“Would you help with the pep rally skit?” It all began as a benign, innocuous question. Who could have known exactly what those words would entail? How could I have suspected that seven years after agreeing to help, I would find myself standing on stage at the NatStuCo Conference as the Region 3 middle level finalist for the Warren E. Shull Adviser of the Year Award?

My less-than-dignified introduction to student council required me to don a costume that suspiciously resembled a red bird—similar to a character on the children’s TV show “Fraggle Rock”—and hide out under the bleachers on the opposing side during a pep rally. I patiently waited for my cue to flap my arms and run, zig-zagging across the field, to sneak up on the student council adviser, snatch the spirit stick, and make my less-than-stealthy getaway. I was tackled by a seventh-grade teacher dressed in our high school’s bear mascot costume who wrestled me into the school’s golf cart, and I was unceremoniously carted away to the cheers and jeers of our entire student body. When I recount this story to my student council today, I get mixed reactions, ranging from disbelief to hysteria.

Upon reflection, I can see that my adviser career curiously resembles that “Fraggle Rock” adventure. Hiding out, zigging and zagging, trying to accomplish some goal only to be clotheslined by something, usually from my home team. Sometimes there are cheers; other times, jeers. Recently, I was asked to write about middle level leadership. I will share a few insights I have gleaned—or stumbled upon—over the past six years as an adviser.

Judge Not

Last spring, I learned I was a middle level finalist for the National Adviser of the Year Award. I began to poll my students to see if anyone wanted to attend the NatStuCo Conference and could afford the $1,600 it would take to travel with our North Carolina delegation. One by one, the students I thought were most able to make the trip declined. One of my leaders, from a working-class family, planned to ask her parents. I didn’t hold out much hope, but I was pleasantly surprised when she gave me the news that she would be able to go. It was a life-changing experience for my student and for me! Where there’s a will, they will find a way.

Dream Big and Make Those Dreams a Reality

Our state organization, North Carolina Association of Student Councils, manages a state charity that each member school is asked to support. Our first year, I told our council we would win the Distinguished Donor Award by raising the most money. Our goal was $5,000 for Victory Junction, a camp for medically fragile children from the ages of six to 16. It costs approximately $2,500 to fund a child for camp. We announced, promoted, created PowerPoints, and kept a “thermostat” total board in the cafeteria. Our excitement grew through the fundraising period and could hardly be contained when we surpassed $5,000, then $7,500, and then $10,000! Our final push ended us at $12,500! We funded FIVE campers! We won the Distinguished Donor Award two years in a row—and hope for the “three-peat”—but now the kids know they can do it.

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

As my experience has grown through the years, I have learned to put more responsibility on my council. I do a workshop called “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way,” and the crux of that is basically this: know when it is your time to lead, then know when your ideas or voice are not selected, to follow. The “get out of the way” section is when you feel frustrated, when you want to be in control, but cannot be. Several times my council has presented ideas differing from my own and I have had to “get out of the way.” The outcome of this is that the students have had great events and an even greater sense of pride and autonomy knowing their ideas were fresh, new, and successful.

I still pull out that “Fraggle Rock” costume from time to time to remind the students, and myself, who I am and how far I have come, zigging and zagging!

Nora Cooper is a visual arts teacher and student council adviser at Gray’s Creek Middle School in Hope Mills, NC. She is also a 2018 Warren E. Shull Award Region 3 finalist.