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Wisconsin ASSOCIATION of School Councils

Educating, Engaging, and Empowering the Young Leaders of Wisconsin

Monthly Leadership Blog

Each month we do a "deep dive" into 1 of our Leadership Standards & Benchmarks. Check back each month for insights, stories, and best practices designed to help your students become better leaders! 



  • January 15, 2023 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    The Key to Reaching Your Goals: Eliminate “Nothing”

    A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. 

    –Chinese proverb

    The quote above is not news. It isn’t a new discovery, it’s not a reinterpretation of a hidden text, and it’s not even remotely novel or complex. Yet despite all of the things it is not, there is one thing we can definitively say that quote is: 

    The truth. 

    The WASC Leadership Standard for January was Productivity, establishing a benchmark that states students will demonstrate organizational skills, time management skills, and sets and evaluates personal goals. It’s a fitting topic as we enter the new year, as many people set new goals and resolutions for themselves. Yet studies have shown that over 67% of people give up on their "new year's resolution" by January 31st. Only 9% of people maintain their work all year long toward their annual promise to themselves. This is often due to the goal being too drastic a change, the goal was only done for the sake of creating a goal, or it was simply too hard. 

    So how do you fix it?

    Learn nothing 

    Determine nothing 

    Solve nothing 

    Define what “nothing” means…then eliminate it.

    The key to you getting back on track is understanding what "zero" means...and then eliminating it. Over 2,000 years ago the Mayans not only knew what zero meant, but truly understood what it was and how powerful it could be. Zero to them meant literally nothing; a void, a negative space, lacking all. For whatever reason, your commitment or the sheer size of your goal has become too much, and you've substituted action for 'zero'. A void, a negative space, lacking all. 

    My advice is this: eliminate 'zero days'.

    You don't have to achieve your entire goal in one day, but make SOME progress toward it, no matter how small. If your goal is to bench press your weight, start by doing 5 pushups. BOOM - not a zero day. Want to become a better leader? Read 3 pages of your favorite leadership author. Not a zero day. Even if that is all you do that day, it's 5 pushups or 3 pages closer to your goal than not doing anything at all. I think you'll find that taking small steps can lead to bigger steps and better habits. 

    By eliminating 'zero days', you'll make constant progress toward something.

    And that ain't nothing. 

  • December 15, 2022 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    Global Citizenship Starts at Home

    The largest sporting event in the world is happening right now. Sorry America, I am not talking about the Super Bowl. For the first (and likely only) time ever, the FIFA World Cup is being held in November. Taking place every four years, soccer’s World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world, pulling together national teams from around the world. It offers four weeks of incredible soccer, atmosphere, and sportsmanship. And if you follow the tournament (including but not limited to the matches) you’ll see one of the WASC’s leadership standards on full display:


    Citizenship is the WASC Leadership Standard for December, with the benchmark of ensuring “students understand ways to positive contribute to national and global communities.” Woven throughout our programs and curriculum is instruction about how students can influence their communities, take an active role in happenings around them, and participate in service to others. And though the World Cup is a large (and extreme) case of “global communities”, it isn’t the tournament itself that provides the learning, but rather the moments created by the gathering.

    • It's in the Iranian player who, after being eliminated from the tournament for which he has worked his entire life, spends minutes in a tearful embrace with the midfielder of the team that just beat him.
    • It’s in the Japanese fans who, true to their cultural norms, spend time after each match cleaning the stadium they are in. Not just their section – the entire stadium.
    • It’s in the celebration of fans around the world when a massive underdog like Saudi Arabia shocks the world and beats a WC powerhouse Germany.

    I have lived this firsthand. I was travelling in Dubai during the 2014 World Cup (taking place in Brazil). Our hotel restaurant was a very popular local gathering place to watch soccer matches and due to the time difference, the first match in Brazil started at 12am Dubai time. I will never forget spending my evening talking, laughing, and bonding with Saudi, Qatari, and Emerati fans. And though the English was broken, and our conversation wasn’t always fully understood by everyone at the table, we had a common language that night: soccer (specially cheering for Croatia over Brazil).

