I owe it to my students to have led me to espouse student leadership as I coached their spontaneous efforts and appetite for empowerment. Our achievements were gradual. At first, a few students simply came up with the idea of organizing a TEDx event. It wasn’t fashionable yet, then, and I did not know that such a great opportunity even existed until they made me aware of it. The event was a tremendous success and grew steadily over the years as generations of students picked up the flame.
Soon enough, however, another group expressed the desire to “do more”: to go beyond sharing ideas with a limited audience and start “doing things” as a whole community. A Global Issues Network conference turned out to be a great avenue for this next step.
Because they had been so successful, these student-led initiatives helped me realize that student empowerment was direly missing, even in the most progressive schools. As student-centered as they were, rarely, if ever, did they create student leadership opportunities beyond the classroom. Yet, what better way to shape future leaders than to help them play a leading role in their present school community? Were such experiences doomed to be confined to exceptional events? Could student leadership become the rule? Could it extend from peripheral activities to the core work of the school?
“What better way to shape future leaders than to help them play a leading role in their present school community?”
Building on a model developed at UNIS New York, the French-American school I was working for at the time entrusted a colleague and I to facilitate a two-week pedagogical workshop during which students and teachers collaborated in the creation of blended units. Year after year, this program confirmed that teenagers could play an active role, not only in their own learning, but also in the structures and systems that shape their education. Helping schools implement this ideal, as I have started doing in Japan, is the motivation behind Student Leadership Initiative.
While my current efforts are focused on reimagining the traditional student council and developing student leadership through service learning, there are innumerable ways in which pioneer schools will be able to embrace student empowerment as the embodiment and culmination of their very mission. Indeed, students have an appropriate role to play everywhere their own future is being decided.
International educator and founder of Student Leadership Initiative
Jérémie Rostan, founder of the Student Leadership Initiative, is an international educator with 10+ years of experience in student empowerment.