The focus of this document is to outline a design framework to leave children stronger and more resilient in the face of stress, with stronger social connections and support, mitigating their likelihood of apprehension.

The school is the central focus of this initiative, as it’s a place where school-aged children and a youth spend most of their time. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of schools, too many youth fall through the cracks, landing in care or in the justice system. The intention of this initiative is to catch a much higher proportion of those at-risk youth and children.

The initiative outlined here will take something to implement by teachers and leaders with a real commitment to a future different from the past. A core of school staff will need to feel ownership of the initiative which may feel unfamiliar or less comfortable than the known approaches already in place for students.

This initiative is meant to work in parallel with other existing initiatives, including culture-based interventions. It will be housed in the senior grades of the secondary school with the secondary school principal as the overall leader who oversees activities (even if not directly) as they will fall under the school purview.


This project will be housed in the high school but will be primarily directed to the benefit of children, by the youth. It is the youth who will lead it. Counter-intuitively, teachers supporting youth acting for the benefit benefit of their younger siblings and cousins in elementary school, is what gives the initiative strength.

The youth will spearhead this initiative, with critical support being offered by the staff. The youth, who are the future of their community, and are in a unique position to take on real leadership roles even those whom we’ve ‘written off’ or think ‘will never amount to anything’.

These senior students will require significant practice stepping into their natural roles as leaders. The skeleton model presented below is a way for youth (not just the “good” ones) to actually begin to master responsibility so they reliably take on projects for the benefit of others and walk their talk – as a group.

This intervention focuses on a student company comprised of, established and operated by senior students. Ostensibly, the company will be for the purpose of raising money for a school trip at the end of the year. In reality, they’ll be learning leadership skills by gaining mastery in responsibility for a higher purpose – something many teens lack practice in.

One of the key components is raising money by people paying fairly for good value. Funds will be raised in order to provide needed services in the community directed toward children, families, and Elders. The needed services provided will be good value for money for community members. The higher purpose is to find ways to be of service to their community. Therefore, no bingos or raffles will be used in fundraising as this does not provide value for money, and is likely not a gap needing to be filled.

Naturally, staff are responsible for everything that goes on with youth and children in a school a setting. Therefore, it is important that all staff are engaged to a greater or lesser extent in this unusual initiative – because, as outlined below, it’s not the normal way schools do things.


