to do differently. For example, we decided it might be a better use of time to pre send some of the questions through to allow more think time for the other class.

So there you have my 8 tips. Ultimately like anything new, I think it’s just a matter of getting in there and having a go. As we tell our students, be risk takers, and learn from your mistakes. We are very much looking forward to connecting with this class again and others around the world.

Learner, Teacher, Learner, Teacher…

Taking time to reflect on the 3 day digital citizenship PYP workshops, I was thinking about myself as both learner and teacher. When I was in the workshop I was both. Learning how to do new things with digital technologies, teaching others the same. This is a very happy place for me.

I consider myself a learner. And a teacher.

I wonder how many teachers out there consider themselves the same? I know how busy we all are but I am often surprised at how other teachers learn. There can be an element of reluctance that feels like an ‘I already know of all this’ or ‘Do I really need to know this?’mentality. Scary!

Gone are the ‘keeper of knowledge’ days of teaching and learning. There is so much depth in teaching and learning nowadays, with our students having so much to offer.

I know that conditions under which I best learn:

1) Build a trusting relationship with the teacher and those around me

2) Having TIME to process and practice what I learn

3) Making connections to my own experiences

4) Being able to make mistakes and learn from them

5) Receiving feedback on my progress

6) Applying my learning to other situations

I hope I enable these conditions for the students I teach, too.

How do you best learn? What do you learn from your students?

A Long Time in the Making

Today is the 3rd and final day of the Digital Citizenship PYP workshop. PD on the weekend is tough!

The focus of the the last 3 days has included:

Digital Literacy

Safe and Effective practice

Intellectual property

Digital Identity

Classroom Connections

Roles and Responsibilities

Risks vs Rewards

But mostly it’s been about learning. Learning for our students and learning for us teachers.

This video was one of our provocations and helped me to realise I do have something to say. I am in my 8th year of teaching. I have read a few blogs over the years and felt intimidated at the thought of starting my own.

I don’t know where it will take me but I feel committed to sharing my experiences as an educator and a learner.

I hope to use this blog as a place to share, connect, reflect, ponder, recount, observe………………