One of the more difficult things that students deal with on a daily basis, whether they realize it or not, is the motivation to be an individual in their peer group and set themselves apart or to be an obvious member of the peer group by acting like everyone else, dressing like everyone else, listening to the same music or speaking like everyone else.
Students in high schools have this issue more than any other student group. High school has become a very complicated place for students which has resulted in much more stress on student leaders. With the undergraduate degree becoming the new high school diploma, students are fighting harder in classes to distinguish themselves and achieve academically so that they can get the attention of more prominent colleges.
I know that is hard to believe with the cliches that we have all grown accustomed to with students skipping school to drink or do drugs, but the competitive nature characterized in films like the recent 21 Jump Street are very real and, obviously, very distinctive from even a decade ago.
Here are three things that your student can do this week to distinguish themselves from the other students in their class without alienating themselves from the other students in their class.
Be a Leader in Class
Leaders in the classroom are easily identified. However, most students find it more difficult to act as a student leader in the classroom when more of their peers eyes are on them when they are speaking, interacting with the teacher, or distinguishing themselves in class. Further, these are the times that the teacher has an opportunity to interact with your student, develop their opinions and relationships, and potentially become that teacher who will write a letter of recommendation for the student to get into that prestigious college. These same reasons are why it is more important to act as a leader in class than probably anywhere else.
In the classroom, using language that is not corrective of other students is a great way to gain more and new followers by building up others. With the default competitive nature of people this, as with most opportunities to set yourself apart as a leader, may seem counter-intuitive. It seems more natural for, when one student answers a question incorrectly, for the student to correct the student and set themselves apart as a more authoritative figure on the topic. However, this type of action will alienate the opportunities for your student to lead the student who made the wrong statement.
Be a Leader in the Halls
This is one of the areas that student leaders find it most difficult to present themselves as a leader, however it is one of the greatest opportunities to display character. Legendary NCAA Hall of Fame coach John Wooden says about character “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” One of the common definitions for character says that a person’s character is displayed when a persons acts thinking no one is looking.
If your student walks through halls just charging to the next class, keeping their head down or horse-playing in the halls versus picking up a book that someone has dropped, picks up trash laying in the floor, or says “excuse me” when brushing by students coming from the other direction, they distinguish themselves as a person of character to their friends and to the teachers monitoring the halls.
Be a Leader Outside of School
Students are more empowered now to overcome negative peer pressure than over the last 30 years. In fact, we have seen a growth in peer pressure among students to participate in more altruistic exercises and events, such as participating in a Habitat for Humanity house build or volunteering with at risk youth.
This is a great opportunity for your student to distinguish themselves in their peer group. Help them to find a nonprofit for which they can set up a volunteer event. Maybe a canned food drive, help a local nonprofit, or organize a campus clean-up for their high school. Your student then should use the platform to advertise the event, to work with their school, teachers, church, and community to grow the event. IN addition to the many benefits that come from volunteering, this is a great way for your student leader to set themselves apart.