Today we'll share some leadership activities for high school students. High school is the perfect time for students to gain leadership skills and life skills that will support them on their academic and professional journeys. Leadership is one of the most desired soft skills among employers hiring today and effective leaders help any team or organization improve. Leadership skills do not grow on trees, however, and while some kids are naturally good at bossing other kids around, that’s not what makes a good leader. Leaders do not need to be commanding, extraverted, or aggressive. In fact these qualities can have a negative impact, especially on large, diverse teams with complex goals.
Explore leadership activities for high school students
Good leaders are supportive, great listeners and communicators, and they lead through empathy and mutual respect. Great leaders are open minded and they take risks, which means trying new things, developing self awareness, and actively listening to others. This might sound complicated, but like any skill, leadership can be taught.
Which is why we put together this list of leadership activities for high school students to help you guide your teens toward activities which suit them. Some of them are more traditional, like the National Honors Society and the Future Business Leaders of America. But if you keep reading you might be surprised by some of the fun ways that high school students can learn how to become great leaders!
1. Tutoring and Volunteering
Great teachers make great learners in their students, but they are also great at learning themselves. In fact, studies have shown that when we learn something with the intention of teaching it to others, we learn more effectively than when studying for examinations or for personal enjoyment. Good leaders need to train and support their teams, and they are great at sharing their knowledge with others. They are also themselves eager to learn, and a good leader will be honest when they do not know something.
While some people in positions of power consider it embarrassing to make a mistake or not know something, a good leader will ask a lot of questions, remain honest with themselves, and work hard to fill in the gaps of their knowledge. For students with skills in one or more subjects, they can refine and reinforce their skills by tutoring younger students and those who are struggling.
Tutoring is a great way to gain experience as a volunteer, but there are other actions that support one’s local community: volunteering at a soup kitchen, an animal shelter, or a library can help kids learn the value of service and the importance of giving back while becoming role models.
2. High School AP Courses
Advanced Placement courses are introductory college and university courses offered to advanced high school students. These courses vary depending on one’s high school. The most commonly taught ones are Chemistry, Biology, English, History, and Calculus, but some schools offer AP Computer Science, Art and Design, Geography, Economics, International Languages, and more. At the culmination of these courses, students have the opportunity to complete an exam which can allow them to use the course for college credit.
They are an excellent means of getting a leg up and saving some money in college, but they are also great opportunities to see how university differs from high school and how to go deeper into their interests. AP courses are intentionally challenging, and they might be the hardest academic experience yet for many high school juniors and seniors. But by completing AP courses, students can gain confidence and expertise that can serve them well throughout their lives.
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3. Put the “A” in “STEAM”
Creative pursuits are never a waste of time. Especially for students, organized creative activities such as painting, music, cooking, and theater have incredible benefits for a growing mind. Learning music reinforces the patterns, logic, and relationships in both math and reading. Drawing and painting have long been primary ways in which students of Biology, Geography, and Architecture relate to the world around them, especially before the advent of photography and smartphones. Even with these advanced technologies, drawing a living organism by hand is a painstaking but mesmerizing activity that improves knowledge of physical biological structures.
The acronym STEAM was first advocated as a replacement for STEM by the Rhode Island School of Design, which argued that the creative arts help integrate the skills required for STEM while also helping students to become more well-rounded, expressive, and organized. Aside from patience, problem solving, and attention to detail, art is itself a transformative process of discovery, both of the artist herself and of the world around her.
When it comes to relationships of power, a lack of self awareness, self control, and patience are hallmarks of bad leadership, so by learning through creation, students can gain some small mastery over their young, illusive selves, something which even many adults. Studies have shown that these benefits are nearly universal, helping struggling students to learn better and giving high achieving students a low-stress outlet to help them decompress, which has been shown to reduce headaches in teenagers.
4. Student Government, Clubs, Publications, and Organizations
One of the most enduring opportunities for volunteering for high school students has long revolved around student government, after school clubs, student journalism, and national organizations. While the most obvious might be student council, where students run for election by their peers, many high school students might struggle with this level of direct, public leadership. For students who are more introverted, running for office can be a great way of stepping outside their comfort zone, but if that sounds too uncomfortable, then chess club, STEM clubs, and coding clubs are great options.
By setting goals, working in teams, and producing work such as a yearbook, a student newspaper, an amateur TV program, or a coding club, students can gain immense satisfaction and confidence that can propel them toward excellence, sparking a desire for future success. For artistic students who are interested in technology, courses in digital design in Photoshop or Canva and game design in Unity are great interdisciplinary activities for high school students.
Success is rarely achieved through talent or interest alone, but requires hard work and dedication above and beyond what is expected. While students should balance extracurricular activities to support and not hinder their education, it can be a fundamentally important experience to run for office or become a member of a club. At the core level, these activities teach students to put more effort into their education than the baseline of simply attending school and doing one’s best.
5. National STEM Honors Society, National Honors Society, and National Merit Scholarship
These organizations encourage high school students to strive towards excellence as academics, but also as members of their communities. The National Honors Society recognizes academic excellence, while providing opportunities for scholarships, community service, and national competitions that help on resumes and college applications. There is also a specific National STEM Honors Society to help drive equality and community engagement in STEM education.
