Last week I had a conversation with a principal that left me thinking long and hard.

She was frustrated with the lack of leadership shown by senior students in her school.

This was not a one-off year.

There’d been a steady decline in the numbers of prospective students ready for leadership. It meant that many students, ill-equipped for leadership, were elected for important leadership positions.

As a result, behavioural standards dropped. Teacher expectations plummeted. And student leadership wasn’t taken seriously.

The solution?

This principal needs to focus on building a deeper pool of prospective leaders and she needs to do it quickly.

Here’s how.

  1. Start early.
  2. Bring leadership into the classroom.
  3. Focus on how to, not woo hoo.
  4. Make leadership prominent.
  5. Test prospective leaders.


1. Start early.


Many schools leave student leadership development too late in a child’s seven year education cycle.

Conversations I have with principals and teachers about student leadership focus on the senior years. That’s too late.

If you want high quality student leaders you need to start leadership development early.  Borrow from the major sporting codes and use a modified version of the leadership game. Think Auskick, Kanga Cricket, and Little Kickers.

Focus on key student leadership activities (e.g. speaking in front of others, organising sports event, community ambassador) and simplify each in the earlier years.

Begin the leadership sequence early and broaden the scope in the senior years. That way you’ll get more students who are capable of putting their hands up for student leadership and be able to do their jobs well.


2. Bring leadership into the classroom.


Explicit teaching is the best way to develop student leadership.

Explicit leadership teaching is not as onerous or time-consuming as teachers think. For a practical classroom teaching framework check out my article “Teaching student leadership in the classroom.”

Make sure that student leadership is taught, not caught in your school. High quality student leaders generally have one thing in common – they’ve been taught the capacities needed to lead.


3. Focus on how to, not woo hoo.


Students need three things to be effective leaders – skills, character, and confidence.

Focus on these early enough and you’ll see your student leadership pool deepen.

There’s a place for sending elected student leaders to an external conference or bringing in a speaker for a motivational hit.

But the real leadership work lies in building student character and leadership capacities so that they can step up to leadership when their time comes.

Teach leadership daily for the best results.


4. Make leadership prominent.


“We develop leaders.”

This bold statement sits proudly on a promotional sign outside a government primary school in Queensland.

This school is confident enough to put their aspirations for their students out there for the whole community to see.

This school is telling the world that for them leadership teaching is not a nice thing to do. It’s a must thing to do. It can be a must thing do in your school too.

How could you make student leadership prominent in your school?


5. Let prospective leaders test themselves.


How do your senior students know they are ready to lead? How do they measure their readiness?

Scouting and Guiding, both organisations that foster leadership in children, use ‘badge’ systems that move kids through several levels of attainment.

You don’t need to introduce a badge system for kids to test their leadership capacities. It’s easier to create a series of activities for students to complete before they applying for a leadership position. This one strategy alone would dramatically lift the standard of leadership in your school.

Raising the bar for leadership will deepen your pool of students with high quality leadership skills.

FYI, The Young Leaders team is testing a leadership decathlon – 10 activities every student leader should be able to complete.  Contact me if you’d like to be notified when it’s ready for publication. 




It takes a lot of small changes to deepen your student leadership pool. But the benefits are significant in terms of lifting the standards of leadership in your school.

Creating a deep leadership pool is within the grasp of every school regardless of size, location, or family background.

It’s about intention, focus and systems. All factors that you can control.


PS: The Young Leaders Program will fast track your school’s leadership development. Schools in every state and territory are using Young Leaders to prepare their students for leadership. The good news is that you now can try it fre@.