Innovative: How to Create a Powerful Student Leadership Retreat

Denise Vaniadis is a master teacher, administrator and Student Council advisor (on the local, state and national levels) in Oklahoma. Her school has created a powerful student leadership retreat that is so popular they actually have to hold a lottery to decide which students get the privilege of attending. Only about 5% of their 4,000 student population can attend.

If you are interested in taking your local, state or national event to the next level, take some notes from Denise and her crew. This post is labeled under the PLI Essential of Innovative. Interestingly enough, you might not find her comments below that innovative. That is because it's not the ideas that make their event innovative. It is in how they approach the application of these points. The creativity lives in their passion, enthusiasm and attention to detail.

Here are Denise's five top reasons why her students are so emotionally tied into this annual two-day leadership training event...

1. Cascading Recruitment. We began with our Leadership Class students and recruited about 20 more kids we could identify as potential leaders. These numbers have continued to rise to the current level of 200+.

2. Curriculum Variety. While our focus is always character development, school spirit, personal development, and servant leadership, we vary the actual activities each year so that we could have kids for four years.

3. Indoctrinated Adult Staff. I am blessed to have a Principal who is a former Student Council advisor. He naturally buys in BIG TIME to what we do. Besides him, I went after the kids' favorite teachers to staff the retreat.

4. Amazing Setting. The camp ground is a fantastic environment with space for large and small group time plus recreation facilities.

5. Campfire Time. We built the evening campfire time to have a purpose and focus on tradition, school spirit, and legacy. The emphasis is passing the torch to the younger kids. They are instructed to give their "wish" to their class, their school in general, or to the underclassmen. They bring a "wish stick" to the campfire as a symbol. It's a very simple exercise, but it works powerfully year after year.

Denise would never add this sixth one, but I will tell you that her extreme professionalism, meticulus planning and over-the-top belief in the goodness of her students and in the power of high-level leadership training is a huge reason this event is a hit every year!

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