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Selecting Student Leaders:

Letting students choose their own leaders has far-reaching benefits for your band

Peter Ferrito, MACSC
Band & Orchestra, Vol. 3, No. 12, December 2000, pp. 14-15.

Providing Students with Effective Leadership Skills

Team-Building and Leadership Training is a hands-on workshop that has been successfully presented at 150 high schools throughout the country. The workshop is designed to train student representatives from different backgrounds, opinions and goals:

  1. to create a systematic working relationship and then
  2. to implement a school wide program specifically designed to unify the entire student body.

Band programs can be more successful when members select their own student leaders. You may ask, "Why risk letting students pick their leaders, when they could, potentially, make bad choices based primarily on popularity?" This concern is definitely valid.

However, with the proper training, band members can be trusted to choose the best leaders. As a result, your goals will be achieved more easily, and students' ownership of the music program will be maximized—all because students were trained, and then trusted, to make the right decisions.

Student leaders who are selected by their peers are much more comfortable knowing they have their peers' confidence and support up front. Later in life, students will have to select their government leaders; why not train them to do it properly now?

Band directors can begin by telling band members that they are now entrusted to select the student leaders. Remind the students that in a few years, they will be running our country. Discuss the tremendous power and responsibility they will have in creating both successful personal lives and a more successful country. All this will require effective decision-making.

Explain to them that the band is a mini-society. This is their opportunity to select student leaders who will form the foundation of a music program that will make the director and the members proud.

Steps to Select Student Leaders

Establish criteria for successful student selection by making two lists on the blackboard. Then, have the students list:

  1. qualities of successful student leadership, and
  2. required duties and responsibilities for successful student leadership.

Encourage discussion. Make sure there is consensus on every item in each list.

These exercises give members criteria by which to choose their leaders. It will also help potential student leaders understand what is expected of them and decide if they are up for the challenge.

Now, have your members nominate students from within each section based on the criteria the students have listed.

Then, have nominees give a presentation to their individual sections describing:

  1. their leadership qualities, and
  2. how they will fulfill the needs of their section.

Give the nominees only a day to prepare their presentations. In addition, give the nominees an important, real life band problem to solve and only give them five minutes preparation time. This will demonstrate each candidate's ability to make quick and effective decisions under pressure.

If you really want to challenge the nominees, have them teach a mini-drill and a short piece of music to their sections.

A good rule of thumb is to have your students choose one student leader for every eight to 10 members in a section. If there are five nominees for three positions, students should give each nominee a score—three points for a student's first choice, two points for the second, and one point for the third. Votes will be tallied and nominees will be ranked in order of finish.

There should always be a chain of command among leaders within a section for increased order, manageability, and accountability. For instance, if there are three trumpet section leaders, they should be ranked head section leader, first assistant, and second assistant, based on their scores.

Remind the band just before elections that selecting student leaders is a tremendous responsibility and privilege; their selections will make a great contribution toward the band's ultimate success.

Your students need to know that every section must perform its best for the band to be successful. Therefore, it is critical for each section to select the most capable student leaders.

If, for any reason, one of the band's selections does not work out, students should vote again to pick another leader for that section. (To my knowledge, this has never happened!) If the director merely overrides the students' selections, then he will lose the confidence of the entire band.

Long-Term Results

The process of having students select their own student leaders will take some time. However, as the adage goes, "Well begun is half done." The system will work if you acknowledge that your band members, with the proper training, can make the right decisions. Also, have the patience to see the process through to completion.

Directors who are in their first year at a school might want to wait a few years before implementing this selection process. This will allow new directors the time to get to know their students, insuring a successful election of student leaders.

Steve Lyons, the head band director at Champlin Park High School in Minnesota, has used this student leader selection system. He said, "Initially, I will admit that I had concerns as to whether my band members would elect the best student leaders. I found that all of the students' selections were the same ones I would have selected, except for one. And, after observing that student leader in action, I now know that the students had, in fact, made the best decision."

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