Students Participate in Leadership Conference
Leadership skills are the focus of a new program and event called the “Leadership Challenge Experience.”
Students from District 211 schools participated in the event on March 8, which partnered with William Rainey Harper College. Its ideology was based off of five practices outlined in the book The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.
Eric Dolen, assistant principal at William Fremd High School, said after the Mid-Suburban League Conferences were disbanded after 12 years, something needed to replace them.
That’s when he met Chris George, assistant activity director at Harper College. They attended the same leadership trainings in Chicago and wanted to create a program closer to home.
“We didn’t want to just do events, we wanted this to be a way to give back … for student leaders to move in a positive direction,” Dolen said.
After the District’s activity directors from each school were on board, it took a year of planning to bring this program to fruition. Students from groups that exhibit a strong need for leadership, such as student council and National Honor Society members, were selected to participate in the event, Dolen said.
Students explored the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” from the book, which include: Model the Way; Inspire a Shared Vision; Challenge the Process; Enable Others to Act; and Encourage the Heart.
Dolen said students met before and after the event, and each did self-inventory of strengths and weaknesses as leaders. This allowed them to see where improvement is needed in their leadership skills.
Refining those skills over time was something George said was a goal.
“We did not want this program to be just a one-day event with no follow-up,” George said. “We wanted a leadership program that is sustainable and could continue throughout the year.”
During the next two months, a Harper student representative for each high school will meet with students and staff to help encourage and guide leadership growth. Additionally, students are to complete a journal and one group assignment that reflects on their experience in the program, with each assignment revolving around the five practices outlined in the book.
Dolen said a takeaway from the event was students realizing it is just as important to be a follower as it is to be a leader, because a leader is only successful once they have their first follower.
“It’s like the shirtless man who is the only one dancing, he’s the odd man out,” Dolen said. “It’s just as important for that first person to go out there and join him, to follow the wave.”
Dolen said they will work with Harper College to continue this program in the future, and will look at students’ evaluations for input when planning the next conference.