John Quincy Adams is quoted as saying, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Many high school administrators want their students to become strong leaders in their buildings. The question, therefore, is how do athletic directors take and develop Adams’ quote and apply it to student-athletes in order to create better role models within their teams and schools?
To help build student leadership throughout their schools and programs, many athletic directors have developed groups to help instill positive traits in students. Dakota Ridge High School (Littleton, Colorado) has taken the concepts of a leadership council and has used it to benefit the school and community in many different areas.
Dakota’s Leadership Council is comprised of two students from every sport and activity throughout the school with a preference for one upperclassman and one freshman. Since student-athletes on many teams select their captains, members of this important group at Dakota Ridge do not have to serve in this capacity. It should consist, however, of student-athletes that coaches see as respected leaders. It is important that team members listen to these individuals when they bring back information from the meetings.
Another important component of the membership is to have representatives from every school group – athletics, spirit, Super Fans, vocal and instrumental music, drama, etc. – so that all voices are heard.
There are two meetings that are used to develop the leadership skills of the students. One is held bi-weekly with the first item on the agenda allowing each sport, club or activity to provide an update on future major events or activities. Each group tries to support each other at key games and performances. Often, Dakota Ridge’s Leadership Council will attend these important events, beyond athletic competitions. For example, members of the Dakota Ridge Leadership Council will meet at a local pizza restaurant for a pre-arranged meal deal and attend the school play or a marching band competition.
The next item on the agenda is to allow members to discuss relevant school issues. For example, the treatment of freshmen, student behavior at games, rivalry conflicts, social media issues and other items are addressed within this setting with all members contributing to solutions. A major issue that Dakota Ridge worked and improved upon is feelings of a lack of appreciation between the marching band and football team. The Leadership Council talked about this important concern and, as a solution, the football team cheers the band at a major competition and helps move the musical equipment pieces onto the field.
During these meetings, members might also bring up team issues that they have been facing. The Leadership Council has addressed issues involving communication with coaches, working with a team member who isn’t dedicated to how to deal with a losing season. It is important that all members of the Council know that confidentiality is important in working through these issues.
The next agenda item at the bi-weekly meetings is working with leadership activities that develop the skills of the group. A recommended resource is the Janssen Leadership Center. This site has a lot of material, activities and surveys that are suitable for students. Also, Dakota Ridge’s Leadership Council will usually do a group read of a popular leadership book. Most recently, the council used Tim Elmore’s Growing Leaders book and video series.
The second meeting involves working with other schools. Dakota Ridge’s Leadership Council joins in with members of two local high schools and their student leaders. These meetings are usually held three times a year prior to each sports season. The three schools bring 30 of their students to meet at one of the schools, and they are intermixed to help students get to know other leaders. All students start the day in the auditorium with a motivational speaker. Afterward, the students will split up, and discuss and rotate through the various topics. Following are some of the sessions that Dakota Ridge has used:
The rotations are energetic and encourage student interaction. The groups comprised of all three schools are encouraged to “tweet” and “Snap” out pictures of working together and show what they are learning.
One of the most powerful aspects of the Leadership Council is to work within the community, utilizing the leadership skills the students have been developing. Community service promotes camaraderie and builds a sense of collective direction with the students. Prior to Halloween, Thanksgiving or Valentine’s Day, Dakota Ridge’s Leadership Council will visit the Children’s Hospital and work on arts and crafts with children who are facing challenges. Students are partnered up with young patients in the hospital to create a project for the holiday.
Other outreach projects for the Leadership Council have included a fund drive for a family of an opposing football team that experienced a tragedy; working with district elementary schools at their Carnival and Field Days; “Think Pink” visits to a chemotherapy ward with hand lotions, books and get-well notes before a rival basketball game; and many other opportunities to make a positive difference and impact in the school and community.
Creating a leadership group that is supportive of the school and community takes some time to develop and nurture, but it is a very beneficial initiative for everyone involved.
Matt Heckel is the athletic director and assistant principal at Dakota Ridge High School in Littleton, Colorado. He is a member of the awards committees for the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and the Colorado Athletic Directors Association.