    But you don’t have to be at a world cup – literally a gathering of people from all corners of the earth – to demonstrate service to others. Building community and service to others can happen every day, in our local schools, towns, and neighborhoods. It shows itself in showing empathy to those who are struggling, it’s going out of your way to pay a compliment, or simply saying hello to a custodian or lunch service worker – that you see everyday but are still largely “unseen”.

    Citizenship does not require an every-four-year massive event to be present. Service, empathy, and building community can happen every single day. Fostering environments where our students can see this demonstrated and can themselves act this way is crucial to building the next generation of leaders.

    Go USA.

  • November 15, 2022 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    3 Things You’re Probably Getting Wrong About Goal Setting

    When it comes to goal setting, we all know the anecdotes. 

    “A goal without a plan is a dream”

    “Don’t wish for it, work for it”

    “A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot”

    The WASC Leadership Standard for November is Goal Setting, with a benchmark that measures if a student “understands and participates in the process of setting, achieving, and evaluating goals”. 

    And look - the quotes above aren’t just throw away words; I too find myself in need of an inspirational quote every now and again. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of the basics. But what these phrases of fortune cookie wisdom fail to capture is HOW to achieve a goal. It’s easy to teach students about DREAM or SMART goals, and help give them encouragement to follow a structure, but between the “planning” and the “achieving”, there are many challenges faced in the “doing”. Here are three common mistakes that are made when working toward a goal that are important to share with students. 

    1. Maintain a singular focus

    As the image above satirically captures, trying to do too much at once can create sacrifices of time, quality, or resources. Brain research tells us that multitasking is a myth, a harsh truth that should cause us to rethink how we approach our work. I fully understand that “we don’t have time to do one thing at a time”, but it is through a singular, direct focus on a project or goal that the outcome will have the best chance to be both thorough and of high quality. 

    1. Don’t just acknowledge failure, embrace it

    How often have you started to work toward something, experienced setbacks or struggles, and become frustrated? If your name is Bjorn, roughly 100% of the time. Yet we know that it is from these failures that our most lasting lessons are learned. You don’t have to go so far as to celebrate your failures, but rather embrace them by taking the time to dive deeply into each one. The lesson learned isn’t so much what to do differently to achieve the goal (though that’s the low-hanging fruit) but rather developing the mental toughness and emotional intelligence to not allow those failures to define you. 

    1. The importance of suspended disbelief

    Goal setting is about balancing the difficult with the achievable. In my experience, however, the line between what is possible and what is not has been largely pre-defined by the people with whom I’m working. Their issue isn’t that they can’t do it, but rather that they’ve already categorized what can or cannot be done. To combat this, I take my group through an exercise designed to challenge those categories. I ask them to “take 5 minutes and live in a state of suspended disbelief”. I remove all of the barriers that are leading them to believe something cannot be done, and challenge them by saying “IF we were going to do this, setting aside x barrier, what could we accomplish”. This approach yields creative ideas and a renewed sense of empowerment. 

    Setting and achieving goals is an important part of leadership and a vital skill that we can teach our students. By equipping them with more than just a goal setting framework, we are teaching them both how to work toward goals and how to do it in a way that is effective, efficient, and can help overcome adversity. 

    And THAT is a goal worth setting. 

  • October 15, 2022 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    Why ‘Pie in the Sky’ Values Are a Great Thing

    We recently completed our annual retreat with our Collaborative Leadership Council, the WASC governing body where students and adults have equal say and voting power. We spend time team building, strategizing, laughing, and getting to know each other. This year’s group did an outstanding job of working together, creating a plan for upcoming programs, and even speaking up to have their voice heard. But one part of the weekend stuck out more than others:

    the incredible (and immediate) level of respect that was present.

