WEB and 6th grade orientation: Watching my 8th graders become leaders

Blue_lockers_at_IATCSBy Sabrina Bartels

At the end of last school year, we introduced a new concept to our 8th grade students called WEB. WEB, which stands for Where Everyone Belongs, promotes a welcoming environment in schools and encourages students to be leaders in their school community. At my school, we asked teachers to recommend students they thought would be good leaders and help us run the 6th grade student orientation. The results were, in my opinion, amazing.

There were two really great moments that stood out to me as an adult on the WEB team. The first moment was when I looked at the initial list of students being recommended as WEB leaders. There were several students I “expected” to see on the list: the kids who were always polite, responsible, and volunteered for multiple opportunities throughout the year. But there were also a good number of students who I considered “emerging leaders”: students who absolutely had leadership potential, but were not typically picked first for leadership opportunities. I think of some shyer students, or the boy who was a little outspoken during class, or the kind girl who really struggled in terms of attendance. Some of those students never believed in themselves to be leaders. Talking with some of them and giving them an application to be a WEB leader was such a rewarding moment. The smiles on their faces, and the pride they felt when they heard that teachers had suggested them, were amazing.

The second moment was seeing the leaders in action during the 6th grade orientation. I will be honest: I was a little nervous during our training days. Some of our students were still very shy and reserved. There were some students who were reluctant to practice some of the activities because they were embarrassed (we had a lot of activities that required moving, dancing, and doing things in silly voices.) We frequently discussed as a big group how all of us adults were embarrassed as well, but that we had the mindset that we were doing this for the 6th graders. Several of our students took comfort in that fact that we were embarrassed and nervous too! The day of the training, our students were fantastic. They completely surpassed my expectations.

I had students volunteering to run groups on their own instead of in pairs when the number of 6th graders exceeded our estimates (I was especially proud of one of my students with anxiety, who bravely volunteered to run her own group and did amazing with it!) There were 8th graders going out of their way to welcome students who were extremely nervous. I saw my shy students burst out of their shells and participate fully in every activity, which encouraged our 6th grade students to do the same. Many of our leaders even took it upon themselves to organize the 6th graders in the lunch line – something none of us had asked them to do, but man, were their efforts appreciated! In my opinion, the day went smoothly, and my 8th graders impressed me beyond belief.

I am excited to see how WEB transforms our school climate. We will have activities throughout the year that our WEB leaders will run, and I think the 8th graders are just as excited as we are about this. Seeing how WEB has already helped many of my students become stronger leaders makes me excited for the future. I anticipate great things for this year!

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