top of page

Championing Inclusive Leadership: Empowering Every Student

Updated: May 23

How can we create opportunities for all teens to become leaders?  When leadership is seen as a prize to be won, everyone loses.  But in reality, that is how many teens are developed into leaders.  Who are the leaders in our schools?  Typically, it is the sports team captains and the presidents of the clubs.  How are they chosen?  Captains are usually chosen based on their skills at the game, or through seniority.  Which of those characteristics are leadership qualities?  In my opinion, NONE are.  Student body presidents are often chosen based on their popularity and confidence, those are also NOT true leadership qualities.

For most teens, there is a fear, “I'm not a leader. Why should I lead?” I know this first hand, because I've often had conversations with teens I know would be great leaders, and when they respond, “Who me, I'm not a leader,” it often not only surprises me, it breaks my heart. 

When I work in schools and look for students to be leaders, I often have to go against what teachers expect leaders to look like.  A leader is someone that is empathetic, compassionate, and a good listener.  Of course, there are other qualities, but for me, these are the ones that stand out as having the greatest impact on building culture and community.  

When I started working with school leadership programs, I heard that the greatest challenge was inclusive leadership. So many leaders fall into a cookie-cutter mold. It was and remains true -  the popular, well-liked, strong-minded, confident students often are leaders. When students see it as a prize, and it is one they have yet to win, they wonder why they should bother trying once again. 

I want to tell you a story about how I almost fell into that ‘stereotype’ leader search, but I was lucky to meet this teen who reminded me that we can all be leaders and that leadership doesn’t look the same for everyone. I often meet teens who challenge the beliefs we carry, and it always makes me a better leader myself.

Jackie (name changed) had the biggest heart, the most school spirit I have ever seen, and the determination, drive, and dedication of any teen who wants to be a leader. Jackie’s first attempt at leadership came to me when she was a sophomore.   She had all the right pieces of what I was looking for in a leader, but during the required group interview, where 8-10 peers have an open discussion Jackie didn’t show up.  At this time, I believed It was an important part of being a leader that students sit among their peers and be willing to speak with them. In full honesty, I was apprehensive about accepting Jackie into the program because of her intellectual challenges.  It is unfortunate that, at the time,  I was absorbed by my own preconceived ideas of the limitations of intellectually disabled students.  

Jackie approached me again in her junior year. I had gotten to know Jackie a lot better by then and had the opportunity to speak with some of her teachers, coaches, and other students who knew her well, and they all expressed the same thought -  she was a leader.  This time, I added some accommodations to help her be more comfortable attending the group interview. I still had some hesitations about her ability to be heard by her peers.  Jackie has a speech impediment, something I didn’t want to prevent her from joining the program.   I wanted her to be a part of this program, so I discussed potential scenarios with Jackie’s advisor her biggest advocate. We were both committed to integrating Jackie into the student leadership program. We created a plan for Jackie to be a liaison to the leadership and the program supporting Jackie and students like her. 

It was such a treat to have Jackie as part of the peer leadership program. As our liaison, she was instrumental in planning a Best Buddies, Unified Basketball competition versus the teachers (see image of PR piece of this event), which happened at a pep rally for the school. This pep rally was one in which there was 100% participation from the crowd. This would never have happened without the integration of Jackie in the peer leadership program. Jackie was involved in team-building activities, and she connected my student leaders into the Life Skills program. This was a great opportunity for me to think outside the box, and to find a leader who was different. It was also a great opportunity for Jackie to develop communication and peer interaction skills.

We would love for your teen to have the opportunity to learn more about their own transformation through the Teen Leadership Virtual Coaching Program - Check it out here

Capture of the article written about the unified basketball game

78 views0 comments


bottom of page