Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 2 – 2020-21

Student Leadership

Opportunity and Access
AWSL Aims to Serve
James Layman
Director of Student Programs, Association of Washington Student Leaders
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Engaging Families and Communities, Closing the Gap Section: In Every Issue
“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.”
– Margaret Peters
2020 caused a seismic disruption to the way AWSL has served schools and students for decades. Our model of large gatherings of in-person events, camps, conferences, and retreats to be shifted, altered, and reimagined, not just for our survival as an organization, but to find new and creative ways to serve schools through a pandemic. Through the pandemic, we have lived in a non-stop cycle of triage — transition — transform:
  • Triage: The act of urgently creating a level of stability and reducing unnecessary uncertainty during a time of crisis.
  • Transition: Passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another.
  • Transform: How must we change, and how can we change in a post-Covid world.
First, triage: AWSL has prided itself in being the Swiss Army knife of offerings under the umbrella of student leadership since 1956 — there is something for everyone. We experienced many days and weeks of triage as we tried to assess where, what, and how AWSL could serve schools amidst a pandemic. Transitions are never easy. This process required us to examine systems, looking within ourselves, and think outside the box. Our internal mantra became, embrace the ”what if.”' This mantra allowed us the freedom to try, explore, and test new ways of serving and creating. Transform. What a gift it was to be able to transform our work, thinking, and organization. The pandemic offered us something that we have not had much of in recent years due to running programs and driving through the state — the gift of time. Time to focus. Time to strategize. Time to reflect. Time to create. Time to assess what barriers and obstacles we have inadvertently upheld, which limited our programs and offerings. When we look at access and opportunity, which serve as foundational cornerstones for each and every student and building to take part in AWSL’s offerings, three items rose to the top: language, travel, and needs.
The pandemic offered us something that we have not had much of in recent years due to running programs and driving through the state — the gift of time.
Language The words we use matter. The words “leader” and “leadership” can be nefarious and troublesome for many students who do not see themselves as leaders. Moreover, many students have not been tapped or told that they inherently harness leadership abilities and skills within themselves. By being intentional with our words, we have been able to open the doors of opportunity to more students. With the elimination of terms such as “elected student leader” and “top-notch student,” we have been able to meet with and interact with several thousand more students through our virtual fall conference and our two student voice groups. Travel We have provided exhilarating and dynamic regional conferences, camps, and events over the last several decades. Having a school serve as a host and inviting schools from that region to come together for a day have created riveting leadership experiences for thousands of students in our state. Our popular Middle-Level Regionals, ¡La Chispa!, Fall Leadership Days, I AM | WE ARE, and Team Retreat events, have been widely attended every year. Travel is a luxury, and even though we have done our best to reach all corners of the state, we know we have still missed many. Through our new direct delivery programs and offerings, we have reached all corners of the state. Our virtual conference allowed for 120 schools and 5,000 students to attend, and our MLK Assembly Program has made it to over 120 schools with 100,000 students able to view through these new platforms. We also have expanded our two student voice groups (AWSL Student Voice and Advisory Council and AWSL Student Equity Cohort) to include more members. Both groups now feature multiple students from every ESD, which allows us to have more students and benefit from capturing a greater variety of voices, perspectives, and insights. Needs Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has served as a crucial tool that we have utilized in our programs for years. The focus on basic needs and working our way to actualization is a practice we work at daily. Another set of needs we have closely examined are the needs of our students. We have been able to take the time to ask students state-wide what they need. What tools, teachings, and experiences they need to know and see themselves as successful. What they wish they could have learned and what they still want to learn. Their brilliance and candid feedback have allowed us to be more responsive and intentional in our curriculum and offerings. They have guided and directed our work and been at the table throughout this journey. The gift of student voice and perspective has and will continue to make AWSL a better organization. The pandemic has not been easy, and it has caused turbulence beyond what words can ever explain. However, the pandemic has also allowed AWSL to step into the best version of ourselves. Because of the time we were afforded through this pandemic, we are a better organization and more equipped to serve buildings and students. We got the chance to paint on a blank canvas and create new vivid images to create transformational opportunities for students. The Association of Washington Student Leaders looks forward to continuing our cherished history while building towards the future. The best is yet to come.
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Washington Principal | Volume 2 – 2020-21