Inviting 12th Graders to “Run” the School

Michelle Scandurro (January 2021)

At my last school, every January, the whole PK – 12 school celebrated Senior Leadership Day (SLD). It took months to coordinate and prepare, but every SLD I experienced was powerful.  After a few years, I began to see that the event was not only “fun,” and something for 12th graders to do in the spring, but culture-building in the best ways.

Working with the coordinating teacher, each 12th grader took the role of a school employee from any department or division of the school.  On SLD, seniors taught classes in the Pre-K, elementary, middle, and upper schools, worked in Maintenance, ran the Development office, and even took up various Leadership Team roles, up to the Head of School.  Students in PK through 11th grade looked forward to having a Senior Teacher each year.

As I reflect, I realize that the keys to the positive impact of Senior Leadership Day were Autonomy, Belonging, and Competence.

Autonomy has been one of the main goals of Senior Leadership Day from the beginning.  12th graders were given the agency to enact their own ideas and create policies or procedures (as appropriate) which the school or teachers might adopt and implement going forward.  Many excellent programs in the Upper School were started by a senior on SLD.

Belonging, of course, goes hand-in-hand with autonomy.  School employees with a senior became their mentors months before Christmas, when they were required to meet several times and set up goals.  The senior and her/his employee often developed a jovial, productive relationship, so that the day often felt like a partnership.

Additionally, as seniors proposed new school procedures and policies over the years and went through the appropriate channels (department meetings, permission from administration, negotiation on final product, etc.), a deep empathy between seniors and school employees was forged.  Students began to understand the inner workings of a school and why things like budget, insurance, and safety for all ages must be carefully considered.   They also inevitably commented on how hard school employees work.  

And this level of camaraderie spread between the younger students and the seniors, as well.  Most kids really enjoyed class the day a 12th grader taught, and many students (especially in Pre-K and Elementary) formed permanent relationships with their senior teachers.  

Competence was woven into the planning/mentorship process.  A school employee with a senior for the day was responsible to not only set goals for the day, but also train the senior in the skills he’d need to be successful, and help him envision exactly how the day will play out.  On the day itself, the school employee followed his/her senior around, always ready to provide support if needed.

By the end of this process, many seniors and their adults chose to dress alike on SLD.  Some teachers brought their senior Starbucks in the morning, or took them out to lunch. 

My most memorable Senior Leadership Days were as Head of Upper School.  The 12th grader who was Head of Upper School for a day was almost always nervous at first, but as we met to prepare in the fall, I saw confidence grow with the realization that I was offering a chance for them to TRULY impact our school culture.  One of my seniors created a committee of teachers and students to inform plans for a new 8th – 12th schedule, which she then chaired for the remainder of the year.  Another of my seniors created an annual Senior AP Panel, when 12th grade AP students sat on a panel at assembly to answer questions from underclassmen at scheduling time.  The Senior AP Panel continued for at least three years, two years after my senior Head of Upper School graduated.  Leaving that kind of a legacy simply became part of the senior experience over the years.

This framework could be adapted for other scenarios, as well.  For example, in smaller classes of mine I used to assign each student a day to teach a 20 minute lesson to their peers, following a similar but condensed preparation process.   A school could also arrange for teachers and administrators to shadow each other, on a much smaller scale, of course.

The importance of the ABC’s in all arenas of education cannot be overemphasized – and can nearly always be incorporated somehow into most of what we do as educators.