Empowering teen leaders: A tale of two programs

For your motivation this Monday, a tale of two very different student-lead programs at my school this year, with a simple yet meaningful takeaway.

1: Two teens approach me about having a student-lead book club at lunch this year. We’ve tried it before with less success than I hope. Our lunch period is short, and kids have long reading lists for school, so it can be hard. Still, I say yes. The club leaders pick the first book we will read. Six or so high school students, one teacher, and I read the first book, but none of us really like it. After that, the leaders pick another book, but no one reads it. They try again the next week, asking for book suggestions instead. Still no readers, and after this only two students show up on a semi-consistent basis. The club pauses for about a month to regroup. The leaders troubleshoot. Have we been picking the wrong books? Do we need to find a sponsor so that we can buy the books for every member of the club? Should we meet less often? They plan. They talk to our student government about funding. Now, the teens are starting again with a teacher-selected book and about ten committed readers. Will this time work out?

2: A group of students from our school’s poetry club ask to host an student arts evening event to show case their talents and display the art that they write, create, and play in clubs and outside of school. We set a date, but I don’t hear much more about the event until the day it happens. Mostly, students do everything themselves. Though they need a little help with set up, mostly furniture-moving advice and some cautioning about keeping the refreshment area clean, performances started on time. As the light dimmed outside and night grew colder, faculty members, parents and fellow students were warmed in spirit by poetry, film, music, and dance. It is a funny, joyous, beautiful evening. Oh, and the teens also put the library back in order when the program is over. 

This is the takeaway. It’s a beautiful thing to have teens so invested in the library that they have an idea and know that they will be allowed to try to make it happen in an environment where it’s safe for them to fail. Even though one of these programs seems like a flop, to me, they are both successes because the students involved learned important leadership lessons.

So, here’s your motivation challenge for this Monday.  Step back and put some teens in charge of planning an event in 2016! The event won’t always be perfect, or even functional in some cases, but it will always be an empowering and learning experience for teen leaders. 

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