  1. Schools are in a unique position to positively impact the lives of youth and children including beyond the 3Rs because children spend on average 30 – 35 hours per week at school.
  2. Many children observe older sisters, brothers and cousins drop out of school before graduating from high school, often with drinking and drugs as part of their lives, and sometimes experiencing teenage pregnancy and parenthood. Children tend to emulate older children and youth and even set their expectations for themselves based on the life-path of those they look up to around them.
  3. Youth are role-models for younger siblings and cousins. Whether they are positive or negative role-models is separate consideration. What is undeniable is that younger siblings and cousins look up to them. Therefore, the senior youth (cousins, siblings) are in a singularly unique position to change the predictable trajectory not only for their own lives, but for all those younger ones looking up to them.
  4. In far northern communities there are very limited organized evening activities beyond sports, which are hugely beneficial for some, but don’t interest, engage or excite all youth. These sports activities are generally organized and led by teachers. Even with these dedicated teachers and other adults leading sports activities, many youth drop out, succumb to alcohol or substance abuse, due in part to a lack of other stimulating night-time activities. It leaves out too many.
  5. Teens of every culture naturally seek out excitement and ‘adventure’ in their free time. Without safe, organized activities in the evenings and weekends, youth will tend to organize themselves, often resulting in destructive activities. Without safe things to do most evenings – and especially on weekends, youth will continue doing what they do now.
  6. Traditionally, Indigenous children came of age as youth and would be apprenticed in important community responsibilities. This was an integral part of most traditional Indigenous cultures. Today, responsibilities for those youth tends to be limited to doing well in school (getting good marks on tests, completing homework) and for many, helping out at home (keeping their room tidy, looking after younger siblings, or doing household tasks). This is important, but it’s limited to their family, their class, their age- group, their performance. There are few opportunities for the average youth to have a meaningful leadership role and master responsibilities that extend beyond themselves to the benefit of the wider community.
  7. Responsibility is a skill that takes practice – like swimming. You can’t learn it from the dock. Like swimming, it takes time, trial and a lot of failure before eventual success. Even then, yet more practice is needed to reach mastery.
  8. Reaching mastery in any skill, including reliably being responsible, requires that youth get to discover it for themselves without feeling like failures when they miss the mark, which takes time. Letting learners discover for themselves is in keeping with traditional forms of learning where the learner is not told; the learner discovers.
  9. High expectations of students are critically important. Students tend to rise to the level of the expectations of the adults around them, provided those adults are reliably there to support them. What works is for teachers and staff to walk shoulder to shoulder beside these youth as they explore their new leadership role.
  10. To change behaviours (such as drinking or doing drugs), it’s necessary to see oneself in a new light, and, over time • to come to see oneself differently. This change in self- perception is a remarkable and challenging undertaking. It really takes something. It’s easier to change one’s view of one’s self if friends and peers are doing likewise. A powerful catalyst to ‘recreating’ oneself is to displace the negative ‘old ways’ with a positive declaration of intention. Therefore, the interventions are set upon 3 foundations;
    • The student company and its identity is about a newly created group of youth (not individuals). The company, ideally 18 – 30 students, comprises the top 1, 2, or 3 grades with no one excluded depending upon numbers in those grades – it’s not just the ‘good’ ones or the ‘at-risk’ ones. It includes everyone in that grade with no one left out.
    • The group declares a bold intention or promise backed by a code of conduct, created by the students themselves, and they name their company. We can observe this in youth gangs. It’s the same when applied to positive outcomes.
    • The group works toward a deferred outcome, rather than an immediate outcome. The school year provides a very good timeframe with the company forming itself in September and the final goal reached (money raised, trip in progress) in June.
  11. The school is here for the students. Schools don’t exist to serve teachers, other school staff or parents. Ideally, the senior students come to adopt a deep sense of ownership over their school in their community. This initiative will move the school closer to that ideal. The teachers and Educational Assistants are here to support the senior students even through their inevitable and frequent failures – especially in the first several months.
  12. Having employed this model in many northern Indigenous communities, the second year is 85% faster and easier for all the staff. Starting early in the school year, those students in the grade below the student company are counting the days *til they get to be “the ones”.

The Student Company

The focus of this initiative is on is youth in the senior grade(s) who form a student company, laying down a pathway for younger siblings and cousins to follow. The student company is visibly identifiable and has standing in the school:

The student company is purposely made high-profile in the school, which pays off in a big way for school staff down the road. The senior students want to be part of it so they can raise money and practice real leadership in their community and school (see next section for CO- curricular element).

This may include

The intention is to have activities that most children and youth want to participate in 4 to 5 nights every week and always including Friday and Saturday nights. These activities would run until around 10 pm with age-restrictions as needed: i.e. younger children should normally be in bed by 9:00 on a weeknight. And, of course, parents and whole families are welcome.

For the student company, and the supervising staff, clean up activities may well carry on til 10:30 or sometimes 11:00 pm, and if the culture/climate is right, it’ll be fun for them (not work). Incidentally, the youth themselves will be busy at least 4 evenings a week, so they will have supervised, activities to do which are not only safe, but which are beneficial for the community and crucially, keep them too busy from substance and alcohol abuse.

In keeping with traditional rites of passage, this student company is reserved for only the most senior grade(s) in high school. The ideal is to have 18 to 30 students comprise the student- company. This could be strictly grade 12 students or grade 11 and 12 to ensure the numbers are high enough. It’s important to include each and every student in the specified grade(s) in the student company as an important component of creating a new ‘identity’ It can transform a “tough kid” who engages in dangerous activities to a real leader to people s/he cares about. As well, teamwork is a critical skill that will serve these youth throughout their lives.

Co-Curricular Aspect of the Student Company

Unlike other student clubs or companies, this student company is not only extra-curricular but has critical co-curricular activities. Therefore, the school Principal is a key anchor in this initiative and must be fully behind it for it to be successful. It is important to have at least one champion high school teacher – and more is better. Education assistants will also play a key role in the initiative.

In many high schools, poor discipline is a problem preventing good teachers from teaching their carefully planned lesson, and disrupting others from learning. Establishing a Student Tribunal, as a component of the student company stops discipline problems from not only the eldest students, but causes a drop off also in discipline issues with the other high school grades as well.

