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Develop Student Leadership Through Conflict Resolution

Their tired faces gazed at me from around the table. Computers ready and somewhat willing to take some advice, they sat poised for a lecture that never came.

"We need to change the current workflow; it isn't working the way we have it. I made adjustments based on the challenges we faced last year, but this isn't as efficient as it can be. How can we fix it?"

Our newspaper staff is experiencing a little dysfunction right now. Those students who swore last year as juniors that they would never be like their predecessors have become just that (as they always do).

We're experiencing a real end of Animal Farm experience.

Each looked at me, then at each other. There was a lot of nodding in assent to the fact that we hit a stumbling block.

"Let's not point any fingers, that doesn't solve the issue. We have a full staff meeting next week, we will meet on Wednesday next week before the meeting, please think about solutions before then."

At first, there were excuses, there always are. They are adolescents, to some degree they don't know any better and other levels it has been tolerated. At this round table, we have no space for excuses, they aren't productive.

So now the real work happens. The real moments for the students to step up and take charge, show themselves and each other that we can solve this problem together and emerge triumphantly.

Here are some tips for empowering student leaders:

  • Allow them to define the problem themselves - present them with the situation and allow them the space to talk it out.

  • Listen to what students say, but do your best to defer their questions. Let the solutions come from them.

  • Honor the choices that students make, allowing them to play out their ideas for better or for worse (except in extreme situations)Use the choices that they make as more opportunities to discuss, reflect and revise actions.

  • Teach students that being in charge is also about empowering the people you work with, so teach them to delegate responsibilities and how to manage people.

  • Remind students that they lead by example. If you want other students to do the right thing, they must be doing what they expect of others as much as possible. Be what they expect.

  • Encourage students to stay positive and avoiding complaining and blaming. These behaviors aren't productive and can easily take center stage which is counterproductive.

  • Have private conversations with students to provide feedback in person about their leadership.

  • Ask students regularly how they think they're doing and how they can improve.

  • Teach students how to multitask and organize their time while having a leadership role so that important tasks don't get forgotten.

  • Being a leader takes practice, especially getting their peers to accept their authority, so make sure we teach them to treat their peers as they would want to be treated: respectfully and helpfully.

Student publications are a great place to foster leadership skills. There are many responsibilities that can be entrusted to the leaders and the learning is limitless.

In what ways do you empower students in your classes and how do you work through the challenges as a teacher partner, not as the person in charge?

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in October of 2014

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