Students learn leadership is worth the effort

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Students go to great lengths to take part in an icebreaker event during the keynote speech by Phil Boyte.

LETHBRIDGE – They heard being a leader takes work. If Cohen Cummins is any example, however, hundreds of students taking part in the annual leadership conference left inspired that the effort is well worth it.

The Grade 7 Champion School student was encouraged by a conference session based on the first chapter of a best-selling book by Navy Seal Admiral William H. McRaven: “Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World.”

Making your bed might seem like an insignificant task, but the consequences weren’t lost on Cummins.

“It’s important because it raises your self-esteem because you did something successful to start off your day,” says the Palliser Regional Schools’ student.

Some 600 junior and senior high students from more than a half-dozen school jurisdictions across southern Alberta gathered at the University of Lethbridge to learn making positive change in their school and in their larger community comes from first making changes within.

They attended breakout sessions, presented by fellow students, which highlighted the messages delivered in McRaven’s book with chapters ranging from “Never, Ever Quit,” to “Failure Can Make You Stronger,” and “You Can’t Go Alone.”

Ben Den Engelsen’s group from Calgary Christian School highlighted strategies based on that latter chapter about the importance of working together with like-minded individuals in order to achieve a common goal.

The Grade 11 student spoke personally about the West Coast Trail trip he and schoolmates experience as part of the outdoor education program at their Palliser school.

“We talked about how working together can be far superior than just going it alone. How you need the expertise, the knowledge or just the friendship of others in order to really experience something or accomplish something,” he says.

The conference, which originated as an experience for Palliser Regional Schools’ students alone, began with motivational words by keynote speaker Phil Boyte. Through anecdotes and a variety of hands-on activities he talked about means to improve school culture.

People follow those they know and trust, he says, and provided them with tips on how to break the ice and then show you are listening. Leadership is also about energy and finding the appropriate level so others want to be part of what they are doing, students heard.

Boyte also provided suggestions of small things they can do to which could make a big difference in someone’s life, like vowing to say ‘hello’ to 10 people they don’t know at school each day.

It also takes courage to be a leader, he says, whether that’s telling friends the truth – in a kind way – or taking the initiative to try something new at their school. It also takes patience, as those ideas may not catch hold the first, second or even third time they try.

The students were told about a snack cart Boyte saw wheeled down the halls of a school he visited, with students stopping to offer teachers a treat.

“Have you heard the quote, ‘If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?’  Well, if the teachers aren’t happy. . . ,” he says.

At the end of the conference students gathered as a school to discuss what they learned and possible activities that might work with them. Cummins was going to make a pitch for the snack cart, with the twist of offering treats not just to teachers but students as well.

“I think that would be good because we have a small school and it wouldn’t cost that much,” he says. “It would just really brighten their day and let them know that people care for them.”

Food apparently speaks to teenage boys, with Champion classmate Logan Meadows a big fan of the ‘Bring Your Own Banana Day’ suggestion.

“Every student who has a banana at school can go through a line and change it to a banana split,” he explains enthusiastically. “It would probably inspire kids to do better things and really brighten their day.”

Palliser Director of Learning Jason Kupery says the growth of the conference – with the Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium the lead organizer – allows students to broaden their horizons and find out what students are doing in other school divisions.

“We have amazing diversity and incredible student leaders in Palliser, but that’s apparent in every school division, so it is good for them to see that broader perspective,” he says.

One change this year was the addition of a professional development session for the adult leaders put on by Boyte and Ted Termertzoglou, author of “Healthy Active Living 2.0.” Kupery says those adults have a stake in leadership in their school and they too can use some fresh ideas and “cross-pollination.”

Charlene Grimes, Coalhurst High School Principal, says she learned some fun activities from both presenters that she will try at staff meetings and then hopefully those teachers will take them back to their own students.

“It was all very useful and it was hands-on and that’s always good,” she says, adding the session was also a great opportunity to network. “I met several people today that I have not met before. I had some interesting conversations about things they were doing in their schools and it’s always beneficial when you can do that.”