Student Led…School Events?

Back in December, I had an amazing, unexpected experience that really shifted my thinking about school events, teacher responsibilities, and student leadership. It all started on a chilly morning before school. I had signed up to help with a school event called “Jammie Jam” because I needed some volunteer hours. Teachers in my district have to put in 20 hours of volunteer time outside our work hours to qualify for Prop 301 monies each year.

Now, I love Jammie Jam. Kids wear jammies, play holiday games, sip cocoa, devour cookies, read stories, and visit Santa! But I don’t love the extra teacher meetings it takes to plan school events like Jammie Jam. I’m sure you’ve been to plenty of early morning teacher meetings. Kind of a drag, right? No kids, no fun, a packed agenda, and tired teachers. Well, that’s the meeting I expected on that chilly morning as I dragged my feet (and my load of teacher stuff!) down the hallway. So I was really, really surprised when I opened the door.

Instead of bored teachers huddled around a table making a Teacher To Do list for Jammie Jam, the room was bustling with busy elementary students, excited chatter, and smiling teachers. Where was I? Where was the teacher meeting? I stood there for a moment taking it in. Could this be the Jammie Jam planning meeting? I’d never seen anything quite like it.

See, I had forgotten that I work at a Leader in Me school. Leader in Me is not just another character program. It’s a culture of teaching kids that they are valuable, capable leaders with potential to influence the world around them. As a Leader in Me school, we have student action teams that plan events, mediate peer problems, contribute ideas for the school, work together on hobbies, or conduct school business like morning announcements.

As I stood there watching the kids, I felt a big shift in my thinking. Of course this was the Jammie Jam meeting! Every person there was engaged. Kids were collaborating. Teachers were supporting the kids with different projects. Kids were learning how to be leaders and take leadership actions. Awesome. Shouldn’t all planning meetings be like this? There wasn’t one bored, tired person in the room! I was instantly energized and excited.

Later that day, I started really thinking: Why can’t more schools have planning meetings like this? Don’t get me wrong: Leader in Me requires intentional shifts in school culture, teacher training, and student learning that we’ve been working on for three years at my site. I know the time we’ve invested in teaching kids about leadership has contributed to the success I saw at the Jammie Jam meeting that day. But perhaps more schools (even those who aren’t involved with Leader in Me) could consider ways to increase student involvement in planning school events. In recent years, we’ve seen educational trends like student led conferencing. Perhaps kids are ready for additional opportunities to practice leadership in their schools.

When I reflect on the Jammie Jam Action Team this year, I feel so inspired. The kids did a great job preparing games and decorations during the planning meetings. Even better, they had assigned jobs to help with different activities on the night of the event. They were so dedicated to those jobs! You know what I did as a teacher? I walked around and talked to my students and their families–supporting student leaders as needed, of course–but mostly connecting with our parent and student community. When I looked around, I saw kids in leadership roles beaming with pride. It still gives me goosebumps! That night, I left with a big smile on my face–and it wasn’t just because I got to see Santa! And next year, you better believe I will be smiling as I hurry down the hallway on a chilly morning with very different (excited!) expectations for the Jammie Jam Action Team meetings.

I’d love to hear your stories about student leadership roles in the comments below! Also, you can check out another piece about Leader in Me that explores the importance of Proactive Language to unlock your brain.

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Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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