Over the last 5 years, I have spent a countless amount of hours working with some incredibly driven and motivated student leadership teams. Across all corners of the country, I have been amazed at the ideas that prefects, student representative councils and student leadership groups create to make an impact in their school community.
All too often, we at Burn Bright see student leadership teams who don’t achieve what they set out to do. It’s a teacher’s worst nightmare watching their student leaders who were once kicking goals with their ideas, now pretending that they don’t even remember creating them! On the flip side, the student leadership teams that succeed in implementing their projects have five things they do in common. Here they are: the five success factors for a student-led project.
1 – They Have a Common Vision
Vision is one of the most important aspects to ensure the success of any leader, no matter what the context. In a school leadership team, sharing a common vision must be the first place to start. Student leaders have so much capacity to drive change within their school communities but they need to be aligned on what that change will look like. Stephen Covey tells us to begin with the end in mind and that is exactly what I recommend to student leadership teams. The simplest question to ask is what does your school community look like at the successful completion of the vision? A team’s vision shouldn’t necessarily be the project they want to run but the reason as to why they are running it and who they are running it for. It is important with a vision that we get our heads out of the detail for a moment. A vision is a broader step up or a longer-term goal for the year ahead. It is important for the vision to be tangible so leaders can hold it in their head as they progress through their tenure.
2 – Less is More
Students need to understand that often less is more. I’ve heard some wild and crazy ideas and some of them are phenomenal on paper but when implemented, they turn out to be bigger than Ben Hur. It is often the simplest projects that have the biggest impact. Students are already stretched for time balancing exams, homework, extracurricular activities and family commitments. Leadership roles and responsibilities are often the first to drop off. Some of the most impactful and effective projects in a school community that I have seen, have been the simplest ideas on paper.
3 – Think Through Every Possible Step
A new project or initiative can be very exciting and students can get swept up in the energy that has created. To ensure success, thinking through all the steps that might be involved in actually getting the project off the ground, not only helps with ensuring items are completed but will also help in getting approval for a project to run.
For example, if a leadership team wants to run a bake sale to raise money for a charity, often the steps we see are 1) bake goods, 2) sell goods in playground 3) donate money to charity. When in fact the steps really need to include, writing a proposal, getting permission from the appropriate person, organising a day, time and location, who will be responsible for what, what will be baked, how do we deal with dietary requirements, where will the float and spare change come from, creating a roster for selling, baking the goods etc… you understand my point.
Even one of the simpler projects has a lot of steps to go through to ensure success. Thinking through these steps, writing them into an action plan and being aware of who will complete each one before starting will exponentially increase the factors for success.
4 – Allocate Responsibility and Share the Load
Student leadership teams are an incredible opportunity to learn the art of leadership. One of the biggest lessons we can learn as leaders is how to delegate and keep others accountable.
Once the team has thought through all the steps of the project, allocating people across the team to be accountable to a few of the steps each, allows the team to not only share the load, but also increases the likelihood of success. Together everyone achieves more and the reason we have leadership teams is not for one person to carry the burden but to share it amongst the team. For some students, this will require having to step back and trust the other members of their team and for others, it will require them to step up and understand what playing their part looks like.
Use regular check-in meetings as an avenue to keep students accountable to the steps they have been allocated within the team.
5 – Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines
Allocating responsibility is one side of the coin and setting hard deadlines is the other. Having deadlines for each step of the project ensures the accountability of the team which I mentioned in Point 4. Every step in an action plan should have a deadline to help the student leadership team work towards the end goal. What has a deadline attached to it gets completed, while those things that don’t, end up just adding to a never-ending to-do list abyss for both students and teachers.
From the start of the project in the inception and planning phase, ensure every step towards achieving the project has a deadline and has someone allocated to keep the team accountable to those deadlines.
Burn Bright partners with schools and their leadership teams to help them to build positive relationships, create a vision for the future and plan projects that have impact! See burnbright.org.au for more!
- Get to know your team – know each others’ names, find common ground, build friendships
- Communicate clearly
- Lay the ground rules before you begin
- Listen to each other – make sure each person has a chance to voice opinions/thoughts/ideas
- Allocate roles
- Set deadlines
- Be decisive
- Be open to new ideas – don’t shut ideas down. Hear them out even if you don’t agree with them
- Identify strengths of individuals in the team and what they bring to the table
- Plan, plan and plan again
Why projects fail:
- Lack of a plan
- A whole lot of vision and a lack of detail
- When people don’t listen to each other
- People who dominate the group
- People don’t understand their role/aren’t allocated a role
- People aren’t held accountable
- Teams don’t understand the personalities in the group – introverts and extrovert