Do you know what qualities of a good student leader?

If you’re not sure, then don’t despair. You’re not on your own.

A recent survey asking teachers in the US to name the qualities of a good student leader showed that less 40% of respondents felt certain of the characteristics, traits, and qualities that they should focus to promote leadership in students.

With 3 decades experience in the student leadership space in primary schools it’s noticeable that good student leaders, that is, those who serve their fellow students well, represent their school’s values and can lead others (whether a sports team, project team or class group) share the following characteristics and qualities:

  • Confident communication skills
  • Empathy
  • Self-regulation
  • Goal-orientation
  • Organisational abilities
  • Willingness to learn.
  • A sense of personal responsibility
  • Initiative


How to develop the qualities of a good student leader

At first glance, it’s easy to attribute the development of these qualities to factors outside a school’s control – nature and nurture.

That is, kids are either born with these qualities in abundance or these qualities were developed in the confines of the family home. Both are true to a point.

Doubtless nature plays a part in the development of a child’s strengths and personality traits.

But nature only presents potential rather than a fait accompli. And parental influence does matter but to suggest that the school environment doesn’t play a significant role in nurturing a child’s leadership ability is way wide of the mark.

A school plays a significant role in revealing a child’s leadership qualities, shaping those qualities, and polishing them in the later primary school years so that young leaders are ready to shine when their time comes.

Schools that develop students’ leadership qualities:

  • Identify the qualities and skill they want to develop.
  • Include leadership training in classroom work.
  • Adequately resource leadership training
  • Provide a variety of opportunities for students to lead.


In-school training V outsourced training

In-school programs conducted by class teachers are far more successful in preparing students for leadership positions than one-off incursions or training provided by a visiting speaker.

The glow left by a visiting speaker quickly leaves after the event whereas, the continuous nature of an in-school programs ensures that real teaching and learning takes place. Importantly, student’s leadership qualities and skills are developed over time.

A one-off leadership incursion on its own is an absolute waste of resources and time.

A good in-school leadership program for primary school students

It’s valuable to consider what a good leadership program looks like. A good in-school leadership program has these five keys in common:

  • Uses an established framework across year levels for consistency.
  • Focuses on personal leadership before developing public leadership.
  • Develops an understanding of leadership.
  • Provides training for all students in senior schools.
  • Provides on-going support and development for elected leaders.


Maximise student leadership potential.

Developing student leadership capabilities in school is perhaps the best way to tap into students’ potential. In my experience there is huge untapped leadership potential in primary schools just waiting to be harnessed for the benefit of students both individually and collectively, their schools and broader community.

Right now, the world sorely needs good leaders.

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So, you’re thinking about become a leader in your primary school. Good for you. It’s great to see that you want to step up and serve your fellow students and your teachers. Being a student leader isn’t easy. For a start, you’ve got to give up some of your time. That means devoting some lunch times and even after school to your leadership duties. You may find that some other students difficult to manage and communicate with. They may not agree with you, or even want to cooperate. So you may have to work on your communication skills -that is, how you speak to and work with others But the positives far outweigh any negatives. You will benefit and grow so much from the experience.

Am I good enough?

You may have some self-doubts about your leadership potential. That’s quite common. We all doubt ourselves from time to time. But don’t let your doubts stop you from achieving what you set your heart out to do. Besides, student leadership is not something that you are born with, but something that you can learn and practice. The world needs great leaders and the best place to start is being a student leader in primary school. So, if you want to become a student leader, here are some tips and steps to help you along the way:

1. Identify your strengths and interests.

What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? What are you passionate about? Spend some time thinking about these questions as they will motivate you and help you find your niche as a student leader.

2.Set goals and make plans.

What do you want to achieve as a student leader? How will you measure your progress and success? What are the steps and actions that you need to take? These are the things that can guide you and help you stay focused as a student leader.

3.Seek opportunities and challenges.

What are the existing or potential opportunities for student leadership in your school ? How can you get involved or create your own? What are the difficulties or risks that you might face? Think about these things that will challenge you and help you grow as a student leader. Look for opportunities to lead, even if they don’t come with a title. By stepping up and giving a speech, organising a game or starting a project you’ll get valuable leadership experience.

4.Learn from others and yourself.

Who are the people that inspire you or support you as a student leader? How can you learn from their experiences and advice? How can you reflect on your own experiences and feedback? The models you choose will help you learn and improve as a leader. Identify three people who you look up to as leaders, and think about what it is that you admire about them.

5. Have fun and make a difference.

How can you enjoy your student leadership journey and celebrate your achievements? How can you make a positive impact on others and yourself? Make sure leadership is fun and rewarding. This will help you inspire others as a student leader.

A final word…or two

These are just some of the tips and steps that you can follow to become a student leader. There is no one right way to be a student leader, but rather many different ways that suit different personalities, situations, and goals. The important thing is to be yourself, be open-minded, and be willing to learn and change. Remember, student leadership is not about having power over others, but about having power with others.