Student groups are integral to school climate and environment. They are the vehicles with which we perform school service, community service, engage in school spirit, and create a sense of togetherness. For many of us, student activities are sources of great pride. When we feel passionate about any project or activity, we want to see it succeed and grow. In order to ensure the future of student organizations, we must continually find ways to engage new members while at the same time encouraging our existing membership.
As we welcome students back to school, we should look for ways to encourage students to join our organizations. The best way to do this is to get the word out in the school and surrounding community about the wonderful things our clubs and organizations do. This can be a very daunting task because of the sheer number of things we do, both in and outside of these student groups.
It can be difficult to put into words what we accomplish on a day-to-day basis. Consider asking these questions: How can we describe how wonderful our organization is? How can we get more people involved? What are some new things we can do? These reflective questions may get you started as you plan for the upcoming school year.
Why Should Someone Be a Member of Your Organization?
Start by taking inventory of all the things you have done in the past. This helps to instill a sense of pride among existing members, and it serves as a key element to promote when you’re trying to recruit new members. Outlining this list on paper may also help you figure out which areas you’d like to improve upon in the future. To begin this process, sit down with some of your student leaders and make a list of all the activities that your organization accomplished during the previous year. At this point, everything should be considered-bake sales, dances, conferences, assemblies, food drives, recognitions, etc. Nothing is too small to be included on the list. Once you have all the accomplishments listed, organize them into categories like community service, school spirit/service, fundraising, and leadership activities, just to name a few.
Who Is Your Audience?
Now that you have all of your accomplishments organized, the next step is to use those categories to create your public relations tools. For example, in most schools community service is a requirement for graduation. If your goal is to target those students looking to meet a graduation requirement, gear your advertisements toward them. Make posters, social media posts, and email messages that promote how your organization performs community service. Give examples and show pictures of how
much fun your members have while engaging in events that reach out to the surrounding community.
Another strategy is to show how your organization will enhance the high school experience. Classes, homework, and testing are part of everyone’s high school day, but how can being a member of your organization make the high school experience more fun and rewarding? Through school activities like spirit weeks, assemblies, and contests, you may be able to recruit students who want more from their high school experience. When you promote these events and remind students how much fun they have while participating, they will likely want to be a part of a group that sponsors such events.
A third area that can serve as a recruitment tool for your group stems from how your organization helps students prepare for life after high school. Point out that there are plenty of opportunities for leadership training in student groups, depending on how much time you’re willing to commit. A lot of clubs and teams are very specific in the skill sets they promote, but leadership training is a skill set that expands to all areas, both in high school and beyond.
How Do You Spread the Word?
In today’s technology-enhanced world, there are countless means with which to connect with your audience. If it is allowed in your school, you may want to set up a social media account for your group (be sure to ask for administrative approval first). You can make your student officers the “admins” and they can post pictures and updates from the group’s events. Electronic messages are also a great means of communicating upcoming events, meetings, and deadlines to the student body. When nonmembers start to take notice, these posts turn into promotions and advertising for your group.
While social media is a wonderful tool, face-to-face interactions are still the best way to relay information. One way to get the word out to potential members is to have an activities fair. Invite other student organizations, athletic teams, academic clubs, and social clubs to set up booths in a high-profile location that will allow students to gather inform
ation from each activity or club. To make it more fun and to generate hype schoolwide, create a challenge among groups for the best booth, or the most new members, or the most creative promotion. The best part about an event like this is that students can run the entire thing! The kids can create their booths, posters, prizes, and judging criteria. This allows students to see all the possibilities before they commit to one or more student organizations.
If creating an activity fair seems a bit overwhelming, opt for a simpler approach. The next time you sponsor a bake sale or a car wash, create some small flyers or notes to hand out that tell others about your organization. Include a fun fact, a trivia question, or a riddle along with the date and time of your next meeting. This will prompt some discussion and may cause others to ask questions about what you do and how they might get involved.
At Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua, WI, a new club was formed based on the Rachel’s Challenge organization. The adviser and founding members of this new club were looking for ways to encourage more students to join. One of the images associated with the organization is a handprint, so the group decided to print handprints on half-sheets of paper with information about the club, including the date and time of the first meeting of the year. The group printed off enough of these images for every student in the school, put student names on them, and hung them up in the hallways above the lockers. Soon, all the hallways were filled with images associated with this new club. Also, students were encouraged to find their name and turn it in to the adviser for a treat and some face-to-face conversation.
Once you have recruited new students for your organization, it is time to figure out a way to welcome them and make them feel like an important part of the group. Before new members attend a meeting with the entire group, host a smaller, more intimate meeting with new members and officers. This provides a great opportunity for officers to introduce themselves and answer any initial questions from new members. Officers may also use this meeting time to give advice about how to make the most of membership in the club. These meetings typically take place a day or two before a general meeting to create a positive momentum as new members begin their journey in the overall group.
Consider hosting a social function to greet new members. Welcome breakfasts, lunches, or ice cream socials are a simple yet effective way to accomplish this task. Or, consider writing personalized welcome notes to new members. Student officers can write these messages explaining how much they are looking forward to working with the new recruits in the upcoming year. This is also an opportunity for existing members to reach out to new members to offer advice or answer questions as they come up.
How Do You Encourage Members as the Year Progresses?
One way to encourage the students in student council is to plan fun events that help them feel special. In fact, I feel that this is one of the more important jobs of an adviser because it helps motivate students to help more, do more, and be more for the organization. For example, during spirit week when we have dress-up days, we also offer class competitions where students can earn points for their respective classes toward the school spirit award. In student council, we have our own separate competition for the best-dressed member each day. This encourages the student council kids to go above and beyond during spirit week.
Another simple event that can help your student members feel a sense of pride is to designate a special dress-up day for only your group. In the spring of each school year, we designate a “student council t-shirt day” where student council members must wear their t-shirts to promote the organization. As an added bonus, if they come to my classroom and show me that they are wearing their t-shirt, they get a treat! Not only does this help make the students feel special, it also promotes the organization all over the school.
Perhaps one of my favorite ways to recognize students in all organizations is during National Student Leadership Week (NSLW). This annual event occurs every April and its sole purpose is to encourage and show appreciation for student leaders in our schools. Some ways to celebrate this week are to invite your student leaders to breakfast, make signs to hang on their lockers, and post inspirational quotes and stories on social media sites. This year, we expanded our celebration to include other student leaders in the school. The week prior to NSLW, I asked fellow staff members to send me names of leaders in their classrooms and clubs. All names went into a drawing, and we chose two names each day. These students were included on the daily announcements, and they won a small prize for being the “student leaders of the day.”
Each of these events is very simple and requires little to no money, yet they help create a climate where students feel appreciated for all the hard work they put into their organizations. Students today are busier than ever, and they have a plethora of options when it comes to how to spend their time. When students choose to be a part of a specific organization, be sure to let them know that they are a valued member.
We all take great pride in the work we do and the students we work with in our activities. At the heart of any Honor Society, student council, or any other student group is the students themselves. By putting students first and allowing students to initiate events that promote the group and recruit members, they are likely to take more ownership and pride in the organization. When students take on more leadership roles, the organization often thrives, even when the adviser is not necessarily present. When you determine your audience, promote your activities, and encourage student members to improve each day, your organization will flourish into the future.
Kimberly M. Kargus-Myers is starting her 13th year as a math teacher and student council adviser at Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua, WI. She was a regional finalist for the Warren E. Shull Adviser of the Year Award in 2013, and the school’s student council was recognized as a National Council of Excellence in 2015. She may be reached at [email protected]