Recruiting, training, retaining, and managing teen leaders

Showcase Forums Teen Science Cafe Workshop Discussion 2015 Recruiting, training, retaining, and managing teen leaders

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    Michael MayhewMichael Mayhew

    How do you grow a proactive, committed, effective group of teen leaders for a year and beyond? How can research on positive youth development and varieties of teen learning styles be applied effectively to develop first rate teen leadership?

    Lynn Cross

    The Raleigh NC group of teen leaders is working well together and finally performing the duties needed to host a successful cafe. We’re finally feeling good about our group! We are in our 3rd year of hosting cafes and the output from our group has varied widely over the years.

    Some things that have lead to our success with our Cafe Coordinators:
    1. Use an application to select students. – Applications cut out students that have a fleeting interest and gives students a chance to say WHY they are interested in being a part of your group. When students feel there is a competitive process and they are specifically selected they will give you more time and effort.

    2. Size matters – We have 12 students in our Cafe Coordinator group. We’ve had as many as 20, but that is too many. This is the right group size for us. It allows for a diverse group but is manageable.

    3. Set expectations early. – We send a list of meeting dates and cafe dates to students who are selected. We have them sign a pledge that they will attend 90% of meetings and 90% of cafes. In August we send out the list of meeting dates and have them mark their calendars. Copy parents on this email. This way there are no surprises as the school year wears on.

    4. Have regular meetings. – We meet four hours per month to conduct cafe planning (2 Wednesdays per month, from 4-6pm). We invite speakers to attend one of these meetings and work out event logistics (assign roles for cafe, work on social media posts, create activities, discuss raffles/prizes, etc.). We certainly fill our time together! Plus, we know the progress of tasks and can send follow-up emails with smaller tasks, if needed. Face time with the kids is KEY!

    5. We have committees – Students choose which committee they would like to work in and have specific tasks. We change up the committee assignments half way through the year. This broadens students skills and keeps things fresh.

    If you have questions or want more details please contact me at

    Natanya CivjanNatanya Civjan

    This is great, very useful information, Lynn!
    Just curious, do you ever have to remove someone from the team if they are at <90% attendance or just not committed and participating? We had an application process this year, but a low number of applicants, so we could not be very selective. Hopefully this changes next year. We have 15 students (down from over 30 last year), but I still feel this is a bit on the large side. This year we have a core group of 5-8 students that do everything, and I’m having a hard time engaging the rest of the team outside the actual Cafe. I really like your idea of a pledge in the beginning. We have committees also, but changing them halfway through the year is novel! Thanks so much for this.

    Lynn Cross

    Natanya, I’m glad that you found the information useful!

    Luckily we have not had to remove any students for poor attendance or lack of commitment. We would consider doing so if it was a problem. I tend to give students leeway if they are communicating well with me. Having the signed pledge gives us more leverage in dismissing people, if we need to. Of course, I would personally talk with the student before dismissing them, and give them a chance to leave on their own. Tell them that the program takes more than they are giving and if they are unable to participate more and have other things going on that keep them from participating fully that you understand if they need to drop out. Often times students just try to do to much. They may choose to step out on their own or the talk is a “first warning” step for you to address problems.

    One other note about our program is that the term is 1 school year with an invitation to stay on for a second year, if students are in good standing. This allows you to reform your group with dedicated students. Students can stay in a maximum of 2 school years. This turnover allows for new students every year while retaining quality kids.

    We originally accepted a certain number of applicants because we were trying to fulfill a number. The lesson I’ve learned is that you take the kids that you want after reading applications, whether that is 5 or 15. More students doesn’t lead to more output in many cases.

    My two cents!

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