Podcast S1. Ep 40: Student Leadership: Preparing Students For Anything - Terry Hamm

Houston Kraft · John Norlin · July 8, 2019

During her almost 40 years of working with student activities, Terry has coached a cheer team, advised NHS and student council, and served as an Activities Coordinator. She has been a co-director of a National Leadership Camp, a leadership consultant and curriculum coordinator for the Texas Association of Activities, and been presented with the Earl Reum award. She is currently vice-president of the National Association of Student Council Executive Directors and the Director of the Texas Association of Student Councils.

We talk with Terry about why it is important to invest time, energy, and resources into student councils/leadership & what schools can do successfully to create a great student council program.


“Student council or student leadership in general, student activities, build some things in students that I believe makes them the kind of students that colleges want, that employers want, because they have those quote soft skills, which are really essential skills, those are the ones that they’ve got to have. And I know student leadership does that, I know student activities do that, done well.”

— Terry Hamm

Episode Transcript:

  • John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong Podcast where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we're talking with Terry Hamm. During her almost 40 years of working with student activities, Terry has coached a cheer team, advised National Honor Society and student council, as well as served as an activities coordinator. She has been a co-director of a national leadership camp, a leadership consultant, and curriculum coordinator for the Texas Association of Activities, and been presented with the Earl Reum Award. She is currently Vice President of the National Association of Student Council Executive Directors and the Director of the Texas Association of Student Councils. Let's get Character Strong with Terry Hamm.

  • Houston: Welcome everyone to the CharacterStrong Podcast. My name is Houston. I'm one of the co-founders of CharacterStrong and I'm here today with one of my friends and heroes and a Texas legend. Her name is Terry Hamm. She's the Executive Director for Texas Association of Student Councils, she's been in education for how long did you say?

  • Terry: Between 30 and 40, I'm probably pushing more 40.

  • Houston: Pushing 40. I love that. And Terry, in our relationship, we met, boy back in like 2013-

  • Terry: Yeah, we met at the NASC conference.

  • Houston: That's right, 2014 then. You saw me speak and ever since then you've been an incredible advocate for me and our work and you've brought me into so many incredible student leadership type of opportunities, not only working with students but advisors as well. And if there's one thing I know you have a heart for, it is student council and the role it plays in creating a culture in schools. So, pushing on 40 years of experience, tell me why student councils, why invest time and energy and resources into student councils?

  • Terry: Well one, thank you guys for what you do for TASC and for student leadership and for students in general, because character is where we need to focus. That's essential. And I would say that student activities are vital if you want to have that school where students and staff want to be. If you want to have that connection and that relationship, that student councils create that. But I can't just talk about student activities without saying that one of my core beliefs is, if you want a return, you've got to invest, and you need to invest in the advisors. You need to invest in the people who work with them. Because if we just take students out and we train them and we send them back and there's not someone to support them, not someone to guide them, then they don't really achieve what they could. They don't carry it on.

  • Terry: So I'm a huge proponent in working with advisors and with students. Student council or student leadership in general, student activities, build some things in students that I believe makes them the kind of students that colleges want, that employers want, because they have those quote soft skills, which are really essential skills, those are the ones that they've got to have. And I know student leadership does that, I know student activities do that, done well.

  • Houston: Yeah. Do you have like a some favorite, I'm sure you have lots, but favorite moments or examples of kids that you know who've gone through student council, have gone through the state program and school program, and now they're doing that work in the world that they attribute to student council?

  • Terry: Well just this weekend we had dinner with Bryden Jones and Bryden went on to become a contender for president of the student body at UT. He now works with some really big names in the political field. He's making great strides. Hommie Rodriguez who has worked with Harvard and Yale emailed me the other day and said, "I really want to write a curriculum on advocacy for students, will you work with me on that?"

  • Terry: One of my favorite kids ever is Ricky Cooks and Ricky earned the Forty Acres Scholarship at UT, which paid room, board, books, everything, plus study abroad. And Ricky came back and said in that interview, "Everything they ask me apply to student council. It was there." And then Ricky was on our state board and he called one day and said, "I'm in my business class, there's 300 people in there, and the professor said, does anyone in here know what fiduciary duty is? And I was the only one."

