Building Strong Student Organizations, day1: Tap into Students

This year is my 10th year as student council advisor. I am so proud of the work our students do. In the next 5 days, our homecoming week, I’ll outline changes that have resulted in more and more students being involved in our schools extracurriculars.

Have you ever advised a student club that was unproductive? A club where you, as the advisor, were expected to do the work? Have you ever wished more students would take on leadership roles within your school?

When I began advising the Student Council at Saranac Lake High School the answer to all of the questions was yes. I had inherited a slate of officers, all who held multiple offices in our student organizations. My first year advising Student Council we oversaw homecoming, a food drive, and that was it. In March I asked the president what she had accomplished in her tenure at SLHS. She stated she was president of __, ___, ___, ___ clubs and an officer of ___, ___ clubs. When I followed up with well what did you actually do, she was speechless. She then began to cry.

That was when it occurred to me. The student president was overwhelmed. She has been asked to do the impossible-balancing so many things. This wasn’t her fault. Student leaders are put into their leadership positions because their peers, teachers and even themselves expect for them to be there. This puts the student leaders in a terrible place. They are expected to do the work for multiple organizations while balancing academic and life. They take on more roles than most adults. It is unsustainable for them.

imageWe held elections that April. Our former president shared the stress she felt in March as the president and officer of so many organizations. She encouraged the students running to not seek election in other clubs.

Once our slate of officers was selected I met with the advisors of the other student clubs. I shared our former president’s story. I encouraged the advisors to make sure that the same officers were not selected for all of the clubs. We agreed that a student could hold a limit of 2 officer positions of any organization. We started a google doc where we shared who had been voted in as officers of each club.

At that meeting we also plotted out which clubs would have elections when. As you can imagine-the advisors of the last few groups to meet were mad. They were furious that students weren’t going to be able to run for an office in their club. We encouraged them to seek out their prospective officers and let them know of this ‘new’ policy. We hung up signs of when clubs were having elections. We coupled those signs with a posting regarding the ‘election protocol’ of each officer only holding one other office.

What we saw shocked us. We had multiple parent complaints, student complaints, etc… The school administration stood behind our decisions. As tensions rose the students who had influenced this shift began t share their story. They openly spoke of the stress they felt being an officer of so many different things. They talked about their inability to actually do anything because of the workload they were juggling.

More importantly-the ‘election protocol’ opened the door for other students to get involved. We had students we never would have expected running for positions within clubs. The quiet, follower students stepped up. The behind the scenes or sorta curious students showed up to meetings and shared why they should be an officer.

It was at that point I realized what we had done. We had finally tapped into the wealth of talent that our students hold. We have gone from 8 student leaders guiding our 16 organization to over 40 different students holding leadership positions. More diverse leaders has led to more diverse memberships of each organization