At Harlan Community Middle School (HCMS) in Iowa, we have 21 elected representatives in our student council (seven from each grade). Our council is involved in supporting school activities, hosting fundraisers, providing community service, and growing leaders. We treat student council as an opportunity for students to experience leadership—a quality we believe is learned. In addition, our student council members are exposed to a variety of experiences intended to develop the complementary skills of character, respect, and responsibility in support of becoming a leader in the school and community.

In past years, we have created smaller committees and villages that organize the many different activities that our student council supports throughout the year. However, it has been my experience that while middle level students have been very open about trying this approach, I have yet to find a council that has wanted to continue it throughout the year. Instead, middle level students want to address a project as a collective group. Because all student council members have an individual voice that wants to be heard, this holistic approach allows students to develop the critical leadership skills of being a good listener and processing information.

Knowing that middle level students have very active imaginations, we dedicate a considerable amount of time to proposing ideas and identifying projects for the year. Students are required to sign up for the various roles that may be required for each project that we do. Roles are set up through a Google document, which are sometimes filled out during our idea meetings.

I feel, as the adviser, that working in a group setting is more productive with middle level students than with high school students. Middle level students still need direction and will seek out input and reinforcement from the adviser, whereas high school students appreciate the independence afforded them through small-group work. Some may have resources such as their own transportation or latitude to conduct some of their work during the school day using an open-campus privilege. But middle level students, for example, still rely on parents for transportation, which contributes to the challenge of gathering at specific times to complete tasks.

Working in a group setting is not for all councils. With big groups, it is hard to stay on topic and control side conversations. I also know that there are some students who will sit back and let others do all the preparation. Those students and their actions should be addressed privately by the adviser. At HCMS, we have a summer retreat where we address the expectations for our meetings and what is needed from all council members. We also follow a written constitution. We have an agenda that is posted for every meeting, and we make every effort to stay on topic so that we can accomplish our tasks.

We start our meetings at 7:40 a.m., and they end at roughly 8:00 a.m. With only 20 minutes to work, we emphasize the need for all students to be on task and concise with their remarks. HCMS has found that with group collaboration, we can get a lot accomplished in our weekly meetings. All members of the council contribute to the success of each activity or project and have fun doing so.

My advice to other advisers at the middle level is to be organized and have an open mind. The minds of these students are working at warp speed, and we must allow them to explore and process ideas that you may think are “off the wall.” There might be some ideas that need refining to fit the middle level student body, but don’t be afraid to try new things, even if they are out of your comfort zone. Meeting time is precious, so make every minute count; make sure the activities and projects you implement are logical and organized. Even if they aren’t ultimately successful, activities that are well planned will be sure to get the support of your administration, staff, student body, and student council.

Toshia Kasperbauer is student council adviser at Harlan Community Middle School in Harlan, IA.