What does being a student leader really mean?

April 2016


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AMBER JOSEPH, head girl of Palmerston North Girls’ High School 2016, provides her take on student leadership.

AmberBefore my role as head girl, I wouldn’t have said I was new to leadership. Prior to my appointment at the beginning of 2016, I had been in roles such as instrument programme leader, class captain, student council representative, senior art leader, English mentor, and guitar student leader. I had spoken publicly at open days, in the occasional assemblies, on road trips, and had even been asked to be a guest performer in a regional performing arts competition. I was a sportswoman, a high academic achiever, played piano, painted, and still managed a decent social life.

But being a leader turned out to be so much more.

Our generation doesn’t just experience advances in technology, comfort, travel, and ways of communication. We have undergone a huge advancement in confidence. Previous generations were discouraged from speaking up in class, were never called upon to speak publicly, and student leadership was about as successful as my calculus homework… it showed little hope or signs of improvement.

So when I was told by parents and grandparents that the things I was doing – the public speaking, the leading of others – was amazing, incredible, and such a wonderful opportunity, I believed them.

As it turns out, leadership is about so much more than I, or even they, could have ever imagined. Leadership is being able to confidently lead people… constantly. It is a badge that follows you through your school, through your community, through your friends, and through your family life. As much as we may try to escape leadership, once appointed, you become truly committed to that role for the year.

You soon realise that being busy isn’t just attending meetings every lunchtime. It isn’t having a full diary or having no time to breathe, let alone sleep. Being busy is having to pick and choose what you take on. It’s saying ‘no’ to opportunities you really wish you could take. It’s creating a mental organising system that gets you through each day, and another for each week, and a big one that sits in the back of your mind for the year.

Mostly though, I have found that leadership is about the people who look up to you. As a leader, you are a constant figure that people need to know is stable, consistent, and always there. Unfortunately for leaders, this is near impossible. People like to have names for leaders: a coach, a teacher, a head girl, a principal. And in the end, as long as someone is in that role who wants to be there, no-one gets too worked up.

Despite being in the early days of my role as head girl, I can say that the biggest challenge I have faced is accepting that what I can offer is enough.

Accepting that what worked for previous head girls did not work for me was difficult, especially when previous head girls had done a fantastic job. While having an image is important for the reassurance of others, being true and confident in yourself is vital for your own sanity as much as anything. And at the end of the day, when you are happy as a leader, others will follow.  

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