I always love hearing how other schools approach student leadership. A recent #bfc630nz chat on student leadership confirmed that there are amazing things happening in student leadership in New Zealand schools. There are many, many ways to "skin a cat" and a school's student leadership culture is undoubtedly shaped by their beliefs about one simple question: are leaders born or made?
Our school leadership programme hinges on the beliefs expressed here by Warren Bennis.
Every single one of our Year 8 students participates in our year long Leadership Academy, not just a privileged few. Surely eleven or twelve years old is to young for us to dictate who is a leader and who isn't it? We frequently hear from former students of our school who contact us with the exciting news that they have been selected as Head Girl of their high schools. Sometimes we are surprised and delighted by this news. Girls who at 11 years old as brand new Year 8 students may not have displayed enormous confidence, are flourishing in their leadership roles five years later. More and more frequently, these girls have had to apply for the job of Head Girl- would they have had the confidence to do so if five years earlier at primary school they had not "made the cut" for Leadership Training? Would they have felt that they had been subtly labeled "not leadership material" and quietly have slunk away with their tail between their legs? Perhaps they'd have bounced back and shown the resilience and determination we hope to instill into our students but what if they hadn't? What if they had simply decided that they had unfortunately not been born with the personality traits and characteristics necessary to be an effective leader as determined by us, a small group of teachers at their primary school? Perish the thought! So we continue to be firmly committed to developing the leadership skills of all our students.
Our Year 8 Leadership Academy kicked off for 2015 last week with Leadership Week- a five day
programme of activities designed to give the girls the skills they will need to experience real success in their leadership roles for the year. There were workshops on skills such as gaining and maintaining a group's attention, communicating (emailing, writing items for the newsletter, notices etc) creating a run sheet etc. There were activities that pushed many learners right out of their comfort zones such as the dance routine the girls were taught by Miss Gemma from Impact Dance school which they then performed for the school in a spontaneous flashmob. There was rock-climbing and belaying one another at the Christchurch YMCA which meant our learners had to use their risk-taking skills and learn to trust others.
And there was lots and lots of philosophical discussion about what makes a good leader.
Most importantly, there was the opportunity to put into practice what they had learned by running events in their leadership group for our youngest learners. This opportunity was hugely successful for the Year 8s as they practiced creating run sheets, collaborating and identifying the types of things that will keep young children engaged. It was also a highly successful event for the junior girls which had a positive flow-on effect for their teachers. Win Win!
These activities have served to confirm our belief that leaders are made not born as there are many girls really thriving in their leadership roles now that they have been given the tools and are working on the skills and attitudes of effective leadership. Many of these girls may not have been appointed to leadership roles if they were in another situation as they might be deemed as lacking in confidence or perhaps even too disorganised.
We believe that all learners, (incidentally including ourselves as educators) are a work in progress. We want to empower them and give them the tools to thrive; not clip their wings before they have even had a chance to fly.
What do you do at your school? I'd love to hear how this works at your school?