Small Steps- A Leadership Story
Melanie Krook is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Leadership (MAL) within City University of Seattle’s School of Applied Leadership. She recently completed Social and Environmental Responsibility class and the impact this course had on her triggered her desire to apply her leadership skills. Here is the start of her story.
Taking Small Steps with Small Feet
Developing effective leadership skills is a maddening journey, and discovering my personal contribution has not been easy. That is until recently, when I finally decided to explore a way to link my fledgling leadership skills with my passion for mentally ill children. I work with children diagnosed with severe emotional behavioral disturbances. Many of them are in self-contained classrooms where they can receive targeted instruction towards overcoming their social and behavioral challenges. They have little opportunity to be in leadership positions, and often suffer from low self-esteem.
I tried to think of a way I could promote social sustainability with my students, while at the same time teaching them how to promote environmental sustainability. It was then that I remembered a student in a program I support. The young student is in a self-contained behavior program. He is currently transitioning back out into general education. Students in this stage have a difficult time making and keeping friends. One way to facilitate positive social interaction is to give them a school job. It allows an opportunity for their peers to see them in a positive leadership role, and makes the student’s transition out of the safety of a self-contained environment less traumatizing.
I approached the school administrator, and asked what she thought about allowing this student to promote recycling at her school. The school currently has small recycling bins the size of a wastebasket in each classroom, but they are only emptied once a day. There are no recycle locations in the lunch room, or in staff areas. Allowing the student to promote a solution to this problem would increase his positive visibility among his peers, and promote greater environmental awareness in the student body.
I recently met with the rest of the student’s team to discuss my ideas for the recycling program. Their ideas were creative, inspiring, and achievable. We decided the program would happen in three small structured steps. The first step would be to educate the student body about what items should be recycled. The selected student’s strength is in art, so the team suggested he could design a poster the school could display in the common areas. This step is especially important in the lunch room, where the majority of recyclable items are thrown in the trash each day.
The second step would be to take action. The school administrator has agreed to place large recycle containers in the lunch room along with the student’s posters to remind students to recycle. Large recycle bins will also be placed in the staff lounge, and at the end of student hallways. This will make increasing recycling in the classrooms more feasible. Also, the school’s administrator has agreed to identify a week where the school can place a specific focus on recycling to support his efforts.
The last step would be to ensure the program’s success after the student leader transitions to Middle School next year. To maintain the momentum of the program the administrator suggested making our chosen student the head of a green committee made up of his peers. The committee would meet once a month, and discuss building issues around recycling and other green concerns. As simple as this plan sounds I know we will encounter roadblocks and set-backs. For me, the important thing to remember is that these are small steps towards a life changing opportunity for our student leader.