A “What works best” approach to student leadership

Visible Learning seeks to get to the crux of this multitude of findings from educational research and identify the main messages by synthesizing meta-analyses.  The student leadership aim is to move from ‘what works’ to ‘what works best’ and when, for whom, and why (John Hattie and Klaus Zierer – 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning

I start with this quote from Hattie and Zierer, as I find it beneficial when starting the year to know what works best.  Having years of experience of implementing student leadership learning, it is vital that you start your year with a plan.  Make sure your journey is visible.

“When teaching and learning are visible, there is a greater likelihood of students reaching higher levels of achievement”

-John Hattie

As a leader in a school, we have organisational frameworks that focus on developing a vision, mission, expectations and goals.  We always start with the vision as that is the ability to use our imagination and wisdom to plan for the future strategically.  Planning your student leadership journey is no different. Ensure that the leadership journey is visible.  

approach to student leadership

 Think about the cohort of students that will be undertaking the leadership learning.  What is it that you want them to achieve? What is your vision? At Irymple South Primary School, we want them to be the best possible people who have a voice, demonstrate active agency and can implement positive change through their leadership capacity.  When students can do this, they have impact.

There are many layers to engaging students in leadership learning.  Our point of view in this blog is to expand on starting the year with a plan.  Don’t be mystified by what’s in the middle, as the ongoing planning will help you continue towards your vision.

The following jigsaw graphic provides four pieces in a puzzle to help you get started towards providing student opportunities to achieve leadership success and have an impact in your school and their own personal growth.  

4 c's of future focused learning

Step 1: Co-create your vision

Co-create your vision with your team that will be teaching the leadership learning and the students that will be involved.  It’s imperative to make this visible to all stakeholders.   A vision for learning helps teachers, school leaders and students to create a unified set of values and beliefs which drive the development of a high performance learning culture.

Step 2: Develop your plan

Unpack each of the four jigsaw pieces in order to develop your plan


Explicitly teach and explore the 4C’s Leadership Learning Framework (Competence, Confidence, Character, Connectedness).  This is designed to provide the impetus and resourcing to map out a successful year of leadership learning.  The definitions aim to provide teachers and students with a framework to help them understand what it means to be effective in each area.  

I like to start with the video through the E-Learning Hub called the 4C’s Self-Assessment.  We also link to pages 8 and 9 of the Customer Success Toolkit and this allows the students to have a lens when watching the video.  

We then break up into Expert Jigsaw groups of 4, where each student focuses on one of the 4C’s and becomes the professional.  They analyse their chosen ‘C’ and re-work it into language that they can teach.  They then come back to share and transfer their knowledge with the 3 others, who in turn, share their expert knowledge too.  This allows a surface level understanding of each of the 4C’s to commence.  With this as a grounding, we then refer back to the framework at all times, having it visible for students to refer to.

There is so much content included in the Hub that it is important that you are aware of the lessons, topics and quizzes in the Course.  This can be daunting at the start, as there is a lot of content but we have had success in a number of ways.

Allow the students some individual time to roam and familiarise themselves.  

school of leadership

Delve into the ‘Let’s Get Started’ and ‘Safe Environments’ course and lesson content.  This provides great structure and knowledge for starting the year. 

Once you are more familiar with the E-Learning Hub, it can become differentiated to suit the needs of your students and be used a whole group lesson tool.

The Success Criteria provides a continuum that empowers students and embraces student voice, agency and leadership.  Each skill/behaviour provides the opportunity to have a level of autonomy and power in the learning environment.

Have the students undertake the Self-Assessment Quiz.  This then links to the Self-Assessment analysis on page 3 of the Young Leaders in Schools Guidebook.  

Once the students have been transparent and honest through their analysis, they can choose one of the 4C’s to focus on.  This is then further unpacked through the success criteria, as this allows the students to be really specific and choose a personal goal that they can track and measure.  

student leadership workshop


An essential part of learning is for students to move through the learning currents of surface to deep to transfer.  Student leadership allows a lens for this and we must provide opportunities to allow them to transfer learning for impact.


At Irymple South Primary School, we allow our students to run a community project throughout the year.  This can range from coordinating and running lunchtime activities through to a whole school event.  

We allow the students to pick their own groups and we scaffold them through with an action plan.  They pitch their project through in Shark Tank style setting and the project is either approved or sent away for improvements.

Once all projects have been established, we set a calendar to fit them in for the year. Students then, in conjunction with the Success Criteria Matrix from the Customer Success Toolkit, create their own Success Criteria for their group’s project.  This is referred to at the start, throughout and completion of the project.

It was at a recent School Council Meeting that I shed a tear when explaining the personal growth that our Grade 6 cohort had made throughout the year.  It was measurable through each of the puzzle pieces that we started with.  The above provides an insight into how we start the journey for our leadership learning and to ensure we are allowing ourselves the best opportunity to achieve success for our students.  

I encourage you to download this FREE PDF resource to help empower you to jump start student leadership, voice and agency at your school.

approach to student leadership
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Ben Milsom

With close to 20 years experience in education, Ben has held roles as a primary school teacher and leader at Kilmore Primary School, Mildura Primary School and is currently Assistant Principal at Irymple South Primary School. Ben is passionate about developing self-regulated learners (adults and students) and supporting them through learning cycles to achieve success. Ben is married to Laura, has four children aged between 8 - 16 and has held numerous leadership in community organisations over the last 15 years.


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