Can I tell you a secret? It might come as a surprise. You’ll probably find it hard to believe. But it’s true.
Are you ready?
Schools want us on their campuses.
Go ahead and laugh, gnash your teeth, rip your clothes, cut yourself with broken shards of pottery … I’ll wait. … All done? ☺
It’s true! Schools may not want us in the ways that youth leaders traditionally want to be on campus, but they do want us on campus.
My approach used to look like this: find a way on campus, tell the administration/faculty what I could do to help them, wait until they called and asked me for help. It seemed to work for my youth pastor when I was a high schooler, and sometimes this approach found traction. Typically, however, I would find myself frustrated because I wanted to make a difference, and they were tools of Satan squelching the work of Jesus.
Thankfully, I grew up (a little) and learned that not all school officials wore the mark of the beast. In fact, some faculty and administrators cared about students beyond their academic achievements! (Just to be clear, this sentence is meant to be sarcastic. Nearly every school official I know entered and remain in their profession because they care deeply about the whole student.)
What can you do to bridge the gap? Here are a few things I’d recommend to try to connect with school campuses:
- Try to find a way in. Who do you know? A teacher? A school administrator? A trusted PTO parent? Being a part of a school’s community is all about relationships; who do you know that’s already in relationship with the school?
- Ask the school what they need. One of the biggest mistake youth leaders make is that we are quick to ask to do things on campus (like lead a bible study) which adds work to the school and staff. What if we said something like, “Hi. I’m Tim, I’m a youth leader, and I love students. I know a lot of students who attend your school, and I was wondering if there anything I could to help the school.”
- Respect boundaries. If you are going to partner with a school, they need to trust you. If the staff lets you start meeting a need within the school, don’t use that opportunity to stand on a lunchroom table with a bullhorn and scream, “Turn or burn!” You’re showing them that you’re not a trustworthy partner . . . and you’re weird.
- Say yes. If a faculty or administrator or student asks you to come do something at their school, say yes! Change your plans, cancel your meeting, and make it happen! You are being invited into sacred space … be thankful and give your all.
- Be positive. If you have children of your own at a school, be a positive volunteer. Few schools want to partner with grumpy volunteers.
OK, if I’m being totally honest, I know that some schools may not want us on their campuses — likely because another youth leader did things poorly, and we’re paying their debt. But I’ve found a surprising number of schools who were willing to give me an opportunity to have a presence on a campus. Regardless of how many schools are represented in your group, you just need one to say the first, “yes!”
Things I’ve been able to do on school campuses:
- Most schools have let me on campus to hi-five students during lunch.
- One public school asked me to lead an after-school gospel choir … Oh, Happy Day!
- One private school asked me to come speak at their chapel services.
- One private school asked my wife to come talk about her vocation at Career Day.
- Three public schools asked my wife to help facilitate school-wide assemblies on human trafficking.
- Several public schools allowed me to host school-wide assemblies and promote a tornado relief mission trip, AND they gave the students who went on the trip excused absences for time away from school.
- One public school asked me to lead an in-service workshop for the faculty on the “40 Developmental Assets” from the Search Institute.
- One public school has allowed us to organize four different “game days” for the student body of 600+ middle schoolers. This opportunity is particularly fun because, 1) We invited students from the feeder high school to help us, 2) the teachers get to have fun with their students and they didn’t have to plan it, and 3) We’re youth leaders – we can do games in our sleep! We bring sound equipment from the church and play popular, appropriate music (with maybe a little Yaves Ellis or Lecrae squeezed in before the day ends).
- One public school district invited me to speak to a meeting of the faculty and administration of all middle schools in their district on the role of the teacher beyond academics.
The best part about being on our students’ campuses is that when our students invite their friends to one of our events, they can say, “You know my youth leader, he’s the one who led games at field day,” or, “She spoke at chapel …,” or “He’s the one who makes fart noises in the microphone …”
Youth leader … you, too, can be the one who makes fart noises on school campuses across this great land!