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Choosing and Developing Student Leaders

It is that time of year where the weather is changing, spring concerts, contests, and festivals are around the corner, budget requests for next year are being made, and it is time to choose the student leadership team for your program for the next school year. The better planning and preparation, the better the ensemble experience will be for all members. Here is a quick guide to give you some thoughts as you enter the “Student Leadership Selection” process.

As Stephen Covey says in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it is always important to “begin with an end in mind.” Here are some guiding questions for you to consider:

a. Why do you need student leaders?

b. Who will these student leaders be?

c. What will these student leaders do?

d. Where will these student leaders do it?

e. How should these student leaders do it?

These are questions that can and must be asked and answered by you – the Director…The Leader. Think about the above questions and design a complete picture of what your leadership team, purpose, philosophy, and technique will look like. Once these questions are answered, you can design a leadership program that benefits you, the student leaders, and your ensemble. Remember, there is more to leadership than a title and a t-shirt. The purpose and the process are crucial to move your group in a positive direction.


You need to set expectations and goals for the program and for the leadership team. You know what you want/need based on the many experiences and influences you have encountered throughout your career . Always be mindful that this is music education, and that you are responsible for the educational and musical experiences absorbed by your students. Construct and design a leadership program based on your needs, and the goals that in place for your program and student growth. It is acceptable and encouraged to “borrow” from other teachers and programs; however, one size does not fit all. The leadership in your program must be a tailored program that you must constructed with your program in mind.


How will the student leadership program help the program achieve its potential,  and assist you in serving the program at a higher level? What do you need to move the entire program and team forward? What are the outcomes and benefits for you, the students, and the program? Lots of questions that only you can answer. Take the time to look at the past, evaluate the present, then focus on and build for the future.


All success in our lives is built and dependent upon a plan and a system in which to achieve it. Design a leadership system that is compatible with you and the needs of the program. Establish the titles and job descriptions of each and every position within the system and acquire all necessary tools and resources to assist with the work going forward. Remember, the title is not the most important factor in this process, it is the outcome and who is best suited to allow that outcome to be realized. 


Students will buy into the process if their voice is included (cooperation and collaboration is key) – have a defined selection process by which the students in the program have a voice as to who their leaders should be. Set the requirements and expectations of each leader and make these known to the ensemble. Now, guidelines for the student leadership team have been established, and students will search for the right person to serve on the leadership team. Once a group of students has been “selected”, an interview/audition should be held with each student. It does take time. Time spent wisely now choosing the right people will save hours and heartaches as the challenges of the school year performance schedule, deadlines, etc. become more and more demanding. The leaders will need to be focused enough on the task at hand to be the example and show the rest of the ensemble the correct way to be their potential. An interview process, the writing of an essay, teacher recommendations, are all tools available to assist in the selection of students to build a quality leadership team.



It is crucial that student leaders are trained and prepared to do the task assigned and that they have all the tools they need to lead their peers in a confident manner. Session designed to train the leadership team should be implemented. Topics can cover a wide range of information: Communication, Leadership Philosophy, Rules of the Ensemble, Leadership Expectations, Conflict Resolution, I/Me vs We/Us. The list is endless, and should reflect the needs of your program.  There are numerous training videos, experts, and so on that can help you get the leadership lessons across.


Assist your student leaders to grow into successful leaders. Watch them, guide them, allow them fail and succeed. Learning takes place when a measurable change of behavior occurs. Give your student leaders a chance to lead, while you wait in the background, ready to guide and assist. I suggest weekly meetings: they can be as short as 15 minutes to discuss “tell me how it’s going and this is what I’ve noticed,” a scheduling meeting so that the leaders understand what is coming next and their roles and responsibilities, running a successful sectional, or a discussion on leadership techniques to assist them in their journey. Most important, be there for your student leaders.  They need you and  you need them, you are the adult expert here…work with them to create a great experience in the ensemble for all members.


Have a system of feedback and evaluations, whether they be monthly, weekly, or after each performance or project. Send each leader an evaluation sheet, either on paper or electronically, to assess their work, progress, and individual growth. Honest feedback is crucial for success and growth of the organization and each member or the group. If there is a student leader struggling, have aa chat with them on what you see, what you can do to help, and suggest ways for the individual to improve and become more effective.


We all need support, encouragement, and someone to tell us we are doing well. You need to be that person for your student leaders. People will repeat the behavior that we give them attention for…so…catch them doing something right, and let them know that they are doing it right.  Often times, doing this publicly will encourage others to work towards doing things right as well.  Public acknowledgement goes a long way in encouraging and supporting present leaders as well as setting up future leadership teams to understand expectations and work ethic.


I have realized that it is not the final performance that matters, it is the process to get there that makes the difference in our lives. The process is anywhere from one week, one month, one year, 5 years, and so on until we reach an entire life span and career. This attitude is very helpful to the student leader as well as you in your mission as a music educator. Always keep the goals of the student and music education forefront.


It makes all the sense in the world to look back and evaluate what you have done and accomplished over the past year. Have a final gathering of staff and leaders to discuss the experience. Take notes, learn, adjust, change, adapt, and even throw some things out. Always seek to improve the process and the product, and keep that freshness and newness in your teaching. The most powerful evaluation is the one I give myself based on what I saw, heard and experienced. If I as a leader improve – so does my organization.

It is time to Make a Difference.


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