LifeKnowledge Spotlight: Building Leaders Through Student Leadership Conferences

By Stefany Deckard, Education Specialist, National FFA Organization

Student leadership conferences offer the greatest potential for students to experience the benefits of meeting new people. These conferences are intended to enrich the total student through multiple modes of learning, and there’s no better way to do this than to group like-minded students together. Energized, engaged and eager are some adjectives to describe student reactions during such conferences, but watching them grow socially during the conference is the cherry on top.

Rarely are students sitting for long periods of time. That is because multiple opportunities are built into the curriculum for students to introduce themselves to someone new. Meeting someone and talking to someone who lives on the opposite side of the state can be both intimidating and exciting for a student. It can be intimidating for a student who has never reached out to others outside of his own school before, but these same students are excited to try something new.

After shaking off their initial jitters about meeting new people, the mood of the conference changes and real conversations emerge. Conversations about personal goals and common struggles take place because students have learned an important leadership concept at this point—accepting others. This culture, where ideas are shared and applauded, develops their confidence and encourages them to learn from one another.

Learning about self, goal-setting, decision-making and developing a vision are just some of the student outcomes, but a large part of conferences’ success is getting students to implement what they have learned. A student will leave a conference with some really great ideas or plans, but those ideas can quickly collect dust if someone at home doesn’t reinforce them. Simple reminders or checking in with your students about implementing their plans can be as short as five minutes or can be used as the foundation for classroom discussions, officer team meetings, and program of activities planning.

One conference strategy includes having students find accountability partners. Partners are given multiple chances to work with each other and promise to hold the other accountable for living out the philosophy of the conference. This is a great take-away piece to use in place of holding your own small meetings with each student. Determine your students’ accountability partners and let them build each other up.

Whether you reinforce your students’ ideas by holding personal meetings or setting up accountability partners, you will be fostering the same culture that was set when your students created their plans—a culture where ideas are shared and applauded. It’s important to keep that environment alive once the students return home. If we want our students to be leaders they need to experience the measures by which we determine one has mastered social growth. Without social skills, many of their ideas may not leave the ground. Leadership conferences can be the starting block your future leaders need.

Help ease your students’ jitters by walking them through some of these LifeKnowledge lessons before they attend their first leadership conference: