The Transformative Power of Student Conferences

Advisers play an important role in the success of student programs like National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, and National Association of Student Councils. They bring experience, expertise, and perspective to these programs, and in many cases they also provide a sense of both structure and institutional history. As advisers, we devote our time, effort, and talent to our students, and we are rewarded with the opportunity to share in the challenges, successes, accomplishments, and camaraderie that are the hallmark of these student programs.

One of the most impactful opportunities for my students is our participation in the NASC National Conference each year. We are a small, rural school, and attending this conference gives students the chance to interact with kids from other states around the country. The experience provides valuable life lessons for them, and they return from the conference reinvigorated to begin the new school year with lots of ideas. The 2016 conference takes place this month, June 24–26, in Portland, OR, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned from my previous experiences at the conference with any advisers who are planning to attend this year or in the future.

Student Takeaways

Students who attend a national conference love getting to meet new people and hear their leadership stories and ideas. One student said she learned that, “No matter where we’re from, a leader is a leader—and around the world young leaders share the same goal: to be a good example and encourage those around them to do the same.”

Teamwork is one of the most important aspects of leading a great council. Our student council president learned about this in detail after participating in a group teamwork exercise during the conference. As a result, she brought back exercises to our school to show students how they could be more efficient if they worked as a team.

Another student enjoyed how much interaction she had with other attendees. Getting to know people from different states and having student council as a common ground were key; one of this student’s favorite parts of the conference was the trading of state pins. All of our attendees not only left the conference with new ideas, but also new friends.

New and Exciting Ideas

It was especially beneficial for my students to meet kids from schools other than rural ones like ours. Students from other backgrounds have different ideas and ways of approaching their student council, and my students gleaned some new ideas just from interacting with them.

Getting another school’s perspective on activities helped one Sandy Valley student include more diversity within her council’s planned activities. As a result, she brought back new ideas for assemblies and ways of getting kids involved in school events.

Another great idea we got from the conference was the concept of Duty Boards, which are organizational boards that help members of your council know what needs to be done, what is being worked on, and what has been completed. We have found it to be extremely efficient for our council.

Our students also learned that it is important to communicate with all students at our school, not just their student council peers. It is still a learning process, but our council is trying hard to actively involve all student voices—not just their own. Two of the main things we brought back from the conference that will help us accomplish this were ideas for team-building and icebreaker activities. The kids use them to create a better environment for our school. This, in turn, affects other groups or teams and brings the student body closer together.

Of course, attending a national conference is a learning experience for advisers too, and an effective adviser is a major asset to a student program. The conference has sessions specifically for advisers, and I especially enjoy the inspiring and informative general sessions at the conference.

Advice for Attendees

So, are you ready to take a group of students on a trip to explore their leadership potential? Here’s my advice for leaders and advisers attending the national conference this year or in the future.

Secure your travel. Traveling as a group can be challenging, so if you’re flying to the conference, make sure all plane tickets are booked under the correct name that matches the attendee’s identification. Also make sure that all attendees carry some form of identification with them at all times. If you’re traveling on an airline that has open seating, be sure to check in 24 hours prior to departure so you have the best chance of getting seats together.

Prior to arriving for the conference, research the various modes of transportation in the city (especially if you plan to take any side trips). Many cities have great transit systems that are inexpensive to use. Many cities also have the new private car transportation options (such as Uber and Lyft) that are less expensive than commercial taxis.

Make a checklist. Make sure all attendees have adequate materials to take notes during their sessions so they can return to school to inform others about what they learned. Students will want to bring notebooks and writing instruments, but they can also use a mobile device to access the free mobile app for the conference (“NASSP Events” on iOS or Android), which contains the full conference schedule, as well as session and speaker descriptions.

Review the sessions offered. A few days before you leave, get together with all attendees and review the conference program on the website (www.nascconference.org) or mobile app to plan out what sessions you want to attend and determine the priorities. Split up the duties with your attendees so that all leaders and advisers can return to school in the fall and present what they learned. By flagging the sessions each person wants to attend ahead of time, you can maximize your learning potential at the conference.

Pack the essentials. Plan to bring or purchase snacks in bulk for your students so that they have access to healthy options. Check the weather prior to the conference; encourage students to wear layers and bring an extra pair of shoes in case the weather does not cooperate. Also make sure all students have a minimum amount of spending money set aside for the trip.

Make time for sightseeing. Since you’ve already embarked on an adventure to a new place, take time to check out the city you’re visiting and enjoy the sights! Prior to the conference, create itineraries for any planned tours of the city so that you can share it with the attendees and ensure that everyone knows the schedule.

Make It Count

Having a plan is a key part of pulling off a successful conference experience with your students. For me, it’s inspiring to see kids from all over the country in one location with the same goals and motivation. I love being able to take my kids from a small town and help them meet amazing students who are doing the same things they are. Here’s wishing my fellow advisers the same experience at this year’s NASC National Conference! —

Jamie Pascua is the student council adviser at Sandy Valley Middle School and Sandy Valley High School in Sandy Valley, NV. She is also a member of NASSP’s Student Leadership Advisory Committee.

Sidebar: Explore New Opportunities

Give your student council or Honor Society students an experience they’ll never forget. Learn more about conferences and event opportunities for NHS, NJHS, and NASC students.

NASC National Conference
www.nascconference.org
This annual conference is a unique opportunity for student council members and advisers to dive into robust leadership training with high-energy, engaging speakers. It is open to any student in grades 7–12, but NASC member schools receive a discount to attend.

NHS and NJHS State Summits
www.nhs.us/statesummits and www.njhs.us/statesummits
State summits offer NHS and NJHS members hands-on experiential leadership development closer to home. These unique one-day programs are designed to cultivate empowerment and leadership while sparking conversations aimed at real results.

LEAD Conferences
www.leadconferences.org
Leadership Experience and Development (LEAD) Conferences offer experiential leadership skills development to students (grades 6–12) and advisers of NHS, NJHS, and NASC. Attendees sharpen their leadership skills to help them improve their school culture and community.