The Student Tribunal consists of a panel of 3 – 5 rotating student company members who make themselves available every day after school for 15 – 30 minutes. Here’s how it works.

3 Remarkable Results

  1. No student company members break school rules – or the rare times they do, they are happy to work something out with the administration staff so that they don’t have to appear before their peers in the Student Tribunal
  2. This hugely elevates the status of the student company in the eyes of younger students.
  3. This reinforces the code of conduct by which the Student Company members live and the positive role models and leaders they are.

The Essential Skills the Student Company Members Will Get

Through the leadership program, e distinctions below will leave youth with a shared language for leadership and culture – everyone gets on the same page and stays on the same page with velocity. It will be necessary for a critical core of teachers to have this too.


Discovering integrity as one’s word – nothing more, nothing less. Realizing that integrity is simply workability (of a business, of relationships) absent morality.


Coming to see a choice: being a victim of circumstance or being cause in the matter. Changing thinking to see opportunities not visible before. Students will grow in the ability to resolve problems and interruptions with velocity, without the time and energy it takes to get over the upset of having the problem in the first place.

Noble Purpose

Striving for a purpose bigger than themselves with sustained effort over the course of the whole school year. Youth will be left with the ability to stand in the future looking back, to plan backwards from the accomplishment of an extraordinary result, to today’s set of circumstances

Communication Skills


Default Thinking & Design Thinking

Discovering hidden, invisible assumptions, views, opinions and worldviews that also limit possibilities. Once seen, it is possible to go beyond.

Interpretation vs Reality

The ability to distinguish fact from story and get to the heart of the matter. The ability to live in what’s real, not live in the story. This naturally leaves students with more energy and more empowered.

How to House the Student Company inside the School

It is important for one senior teacher to be assigned to the Student Company to talk about goals, to plan activities, to budget and to review progress during regular school time. The education, while not following a textbook, is highly impactful and develops in students basic skills relating to business, organization, planning, team work, presenting and often writing. This may take rearranging the timetable so that all senior students are together with the same ‘student company’ teacher 3 or more days a week with a dedicated time for this – always including Mondays, to discuss weekend activities.

One of the first tasks will be to discuss the student trip, where the students may wish to travel to. Below is a list of other first-steps to take.

Staff Support

Needless to say, without the school staff, this isn’t possible. It’s important that the Principal show real interest in this. Her/his interest toward these students and their company will add profile and importance to what they’re doing and will make a real difference. The principal’s regular attention and checking in with them helps in setting the high expectations..

It will be natural for some staff to have doubts about the students being able to really meet expectations – particularly the ‘bad’ ones who don’t ‘deserve’ to be given a leadership role. It will almost certainly be a trial for the core group of teachers when at first none of the student company members show up for a job they signed up to do in a certain activity. That’s predictably how it will go. When learning to swim, we have to stand in shallow water with someone beside us until floating is discovered. When learning to ride bike, we continually fall off until balance is discovered – and even that’s wobbly at first. When learning to be a leader, students can be expected to fall short until responsibility (and the sense of empowerment with that) is discovered.

Staff Preparation

Because this project is not the way things are usually done, it is critical that staff, and especially core staff to this project help to shape and form this future.

Unstoppable Conversations is a company with long experience working with Indigenous communities. The training allows teams to discover for themselves their self-imposed limitations, views and opinions and to create a future together not constrained by past limitations – a future that may have looked impossible before.

Every place of work including a school has a culture (a context). It sounds like “it’s the way things are done around here”, and it usually develops over time from various happenstances and history.

Over time, certain events happen and conclusions are drawn, for example:

Culture in this sense is an accumulation of the school’s past and it forms a constraint around what’s possible. We can’t create a truly new future with our strongly held beliefs, views, opinions and attachments to past ways of doing things.

It is recommended that all school staff participate in a 2 to 3-day workshop with 8 hours of implementation coaching. This could be done in person or in 2-3 hour time slots over zoom, plus hours of small-group implementation coaching over time.

There will be some on-site implementation guidance for the operation of the student company and the tribunal as well as regular off-site guidance throughout the school year.

For more information, be in touch with Tanyss Munro, Ph.D at [email protected]