Big Ideas
Chapter: Unleashing Potential, Now

(8) Student Leadership

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-4-42-56-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-22-at-4-43-31-pmMost of our programmatic models emphasize the leadership power of our teachers and alumni—the growing wave of determined agents of change who will tackle educational inequity from within and outside the classroom. 

Our most transformational classrooms seem to suggest that we too often ignore another (and perhaps most?) promising source of leadership for the world tomorrow: our students themselves.  

These teachers tend to view their students as the leaders of tomorrow and that makes them think about their classrooms and students differently.  They seem themselves as building their students’ and their own leadership in partnership. 

Some of our strongest teachers challenge us with this question:  “Who are better leaders in this movement than those among us who have experienced firsthand the injustice of educational inequity?” reminding us that no one will ever convince our students’ success is not possible because they have lived it.

In the fall of 2015, we brought together almost two hundred strong teachers and teacher coaches from programs around the world in Malaysia.  One of the key themes was the leadership our students bring to our efforts toward educational equity.

Led by Teach For India’s Sanaya Bharucha, a group of those classroom and program leaders looked carefully about the role of student leadership and came to the conclusion that our students already have the potential to be great leaders.  As their teachers, mentors and facilitators it is our role to help students discover and tap into that leadership. These participants urged all of us working with students across the network to support our students with disorienting experiences and explicit opportunities to practice leadership.

The group focusing on student leadership made three strong recommendations to fulfill the leadership potential of our students. 

      • We must “awareness” as a core student outcome.  A student’s awareness of themselves, their strengths, areas of development, a deep understanding of who they are and what matters to them is integral to help our students find themselves and their purpose. Similarly, students’ understanding of their community and world around them helps them better understand the challenges to overcome, opportunities to leverage and problems they want to solve.
      • We must amplify student voice.  As teachers, we must give our students numerous opportunities to stand up for the things they believe in, make meaningful decisions and have an important voice as learners and advocates.   It is not enough that we tell our children they are valuable and can bring about change. It is of paramount importance that we show our children this and help them internalize this belief.
      • We must provide students with a holistic education.  Student Leadership is developed when students are working towards a goal that matters to them and which they care deeply about and when equal emphasis and effort is put into each of the following:
        • helping a student understand and live by their values
        • empowering students to explore themselves and the world around them and
        • enabling students to engage with rigorous academic content”


How could our programmatic strategies with teachers and alumni more fully embrace the power of student leadership?

Check out these leaders speaking compellingly on student leadership in their contexts in Santiago at the System Change conference.





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