Students learn leadership skills at Palliser conference

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Student leaders welcome breakout session participants.

They filed into the Student Leadership Conference that morning school-by-school. As the day wound down, the more than 500 Palliser Regional Schools students gathered in a circle as a sign of unification.

It was a diverse crowd, with urban and rural students standing side-by-side; Islamic students working with Low-German Mennonite students; and Christian school students mingling with international students from Brazil.

Yet those students have more in common than differences that set them apart, pointed out student Andrew te Linde, who shared MC duties with fellow Calgary Christian schoolmate, Sophia Cliplef.

“You are leaders,” te Linde told the students ranging from Grades 7 to 12 after a couple of rousing revolutions of the wave.

He received a resounding “yes!” when he asked the crowd if they were ready to be leaders, and again when he questioned whether they were ready to go back to their respective schools and make a change.

The student organizing committee guided fellow students through a series of breakout sessions on leadership skills including ways to encourage and inspire their own creativity. Topics ranged from ways to make an impact locally and globally to building self-confidence, leaving a legacy and engaging the community.

The students then gathered back in school groups to make action plans for change. They will gather again as a group in April to share the results of their work.

The conference was called “Discover U: Explore. Create. Achieve.” Kaitlin Rose, one of the student organizers, said she learned some things about herself.

“I’m a shy girl and I really had to learn to be a leader myself in this so it really helped me grow that way,” said the Grade 11 student at Vulcan’s County Central High School.

Rose enjoyed the opportunity to interact with other students in the breakout sessions, with her group talking about leaving a legacy.

“The message was that your legacy is important no matter what the size and it’s up to you. It’s your legacy because you make it and nobody else,” she said.

Providing the keynote address was David Usher, former frontman for the award-winning band, Moist. A businessman, author and human rights activist, Usher provided students with tips on how to develop a more dynamic and open creative process.

Creativity and leadership go hand-in-hand in his mind, especially when working in a group. A leader must understand the group dynamics, including his or her own responsibilities and everyone else’s role. Usher sees his role as the conductor, holding on to the best ideas and helping synthesize them. He spoke of the “monsters and mice” dynamics.

“There are some voices that are really loud and some voices that are shy and quiet. I’ve discovered that the best ideas don’t necessarily come from the loudest places and the job of the conductor or group leader is to get the loudest people in the group to listen more and allow the quieter people to speak more,” he said. “You are trying to collect the best ideas but you can only do that if you balance out the personalities within the group.”

Creativity is a learnable skill, Usher told the students, with work and discipline 95 per cent of the equation and the other five per cent inspiration.

His was an interactive presentation as he chatted with students in the crowd and brought others on stage, including Jayme Velthuis. Usher had the Grade 9 student from Picture Butte High School grasp a tube that amplified her heartbeat.

“It was pretty scary but I had a great time because I found it really funny,” she said after her “Tell-Tale Heart” session. “And it was cool to actually hear my heart beat and hear how it could actually match the song.”

The conference was the first opportunity for Calgary Islamic School students to meet with students from across Palliser Regional Schools. Grade 8 student Nour Alagami was impressed by the gathering and Usher’s presentation.

“I thought the message was always try hard. And if you work hard, you can achieve your goal,” he said.

Muaz Habib, also of the Omar Bin Al-Khattab Campus, also appreciated the occasion.

“I liked the fact that Palliser has a lot of multi-cultural and religious people and the fact that we get to interact and talk about different things makes it nice,” said the Grade 8 student.

The conference was organized by students, for students, and the two dozen members of the organizing committee were joined by a like number of those helping with the presentations the night prior. They decorated the pavilion at Exhibition Park, polished their presentations and received tips on how to engage with the participants by motivational speaker Phil Boyt.

The conference was made possible by the support of community-minded businesses including RBC Royal Bank, KPMG, Xerox and Axia.