National Merit Scholars follow a similar tack, by providing recognition and financial support to students who achieve good grades in high school. Especially for lower income students, these resources are an excellent way to narrow the economic/educational achievement gap and open opportunities for students wondering how to fund their higher education.
6. Future Business Leaders of America
The FBLA is an organization dedicated to guiding future leaders in global business and entrepreneurship. Representing values of equality, diversity, and economic development, the FBLA helps over 200,000 students every year to become community-minded leaders through a variety of initiatives including competitions, workshops, scholarships, and conferences.
7. Sports and Gaming
Team sports are a great way for high school students to develop leadership skills. By leading a team, students must be able to organize others, train effectively, and adapt to rapidly changing situations, skills valued everywhere. Studies have found a direct correlation between exercise and higher test scores in STEM and language arts. Without even being a team captain, team members learn how to work with others to achieve a common goal, where communication and support are crucial. These are directly related to leadership.
But it doesn’t stop there: for less socially inclined people, there are other opportunities such as jogging, yoga, and swimming that can engender physical strength, endurance, better sleep, and resilient mental health. Sports teach team building, and exercise is a key component of building positive relationships with health, sleep, and proper diet, but the team work and competition aspects of sport extends to other forms of gaming. Board games and video games can be social or solo, but they provide students with a chance to problem solve, to imagine solutions to complex problems, and to have fun. While video games can disrupt sleep when they are played too late, and while many parents might worry about gaming being a waste of time, some studies have shown a positive correlation between video games and increased test scores in reading. Within moderation, we feel that gaming can be a stimulating, fun, and social activity for all ages.
8. Build Community Around Your Passions
Let’s take this a step further: students can learn better when they actively participate in their education. Likewise, students are likely to be motivated to learn better when they are pursuing something that they are already interested in, but they learn especially well when they are helping or teaching others. For this reason, we suggest that you get involved in your child’s passions and support their interests, even when they seem unrelated to your desired plan for your kids.
Video games and creative expression are excellent tools to reinforce learning STEM, but they are also doorways into STEAM, especially when it comes to Computer Science, coding, reading, and math. For example, ask any child under the age of 14 about Minecraft and Roblox. Chances are they have played one or the other, and considering how popular they are, your child probably already knows a lot about one or the other, if not both. What most kids and parents don’t know is that these are also great platforms for learning about coding, game design, and logic.
There’s a lot of tutorials online, but we suggest that coding classes are one of the best ways to encourage kids who love gaming to learn how to code. As one of the most in-demand skills and one of the areas of highest growth potential in the future tech-driven economy, learning to code early is a great way to get ahead. At Create & Learn, we believe that the future leaders of tomorrow will need to be comfortable with code, so we offer a range of live online courses for kids of all ages to learn computer programming in relation to gaming, art and design, robotics, and software engineering. We even have free coding classes led by experts to try.
9. FIRST Robotics and Robotics Competitions
If your high school student loves STEM, then FIRST Robotics is for them. FIRST Robotics is a national robotics competition that joins teams of students from around the country to design and build large robots that will work together with other teams to complete in a field game of some kind. Students also gain experience in fundraising and representing their schools in competitions. These teams are often the best of the best when it comes to STEM students, who also gain valuable experience in coding and programming their robots using Python or other programming languages.
10. The Importance of Structured Activity and Free Time for Teens
Time use is a topic that can provoke strong debates among parents, educators, and students. A longitudinal study on high school educational outcomes and time use shows that merely participating in extracurricular activities has been associated with positive improvements in academic performance and pro-social behaviors. These activities are important, because many children and teens have not yet had enough experience to know the options available to them. They must be shown and sometimes gently encouraged to try new things.
These activities provide them with communities of their peers as well as adult role models who can shape their self perception and their expectations towards leaders, both positively and negatively. It has been shown that too much unstructured time has been linked to disorders such as substance abuse and antisocial behavior in high school students. Structure is good for kids.
There is a fine line to walk however, as having no free time to be at ease among one’s peers can result in stunted social development and lower levels of autonomy as adults. All this is to say that if you want your child to learn leadership skills, then extracurricular activities of any kind can support that goal, but that too much activity and not enough free time can begin to have an adverse effect on academic performance and mental health.
Try leadership activities and examples for high school students
As a next step, speak with your child. Ask them what they think they are best at? What could they teach others? Encourage them to think about themselves as potential leaders, but then ask them, How could you become better? We suggest encouraging them to pursue two or three activities from the above list, each of which should aim at physical exercise, academics, and creativity. A sport, a club, and an artistic practice.
Keeping it simple and following their interests is a great place to start. But then we suggest signing up for an AP High School class, taking an online coding class, or perhaps a community painting or drawing class to light the creative spark that they might not have expected. Push them, gently, to explore their boundaries and be ready to encourage them at every step without getting too worried if they change directions. If you’re looking for an activity to begin today, you could check out some of our other articles on the top online coding bootcamps for kids and Math competitions for high school students.
Written by Bryan Gordon, a Create & Learn instructor. After ten years of working as an English teacher, Bryan began studying Math and Computer Science over the past few years. Aside from writing and teaching, he likes cooking, gardening, playing guitar, and hanging out with his cats, Baguette and Wally.