Differentiating Student Leadership

Many of us have unwaveringly embraced the philosophy of differentiation. We differentiate instruction according to student readiness, interest, and preference. But what about the other parts of a young adolescent’s school experiences—the programs outside the classroom?

Topping the list of programs that continue to follow traditional models are middle school leadership programs. If we walk into the majority of independent middle schools in this country, we likely will find student government structures whereby each class votes students into office. These cabinets hold meetings with members to plan dances, fundraisers, and other events.

Certainly, the officers are getting a good taste of civic process and some basic leadership experience, but by differentiating student leadership programs, we can provide civic and leadership opportunities for more of our students.

We implemented a steering committee program at our PreK–8 school, so more students can get involved in community leadership initiatives based on projects that are interesting to them.

First, we encourage all students to share ideas for projects that are both fun and beneficial. After we determine that the projects fit with our school’s mission, we ask for volunteers from the grade level from which the idea evolved to form a steering committee. With the help of an adult project sponsor, this committee steers the project.

Within the steering committee, students choose their roles based on their strengths and interests. The experiences are meaningful because the projects are student-generated, student-led, and student-executed. Further, participation is voluntary, so students choose projects about which they are passionate and for which they have a particular acumen. As a result, students are able to lead in areas of choice and skill.

For example, nine sixth graders are working with the Red Cross and a local hospital on a blood drive. The students created subcommittees for digital media communication/advertising, in-house advertising, day-of logistics and communication with the Red Cross, and schedules/appointments. The subgroups work collaboratively to reach their goals.

By differentiating beyond the curriculum, all students have the opportunity to create and cultivate, lead and serve, and choose and execute in a community-minded way. We are developing creative, process-oriented, collaborative, and benevolent leaders.

Jeffrey Rothstein is director of grades 6–8 at Cliff Valley School in Atlanta, Georgia. Email: jrothstein@cliffvalleyschool.org. You can follow him at http://jeffreyrothstein.wordpress.com/

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