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Making mistakes

Updated: Nov 25, 2020


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When you give someone the title of “leader” to an individual or a group, things change for them. This is especially true for students who have the title “leader” bestowed upon them. I’m not sure if its impact is right or wrong, or even good or bad. Students are not perfect, nor should we expect students (even with the title ‘leader’) to be more perfect. They are still adolescents, and really, our students are still children.

As we have seen, even adults with leadership titles are not perfect, and sometimes not even good enough to be called leaders. Should we expect them to be more perfect? I am not sure, but I do expect that leaders who are empowered to make decisions about other people’s livelihood would be better than just an average person.

As schools educating children, teachers and administrators should be attempting to support continual growth in all students. Not to mention that teachers should be supporting continual growth in themselves. So when a student leader makes a mistake, should we hold them to a higher standard for that mistake?

Let’s consider an incident I experienced a few years ago where a student leader was caught doing something that was against school policy. All the students caught were given punishments, including in-school suspension, but the student leader’s punishment seemed more severe, mostly because they had so much more to lose. It is a tricky situation, when we make rules and consequences we are not thinking that some kids have more to lose than others. So I guess my question is, does that matter?

When you are a leader, you have more to lose, because you have earned more privilege. That is true, but as we are trying to foster students to be good, or be better leaders, should we be thinking about the consequences of them losing so much more?

The student I am speaking about was removed from the Peer Leadership program. There was a lot that went into that decision, but ultimately it was because they did not accept responsibility for their actions. Not accepting that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, not accepting the fact that they did not let me know before I was notified by administration. One of their comments to me was, “It is like somebody else is digging the hole, pushing me in, and I can’t climb out.”

Students in the Peer Leadership program sign an agreement that they know that they are being held up to a standard that means they can lose the privilege of being a Peer Leader. There are steps that go into that decision: conversations, acceptance of responsibility, probation, and ultimately removal. There are so many pressures on students these days, and their peers are not the only influences they face anymore. How we handle ourselves when facing those pressures is how we are defined as leaders.

Honestly, my Peer Leaders are guilty of infractions, but what type of an infraction is irreparable?

I think two years ago I might argue there are many, but the more I am reflecting on the development and growth of these students as leaders, the more I question those thoughts. There is a privilege in being a leader, and with that privilege comes responsibility. If these responsibilities are neglected, then that privilege can be lost. But where do we draw the line? Is it the number of repeated infractions, is it the type of violation, or should it be based on who is impacted by the violation?

I think it depends, and each situation should be evaluated on its own. I would encourage you to take an approach I used a few years ago, when a student repeatedly pushed the envelope. Nothing could be considered extremely serious, but each one seemed to cause a ripple effect from the previous action.

This caused me to reflect a lot on these questions:

Do these actions, and my inaction, impact my own ability to be seen as a leader?

Does it seem like the standards are different for each and every student?

I would argue that it should be different for each student, and that’s the challenge. So what I did and how I did what I did came from me sitting and writing down the whole story, from start to finish. From this timeline of events, I was able to see the growth made by the student after each one of the infractions, and ultimately the growth they underwent over the course of the year. Looking at one violation in isolation had me ready to remove the student from the program, but my reflection on the behaviors allowed me to see the whole picture, even if I lost many nights of sleep over the choices they made, and how it impacted me personally.

We want growth, and students are not perfect, so the line has to be wavy even if it seems unfair and inconsistent. We just have to be honest with ourselves, and our integrity will speak for itself.

If you have wondered these same things, I encourage you to write things down to help take some emotions out before acting on them, and share this post with someone else. If you think the ideas I am sharing could be useful in a training session for you or your school - please contact me today for a discovery conversation to see if we are a good fit. I really want to spread the world with strong, confident leaders. I can work with teachers, students or your own children, there is really nothing we can’t try.

How do you handle student leader violations?

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