Anne Coster – Distributing student leadership

In this story, Anne Coster talks about working with the school student council to explore their understanding of leadership concepts, and to establish genuine opportunities for them to assume meaningful leadership and decision-making roles.



The particular focus for me was working with the student council so that body became more effective - more effective in preparing young women to go out into the world and to know how to deal with issues, how to use a forum that is the forum for deciding issues and deciding logical next steps. And really the problem with the student council as I saw it, it was supposed to be a representative body with representation from each class across the school. So then you’ve got Year 9s through to Year 13s. With the best will in the world Year 9s are intimidated by the older students when they first come along to these meetings, so I didn’t want to supply solutions to my Year 13 council leadership committee. The solutions had to come from them and identification of the issues had to come from them, so we had several meetings at the beginning of the year before they ran their first council meetings thinking about:

  • What are your goals for the year?
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What do you want for all of the students who are part of that committee?

They came through that process of discussion to the idea that it was important to hear what everybody’s saying. And I said:

"Oh, wait a minute, how do you do that? Who’s been on the council throughout the years? How did you feel as a Year 9? How did that change as you went through? What would you do differently? What would need to happen differently, for you to really feel that there was a voice, that everybody had a voice? What happens in classrooms? Think of classrooms in which you feel safe and open to express some opinion - to actively openly debate things with people. What happens in those classrooms? How does the teacher set things up, are they at the centre of things?"

They worked out for themselves a model of enabling a voice for all of the students on that council. So they split things up into groups, they took responsibility for year levels, they built that culture of conversation and open dialogue. Then they would write up on the board at the beginning of the meetings. They’d have their advance organisers, the girls would come in, they established routines for enabling communication backwards and forwards. Actually it was incredible to see and really they worked towards identifying the issues with just a little help and facilitation at the beginning. They took it over and ran with it and throughout the year I didn’t have to go to every meeting. At the back of all of this was that idea of what are we really doing with the curriculum that we deliver in schools? Because the curriculum is everything, all of the experiences that we expose our young people to. There’s the unwritten curriculum as well, and we’re showing young women that they have a voice, that there are avenues for expressing your opinions, there are avenues for agitating for change, initiating change.

You know, at the end of the day we want our young women to be able to go out into the community, to be actively involved, to know when to speak up, when to listen actively. We want them to be able to make informed and considered decisions for the good of their families, the area that they’re working in, their communities. It’s all about this - layers of local and national and global connectedness.

They investigated things like - should the school buy a van to take students to sports games? They investigated what it would cost to buy a van, what would the running costs be? What would you need to do to recoup those costs? Who would drive it? All of that. In the end (they) decided actually that’s not right for us and we’re better served by using public transport. The outcome wasn’t the one that they would have hoped for at the beginning. They’re making an informed decision that they then have to go back and communicate.

They had a sub group of council who worked on the effort grade review. I didn’t show them the results of the staff review until they’d finished theirs. Then they looked to see how those reviews had aligned and there was such close alignment of the reviews. Then two of the students from the council committee came and reported back to staff at a staff meeting. That was really powerful because the one message that had not come out of the staff review that they put very, very powerfully was ‘Communicate with us. This is all about us and our learning don’t forget if you’re concerned about our effort or one aspect of it, talk to us. We’ve got to have open lines of communication and we need to know if you think we are slipping. You know if I’m going to get a two instead of a one I want to know why. I want to know specifically what I need to do in this particular area in order to show you that I’m working to the very best of my abilities.’

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