State Summits are one-day experiential leadership workshops designed to gather student members of National Honor Society (NHS) and National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) from a region to share ideas and unlock passions. This pilot event inspired our school to take the program, make it our own, and share it with others in true Honor Society and servant-leadership fashion.

I Had an Idea …

It was my first year as the sole adviser for NHS at Forest High School in Ocala, FL. The previous two years, I co-advised with another teacher who had now decided to leave the classroom. I wanted to find something new and exciting for our student leaders to really be enthusiastic about. While looking through Advise (the irony isn’t lost on me when writing this article!) I saw a small advertisement for the “State Summit” program. I sent an inquiry to find out how we could possibly host one in Florida and found myself on the phone with Jonathan Mathis (NHS director at the time) discussing what that might look like and how Forest NHS could be involved.

Fast forward almost a year. I am at Disney World with my NHS president and four vice presidents as student ambassadors for the first ever Florida State Summit. Our “executive board” helped direct the flow of traffic for the 500 student participants and answer questions for attendees—helping NHS staffers any way that we could. The main takeaway from our experience at the State Summit was that we wanted to bring this idea back to our school district.

Looking for Allies and Finding Friends

We held a strategic planning meeting to see what resources we had, and—using the information that we learned at the State Summit about community activism—we pinpointed potential allies who could help bring this program to our county. We identified the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society at the College of Central Florida as a potential ally. I emailed their adviser to set up a meeting between our student leadership teams. After our presentation, the PTK members were very excited to commit to this as a joint project.

A New Direction

Although the State Summit was an amazing program, it was evident that we could not replicate it entirely. The presenters were experts in their fields with years of professional and life experiences that we simply could not match. We needed to take the State Summit and make it our own. Our chapter has four vice presidents—one for each NHS pillar: character, leadership, scholarship, and service. We decided that the NHS president would be the head of this program, but each vice president would oversee a session to help students grow their leadership skills. I think one of the most difficult things an adviser can do is release control to the students. It is simultaneously scary and exhilarating.

After some consultations and brainstorming, we came up with a basic outline for our student-led leadership development sessions. We wanted each session to begin with an ice breaker that would get students moving or thinking about their topic, without really thinking about it. This would be followed by a 10- to 15-minute presentation or discussion about their topics and a culminating activity that would tie the whole concept together. Each vice president came up with a focus, and we ended up with communication, planning, problem solving, and time management as our topics. The officers from PTK were then paired with our vice presidents so that they could assist in leading the sessions.

Logistics Time

There were some specific things that we wanted to emulate from the NHS State Summit. First and foremost, we needed food. Our officers unanimously voted to cater lunch for all participants. We also wanted to make sure this wasn’t just a Forest High School event, so we invited the other chapters in our district to attend for free. Finally, we wanted an energetic speaker to address the entire conference during lunch.

Those who went to the State Summit were especially moved by the motivational speaker, Omékongo Dibinga. Although Dr. Dibinga was not a realistic option (he was 1,500 miles away), the previous year at our local TEDx event, a University of Florida graduate student—Caleb Chambliss—spoke about “The Purpose of Your Story.” I contacted him and he agreed to be our keynote speaker. We really felt this was going to be a great event.

Leadership Day Is Born

Because we had deviated from the State Summit framework, we gave our event a different name: “Leadership Day.” Of the seven NHS chapters invited, four attended, resulting in a total attendance of 65 people. This allowed our main session to feel large but our small breakout rooms to not be overwhelmed. Our four vice presidents did an amazing job with their groups, and Chambliss added to his TEDx talk by involving the students in a whole-group activity. The reviews were so positive that we decided to make this an annual event.

Bigger and Better

For year two, we wanted to improve upon what we had started. The new vice presidents retooled their PowerPoints and activities for maximum participation. A local business owner was our lunchtime keynote speaker and had the whole room dancing at one point! With over 80 participants this time, we knew that Leadership Day would be a permanent part of NHS at Forest. It was time to plan for year three.

Our NHS Chapter holds elections in February for the next school year so that our executive board has time to learn their new jobs and plan for the upcoming year. We were all excited when we placed the NHS Officer Training Day on our calendar for the end of March … 2020. Despite the halt on activities because of COVID-19, the idea remains strong. So, this is an idea that we will carry into 2022. As our team plans for next year, we look forward to more partnerships and collaboration as we strive to produce the best Leadership Day yet. —

John Crawford is the NHS adviser at Forest High School in Ocala, FL.

Sidebar: Bring Leadership Day to Your Chapter

Because Leadership Day has been such a success for our school, we want to share it! NASSP has arranged to make all our materials available to NHS chapters. These materials will include a full schedule of Leadership Day events, planning ideas, PowerPoints for student-run sessions, handouts, and materials checklists, which will all be in editable formats so that you can make Leadership Day your own. 

In partnership with NASSP, Forest High School will host Zoom meetings throughout this year to share steps that we have taken to foster true student leadership within our organization (see below). From the structure of our club leadership with officer responsibilities to how we run induction, this is truly a student-led organization. 

Top Five Questions About Leadership Day

  1. What do I need to pull this off? At the bare minimum, you will need one large space to meet for welcome, lunch, and closing remarks. You will also need four rooms for the student presentations.
  2. Is this an expensive event to host? We provide lunch and snacks for all participants, but that is optional. If you can get the rooms donated, or are using them at your school, the only real cost is the paper used for handouts. Most of the materials that students use for sessions they can find at home. At most, $100 would cover basic supplies; this can be purchased by the club.
  3. What will I need to do as the adviser? I would recommend that you lead your officers in a mini-Leadership Day where they get to experience the activities. This allows your officers to know how they’ll run this program for new members. Reserving the space, making the copies, and ordering food is the real extent of the adviser’s involvement.
  4. Will other clubs really come? We have found that involving other clubs has made this a great event that can foster authentic relationships between schools. As an example, when the decision was made to change our graduation regalia from chords to a stole, we were not sure what to do with the 38 cords that were already in our chapter’s inventory. The executive board unanimously decided to donate them to one of the schools in our district where members must purchase regalia on their own. They were extremely appreciative to receive this gift. We also take care to “mix up” the four schools so that everyone gets to meet new people.
  5. Where will I get the materials? NHS will offer downloads of all the materials we use. This “canned” Leadership Day will be ready right out of the box—email inbox, that is. I promise that this event is easier to run than you think! You can find all the materials that you need on the NHS Adviser Resource Center.

Sidebar: Want More Information?

If you would like to know more about Leadership Day, John Crawford will be hosting a series of Zoom meetings through NASSP this winter and spring. Catch our first informational meeting in January, with subsequent meetings throughout the semester to review each piece of Leadership Day. You will find the dates and links for the meetings on the Adviser Online Community (