  • Terry: So some of the things that those really get deep into it, on the board, they get out of it what they put into it. I love it when I get an email from an alumni that says, "What can I do? I want to give back." And I just moved into Quamy Umbah just said, "Well, I just got the student leadership award for freshmen on my campus." And so when you see that kind of thing happen, it's really exciting.

  • Houston: Yeah. One of my best friends, his name is Alex Miller, one of the best dudes I've ever met, I had a chance to work with him at leadership camp. He was student body president, this is up in Washington, and he was in training to be a Navy SEAL. And in his interview component, he said every question he answered was rooted in his learnings around servant leadership and student council, which I loved just that he was like, "I knew everything to say," because the mentality of SEALs is so group oriented, right, you kind of serve your group, and he's like, "Everything that I had learned spoke right into I think what they needed."

  • Terry: My children were, you know, some people are raised by wolves, mine were raised by student council, and I know in my son's interview with West Point, when they talked to him, one of the questions, "What did you get out of student activities?" And he said, "Well, in football I learned you absolutely have to work as a team, that everyone has a role to play, and you have to do that." He said, "In student council I learned how to set goals and plan projects and get things done. And in wrestling it's not ever over until all you can see is ceiling and so don't give up." So yes, they learn from all of those kinds of student activities.

  • Houston: Yeah, and what a gift that student council's sort of work is helping kids understand that they get to be involved in those different things and that they serve a lot of things in life.

  • Terry: As Texas Association of Student Councils, we have some real strong beliefs and we believe in the web of support that we create. We believe in a strong student voice and we believe that leadership skills can be taught and enhanced, that there is not just that one natural leader. That everybody can improve. And in fact our state theme this year is Level up Your Leadership. Wherever you are, you can learn, and you can take it to the next level. And that's what we want to take kids, what we want them to know.


“...one of my core beliefs is, if you want a return, you’ve got to invest, and you need to invest in the advisors. You need to invest in the people who work with them. Because if we just take students out and we train them and we send them back and there’s not someone to support them, not someone to guide them, then they don’t really achieve what they could. They don’t carry it on. So I’m a huge proponent in working with advisors and with students.”

— Terry Hamm


 

  • Houston: Yeah, and as you know, CharacterStrong's belief, it's an attack on an age old paradigm that leaders are born, right, and we always say that if we actually buy into that old belief, then it lets us all off the hook because it's like this isn't my job.

  • Terry: Wow. We don't need to do anything. It's done.

  • Houston: Right. It's the leader's job and we believe, as I know you do, that every student and staff at any school is capable of leveling up that leadership, right? Wherever you're at, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to figure out how to use our influence more thoughtfully, more intentionally, more effectively. And ideally, if we're doing our job well, that influence then we have that disposition like you're saying, some of these kids come back and say, "How do I serve?" Right? And that's a mindset. It's a mindset that I think student council helps instill in young people, that true leadership is about serving others.

  • Terry: Exactly. We've adopted the phrase with not for, that don't just say we think you need this and we'll go in and do it, go in and talk to people and find out and do it with them, and include them, and involve them. And when you fuse that character piece, which if our leaders are not leaders of character, then we're in trouble, that you get those caring, empathetic, kind helpers that work to make the world a better place, to work to leave it better than they found it. And that's what we are. And that, as you all say, make kindness normal, if that's all in that, if we work together, if we assume the best intent, which is what Phil Boyte says, or if Brene said, "What if you think everyone was doing the best they can," then you're going to respond more appropriately.

  • Houston: Yup. Yeah. And that's the teaching part, right? I remember watching Brene Brown speak at the advisors conference you hosted just a couple of years ago, and that line stood out to me so much. She said, "What if you looked at everyone like they're doing the best they can?" And she asked the honest question of the room. How many of you believe people are doing the best they can? And it's such a tough question, but if you can truly teach young people to look at others empathetically, generously, to assume best intent, that's a gift.

