Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How do we train student leaders?

by Erik Ormberg

On Friday, March 17th I accompanied four junior captain-elects to the MIAA facility in Franklin for a conference titled: High School Captains Workshop. The motivation behind bringing four captain-elects to a leadership workshop stems from a common blindspot when it comes to youth leadership: How do we train student leaders?

The number of leaders walking around Medfield high school is staggering. We have class presidents, student government presidents, sport captains, musical section leaders, leads in the school play, club presidents and other appointed student leaders.

For many of us we may know WHY they were elected as leaders--but do we ask ourselves HOW should we train them? Most elected leaders take responsibility, they are reliable, they positively influence a wide scope of students. But then there are times students are elected to leadership positions due to popularity, an advanced skill set or other less-vital components. As the head coach of an athletic team I have an obligation when students are named captain. Their world changes and it’s up to us as faculty advisors to make sure we are preparing them for their new position.

Our day in Franklin started off with icebreakers. Among the 100 or students from all around the state most of the students there were junior elected leaders. There was a good energy in the room fueled by doughnuts, coffee and anticipation.

Dr. Dan Switchenko, an exercise physiologist at Eastern Connecticut State University, gave a rousing speech on leadership. He captivated a room full of influential young people and paced back and forth making eye contact with everyone in the room. He talked about three major goals most young people have while in high school:
1. Get into a college that is right for you.
2. Earn a college degree that allows you to earn money.
3. Pursue a field of work that excites you each day you get out of bed.
These goals were the thesis statement for the day. Dan returned to these items as he moved through his presentation.

Dr. Switchenko proceeded to tell kids the median income for a high school graduate is $50,000 per year and the median income of a college graduate is $90,000 per year. Over a 4o year working career that equates to a $1.6 million dollar difference. A pointed fact that sent a tangible ripple through the entire room.

Dr. Switchenko then ran through an acronym for D.R.E.A.M.S. offering an anecdote or statistic for each letter:

D: Dedication
R: Respect
E: Enthusiasm
A: Attitude
M: Mental Toughness
S: Sacrifice

Dr. Switchenko ended his speech with a quote that resonated--one that I think challenges every elected student leader to think about their commitment to whatever endeavor they have been chosen to lead.

“Discipline is a higher form of intelligence.
It is doing what has to be done,
when it has to be done,
the way it should be done,
and doing it that way all the time.”

There were a number of takeaways from the day’s event, but I think the biggest one was the power students have over their immediate “sphere of influence.” Leaders set the tone in our building. They are contagions--whether positive or negative. When section leaders from band are charged with influencing the younger players, I often hear about that influence years later when that underclassman becomes a leader.

As the faculty advisor of Community Teens years ago I remember how the best CT presidents could inspire and influence others in the steering committee to want to help more and manage the various side-projects that were presented by other clubs in town or in the school.

As a head coach coming off a year where I had two student leaders that were hands down the best leadership tandem I have ever worked with, I realize that we owe it to our underclassmen to train them in the nuances of leadership. We have to be the ones explaining how they will need to make unpopular decisions for the betterment of their team, club, crew or group. We need to encourage them to work on public speaking. We need to explain to kids that as a leader not only are they influencing their friends, but the awkward unassuming ninth grader as well. We need to show them how to bring a group closer and tighter and constantly fight against the cliques and sub-groups and social delineations that exist in every team, club, crew or group.

A great leader has to be willing to extend themselves to others. If they cannot discipline themselves first they will have an uphill battle disciplining those they are charged with leading. For all those student-leaders willing to learn, that are open to advice and are able to have their reach extend beyond their grasp they will--at the very least--be heading in the right direction.

The MIAA event was a helpful one to further the discussion and introduce the training that is imperative for us to generate positive leaders in our building. I want to share one final statistic. Less than 50% of COLLEGE elected captains are offered any formal training from their host institution. Given that four high school juniors were able to be trained today by the MIAA has me thinking that we are already a little ahead of the curve in developing the next generation of positive student leaders.

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