    The WASC Leadership Standard for October is Value and Ethics. Our leadership benchmark states “student(s) take(s) responsibility for personal actions and acts ethically (i.e. demonstrating honesty, fairness, etc)”. As teachers, advisors, and anyone who has managed a team knows, values and ethics are important, necessary, and very difficult to instill. Organizations spends myriad hours and significant amounts of money trying to instill values in their people and setting up rules to guide ethical behavior. After almost 20 years in public education and corporate industry, I can tell you how difficult it is to achieve high levels of values and ethics in a team. But during last weekend’s student leadership retreat, fairness, respect, and genuine care for others was present right away.

    How is it possible these 40 students were able to achieve this so quickly?

    The answer is simple: trust. As the visual above captures, love and care and connection and empathy and respect all revolve around one thing: trust. By creating an inviting, warm, and safe environment, people are more likely to let their guard down, shed fear, and begin walking towards others. As leaders it is imperative that such an environment is created from Day 1, and if it is done properly, the results can be incredible. Our WASC advisors and leaders have done a phenomenal job making it clear that the student voice is important, is valued, and is encouraged.

    But with values, actions are everything.

    Students came into our retreat seeing this in action: The LEAD, The Impact, Leadership360, our newly formed WASC young alumni group – all new ways the organization has created to trumpet the student voice. The WASC’s mission to help student leaders grow, and we are not only talking the talk but walking the walk too. By living our values, we hold ourselves accountable to our mission and we gain credibility and confidence with our students.

    When students see that their voice matters and there is a place where their voice can be heard, self-confidence expands, connections are formed, and leadership is born. 

    As you enter October and begin to settle into a routine of the year – classes, meeting schedules, and programs – take time to instill in your students the confidence that their voice matters and to create an environment where those voices are celebrated. The subsequent trust that is built will become a powerful tool in helping students grow and accomplishing great things in your school.

    And once that happens with your student leaders…start looking up. Because the sky is the limit.

  • September 15, 2022 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    Want to Start Your Year Right? Build Trust

    Group [ groop ]  noun

    • 1.       A collection of assemblage of persons or things

    Process [ pros-es ] verb

    • 1.       To prepare by some particular set of actions

    Group Process [ groop pros-es ] verb

    • 1.       Getting your council ready for a great year
    • 2.       See: encouraging (v), challenging (v), wildly rewarding (v)

    The beginning of a new school year brings with it much promise; new starts, new students, new grades, and new possibilities. As September arrives and the first bell rings, the thought of all that needs to be accomplished can be daunting. And while there are so many factors that impact how the year will go, there are only a few that are within your control. One of the most important of these is how prepared your council is to work, strive, and achieve.

    In other words, the strength of their group process.

    Of the ten WASC Standards & Benchmarks, Group Process is one that focuses on both Common Core areas of teamwork and trust. So often when working with students, we emphasize the teamwork aspect and evaluate that related to the outcome. How well did students communicate? Did they listen to input from all group members? Did the completed project meet the rubric? These are all easily quantified or observed, and the skills supporting them easily taught. But the key to truly effective group process can be found not in teamwork but rather trust.

    Trust is vital to working with students. It creates psychological safety, creates meaningful learning environments, and fosters risk-taking and genuine interactions. Yet unlike the listening skills and rubric-evaluated outcome from teamwork, trust is harder to measure. The great news is that trust can be built with students even before the year begins. As a student leadership organization, we use myriad activities as part of our programs to help students build trust. Some of the most effective activities include:

    • Boundary breaking
    • Alphabet game
    • Human knot
    • Trust walk/blindfolded activity
    • Rain gutter golf

    You can find more WASC resources for team and trust building here.

    Teamwork and trust. These two seemingly obvious components of an effective council require intentional effort and designed skill building. I encourage you all to be deliberate in your efforts to build trust among your students at the beginning of the year. The positive rewards that you will enjoy for the next 9 months will far outweigh the cost of time or awkwardness.

    May you have an outstanding start to your year and may it be filled with incredible levels of teamwork and trust (i.e. group process)!

    In leadership,


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Madison, WI, 53704

608-886-WASC (9272)


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