Wednesday / May 29

Ideas for Building Up Student Leaders in the Classroom

Teachers continue to be challenged on how to accommodate for the various learning differences of their individual students. Additionally, teachers may need added support in the translation and interpretation of various home languages when communicating with students’ parents and families in the classroom and during the school day. Although schools provide various student support services, many are limited in the time and scope of these services. One solution is to train students to serve as student leaders in the classroom.

Trained student leaders can coordinate curricular content activities that include literacy activities, math problem solving, and performing arts. Student leaders can translate for parents, community volunteers, and other students in the classroom. The value of having students serve as volunteers includes:

  • Students have an understanding of what is required to support their peers’ learning needs.
  • Students can partner with teachers in identifying effective strategies for engaging students in learning centers and small group activities.
  • Students learn how to lead from their responsibilities. They can transfer these leadership skills into other service activities at school, home, and in their communities.
  • Students can teach parents how to assist their siblings with class assignments by modeling effective paraeducator skills in the home.
  • Student leaders can be better prepared for their own college and career readiness.

Trained student leaders can also participate with their teachers to create critical thinking assessments for classroom activities and projects. Critical thinking skills assessment should include feedback from teachers and students about the activity. Inquiry questions can yield the following benefits (see Why Are School Buses Always Yellow? by John Barell):

  • Identifying prior learning experiences
  • Determining what was learned or achieved
  • Reflecting on how outcomes were accomplished
  • Reviewing similar situations and compare outcomes
  • Proposing outcomes that can be achieved in future projects
  • Identifying positives and deltas that can be used to structure future projects

Student leaders can also participate in ongoing parent education classes that help the parents support their children’s academic learning as well as inform the parents about the local school system. Participation assessments for students and their parents can include reflections on their content knowledge, teaching skills, and leadership development (e.g. see Developing Community-Empowered Schools by Mary Ann Burke).

Here is a sample student leader assessment for a middle or high school student.

Sample Student Leader Reflective Assessment

Directions: In the space below, answer each question with your thoughts for today and needs for future learning. These responses will be shared with your classmates to determine next steps in how we can support your training and role as a classroom student leader.

Reflective Questions My Thoughts for Today Need for Future Learning
What did I learn today about being a volunteer in my classroom?


How can my teacher work more closely with me when I am helping individual students, parents, and volunteers in small groups?


What leadership skills did I use today when working in small groups?


If I partnered with my parents in the classroom, what did we learn together?


What can my parents learn from the teacher to help me at home with class assignments?


How can my teacher and parents support me in career and college planning activities?


What do I need to learn to explore careers and plan for college?


Add your own question with response!



Add your own question with response!




Written by

Mary Ann Burke has served as a credentialed parent educator and adjunct professor for over thirty years in California’s schools. Dr. Burke has presented effective parenting and school engagement strategies at numerous state and national parent engagement events. She recently authored a twin book series that includes Yikes! Brandon Has Twin Sisters, Yikes! Brandon and His Sisters Play at the Park, and Yikes Brandon and His Twin Sisters Go to School. Mary Ann is the co-author of Effective Parenting! Capable Kids! She is also the author of four Corwin Press books on parent and community engagement in schools. Mary Ann Burke previously led the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Parent Engagement Initiative that serves as a state model for best practices in parent engagement for culturally diverse families. She creates Common Core State Standards kits for parents to use at home and in their child’s classroom to support children’s literacy and academic readiness skills. Mary Ann is an active grandmother of five grandchildren. She shares this expertise with educators and school leaders as a trainer, author, and curriculum developer.

Latest comments

  • I have tried completely free choice in my classroom full of 3″s during center time, while calling a few children up at a time in order to work with them individually. Because I share my classroom with a church class, it is impossible for me to have specified centers set up at any given time, so I do the best I can with what I have! Because of their age, they had a very hard time regulating how many kids could be in a center, or good time management with free choice. While I dislike being controlling of what the children do, I had to gain some balance in my classroom. I decided to go to the can and “ticket method. At the end of morning circle time, the children get to choose which station they go to. I usually have 3 red, 3 yellow, and 3 green tickets. I randomly choose a student one at a time to choose their ticket and station, but if you had a particularly rough circle time, chances are good you will be the last to choose your ticket. We usually have 2 teacher directed activities, and one area of free choice. The entire group must wait until their friends are done before they can rotate stations, that way they can learn patience and tolerance for their peers as well. It seems to work really well, and cut down on the chaos of the classroom.

    • This is an incredible strategy for training students to work in partnership with their classmates. As a former early childhood and
      K-12 educator, I used this type of strategy to teach my students how to take turns and respect the rights of others. Thank you for sharing your classroom management strategies in training student leaders!

  • Last week I shared the content of this blog with Los Angeles leadership students at a Youth Policy Institute Charter School. Students added that they value helping limited English speaking students with being a friend, helping students understand school rules, and assisting with critical thinking skills during class discussions. Added help with parents may include writing notes for their parents in English, scheduling meetings with staff, notifying the office staff when their parents need assistance, and helping parents understand the rigor of grade level content.

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