The nature of much of a delegate’s Model UN experience is influenced by their chair; chairs are responsible for leading committee, setting an example for delegates, and altogether ensuring delegates have an educational, memorable, and enjoyable experience. Good chairs and good chairing are the hallmark of any great conference, since they are the ones most directly responsible towards making sure their delegates have a good time. Delegates can tell when chairs are not well-versed in parliamentary procedure and/or their chosen topic, too strict or lax in their attitude towards their delegates, or simply do not care about their committee, and this can deeply lessen their Model UN experience as a whole.
When running conferences and committees for middle school students, this aspect of Model UN leadership becomes even more important. Middle school delegates, while being extremely enthusiastic and willing to work hard in committee, have much less experience on the Model UN circuit than many high school delegates, especially since middle school Model UN often operates in a more educational and nurturing nature when compared to the competitiveness of many high school conferences. This means that they are less likely to be well-versed in parliamentary procedure, international affairs, resolution writing, and the general operation of Model UN committees. Chairs in middle school committees thus have to often act as teachers alongside moderators, requiring a different sort of chairing style than conferences for other age groups.
As the Secretary-General of the largest Model UN conferences for middle school delegates in the Midwest (Northern Illinois Model United Nations, or NIMUN — you can learn more about the conference at http://www.nimunweb.com/w/) and someone who is responsible for training and interacting with many middle school students and chairs in the field of Model UN, here are my tips for effectively directing committees of middle school delegates:
1. Direct Debate
Often times, middle school delegates have limited exposure or experience with parliamentary procedure. While they’ll probably know the format of your standard points and motions (moderated and unmoderated caucuses, speaker’s list, etc.), they’ll be less aware of how these motions fit into the grand scheme of committee. In order to offer guidance through the flow of debate, you may want to recommend types of motions to your delegates and “look favorably upon” more motions than you would while chairing a high school conference. Make sure to explain the reasoning behind these choices, and let your delegates know how you see committee progressing so they can be receptive to your vision.
2. Explain, Explain, Explain
Continuing off of the previous point, because delegates will have less experience with parliamentary procedure, as many chairs might do at a novice or training conference, take a few minutes before each section of committee begins to explain the different choices delegates have. For example, once the speaker’s list is closed, you may want to go over the different points delegates may raise or how they can motion for an unmoderated and moderated caucus. This ensures that all delegates understand how committee is progressing and how they can progress committee themselves.
3. Be Friendly
While leading advanced conferences, many chairs feel the need to project themselves as stern, authoritarian figures in the hopes that through force and a strict demeanor they can urge their committee to listen to them and follow their will. However, middle school students tend to respond better to chairs who are more friendly and approachable than stern and demanding. Chairs are most effective in these cases when they act as older siblings or mentors instead of bosses. Some things to try to get this point across are making yourself available during unmoderated caucuses through walking around the room, continuously urging delegates to ask questions and speak, and cracking jokes every once in a while. If you are likable, the students will respect you more, and as such, committee proceedings will be smoother.
4. Help Out
As has been mentioned earlier, middle school delegates are often not as well-versed in Model UN procedure and proceedings as older delegates. Chairing these committees, your job is to be a teacher, rather than a facilitator. That means to explain the different motions as you go through the different stages of debate. That means if a delegate forgets to propose a speaking time while motioning for a moderated caucus, you help them finish their motion. That means you walk around during unmoderated caucuses and make sure everyone is being included and inclusive, and if there is a kid sitting in the corner, you help point them towards a group of people they might want to talk to. Offer guidance when it is needed and still make yourself available when it is not.
5. Set Deadlines
When I train my chairs, one thing I like to drill into them is to be explicit about what they want from delegates, when they want it. Chairs in middle school Model UN committees have more control over the flow and direction of debate than higher level committees to ensure smooth proceedings; this means that these chairs have to always remind their students when working papers are due, what they expect to be accomplished during this unmoderated caucus, how many sponsors and signatories they need, etc. Make these things clear at the beginning of committee and offer consistent reminders so kids are aware of their goal should be for the next block of time in committee. This method also gives them time to ask questions if they are confused about certain rudimentary tasks like resolution formatting.
6. Provide Substantive Guidance
While middle schoolers are most definitely often able to offer substantive policy and solutions at a high level, like Model UN delegates of all ages, they can tend to drift off-policy at important moments. When these errors are especially egregious, rather than ignoring the issue at hand, chairs should send a friendly note to the off-policy delegate that is both encouraging and guides them back into the right direction. Doing this is especially important in smaller committees, where one delegate being off-policy can have a large impact on the educational quality of the entire simulation. Chairs should also make sure to specify to delegates what actions are feasible in regards to their committee’s powers when unrealistic solutions are presented in order to preserve the committee’s realism.
Parliamentary procedure can be difficult and confusing for those just beginning to learn it. At the same time, for more advanced delegates, it provides a platform to manipulate the flow of debate in a way that either gleans an advantage for certain delegates/blocs or puts competing delegates/blocs at a disadvantage. While at an upper-level conference with a more competitive atmosphere, these elements can often be exciting and add another layer of strategy to committee proceedings, it is best with middle schoolers to preserve the academic integrity and non-competitive nature of the simulation. As such, when drafting and using parliamentary procedure in middle school committees, I like to take out unnecessary or over-complicated motions; these include dividing the question, motions to change the voting order, motions to table topics, and even yields other than those to the chair.
8. Encourage Participation
Think back to your first conference — no matter who old you were, it is likely that you were terrified to speak, afraid of slipping up or embarrassing yourself in front of a large committee of your peers. Middle school students share these same fears, and in many, they are even more profound. Rather than look towards the same speakers to guide debate, chairs of middle school committees should make conscious efforts to urge each delegate in the committee to participate. This doesn’t only include talking about the importance of participating in opening remarks to the committee or reiterating this idea intermittently throughout committee; while these things should be done, a more personalized approach often works best. From my experience, delegates appreciate it when chairs send them individual notes, or even approach them during unmoderated caucus to encourage them to talk to a bloc or begin drafting a working paper. Often times, delegates wish to become involved, they are just fearful of doing so. A nudge from a friendly authority figure can often be the nudge they need to begin participating!