  • Houston: I was watching the Fred Rogers documentary the other night and he has that famous line of like when stuff was going wrong in the world, my mom always said, look for the helpers and I think if there's like one edit to it today in the context of student council, it's like we got to teach the helpers. Right?

  • Terry: You have to teach them how to help. You have to teach them how to connect and how to communicate and how to listen. And while technology is awesome and we love it, we need that one on one human contact too, and they get that working together.

  • Houston: What's the number one thing that you've seen schools do successfully to create a great student council program? You said invest in advisors, what else is a key ingredient to a great student council program?

  • Terry: If the administration invests in advisors, if they really take care of them and they help them get some training and they support them and they open up a communication with the students, so the students understand what the principal's why is. Why did they look at things and why do we want things to happen and if they work together and say, let us partner together, how can we work together to make this a school where we belong?

  • Terry: As a school counselor, one of the things that jumped out at me was when I studied Glasser, and Glasser has a much simpler model than Maslow, which he says, "That everybody, they need love and belonging, and everyone needs to have fun, and everybody needs to to have some power." And students by and large don't have power in their school unless you empower them, unless you give them the opportunity.

  • Terry: So I love those tenets of Glasser because student activities give them the power to make a positive difference and include, and it takes them beyond the role of that school. I was listening to a TEDx talk the other day and I wish I could tell the name of the girl who was in it, but she said, "I'm 17, and if we always have to walk in line every where we go, and we have to turn to page so-and-so when you tell us, and we have to raise our hand to go to the bathroom, how then are we supposed to walk out the door and be ready for college and career?"

  • Houston: That's so good.

  • Terry: Where do we get some of that other empowerment?

  • Houston: Yup.

  • Terry: So I think that's important. I think student activities gets kids that look for solutions instead of just bringing you problems, that they work to build the relationships in the school. We focused on mental wellness this year and I truly believe it all starts with relationships, and when we started talking about that, our student officers, "Oh we do that, we build relationships." But our question was how intentional are you? Really, really, how intentional are you about doing that and the character day or is the things that you all infuse, build that connection and build that relationship? If we don't have that, we really can't move up.

  • Houston: I love, and to wrap things up, I love that example that you went to right away, which is the administrator partnering with the student council and the student advisor. It's appropriate since we're sitting here at TASSP, Texas Associated Secondary Student Principals, School Principals rather, and I know the work that you do at the state level, you're in the same office, which I think is so important that it's student council, it's counseling, it's the administrators, it's the superintendents, it's school boards. The holistic vision is the only way that this stuff really works-

  • Terry: It is.

  • Houston: ... and at the local building level, I think from an administrator perspective, how critical that partnership can be in empowering students to do that culture work, and what a burden it alleviates off of you as an administrator to really get a shared vision to do the work. It is work. To do the work of creating that shared vision, empowering those leaders, so that they can bring people on with them to create love, belonging, and fun. And would you not agree that if we have love, belonging, empowerment, and fun, I'm going to show up, work harder, learn more.

  • Terry: Absolutely.

  • Houston: And be more successful in life.

  • Terry: I totally agree those students can, we can help them do more than they ever thought they could, and again, I wish I could attribute this quote, but our job is not to prepare students for something, our job is to prepare students for anything.

  • Houston: A great place to finish, Terry Hamm. Thank you so much for your gifts, for pushing on 40 years of service to education. You are such an incredible advocate of this work and we love you very much.

  • Terry: Thank you.

  • John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we are supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.


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Houston Kraft

Houston Kraft is a professional speaker, leadership consultant, and kindness advocate who speaks to middle schools, high schools, colleges, and businesses nationally. He has spoken at over 500 events and counting. Student Body President in High School, Class President at Bowdoin College, Leadership Camp Staff for 12 years in Washington - he is a lifelong learner of character, culture, kindness, and leadership.

John Norlin

John Norlin is a Co-Founder of CharacterStrong, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year, taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School, and was a Program Administrator for the Whole Child for five years.