The current issue of the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) magazine, Independent School, is entitled “Evolution or Revolution: The Pace of Change in our Schools.”   It is a terrific issue, and has many great pieces, several of which I intend to write about in future posts.    (read to bottom (more) to see the section of this issue highlighting our own work at St. Gregory). 

One especially interesting article, both in general and to us at St. Gregory, is by Ted Fish, calling for “Teaching Leadership to All: The Educational Challenge of our Times.

At no other point in our history have the choices we’ve made had the potential to create such a deep and lasting imprint upon so many others, or cause so much harm. In such a world, developing good leaders has never mattered more.

Ted has a stake in this enterprise, as he is the executive director of Gardner Carney Leadership Institute, which teaches teachers to teach leadership.   In the piece, he sets out a useful, interesting set of strands for guiding the development of leadership learning in K-12 learning.

These three strands define a simple map for how we can teach leadership in our schools:

  • Leadership is concerned with taking courageous action, so students need practice taking risks and making mistakes.
  • Leadership is tied to caring and the betterment of others, so students need practice understanding the emotions of others and developing empathy.
  • And leadership is inherently involved with the functioning of groups, so students need practice developing their emotional intelligence and facility in managing groups.

The question is: put against the test of real life, do these principles actually work?

Schools evaluating their own leadership curriculum could do worse than to apply these questions to their program to assess whether they are on the right track.  When I think, for instance, of our student leadership initiative last year (video below) organizing the city-wide “ethnic extravaganza,” as part of a larger movement for the rights of public school students to take courses in ethnic history, I believe all three elements can be seen: boldness in taking this initiative and staging an event which could have failed; caring for others and empathizing with fellow students in our region, and organizing and collaborating with other groups.

Article author Fish then gives examples of leadership education from three independent schools, including, yes, our own program here at St. Gregory.

Fred Roberts, the leadership coordinator at St. Gregory School (Arizona), articulates exactly the same points. When I ask him what the key to teaching leadership is, he responds, “You have to put students out there. You have to put them on the line in some sort of leadership situation. Then you give them feedback. Accountability is key. Then, you put them out there again.”

With a long background in outdoor education, Roberts favors providing leadership opportunities in ropes courses, with group challenges, and on backpacking trips in the outdoors. “It’s amazing what happens to students,” he says, “when they know they are leaders.”

He describes an all-city initiative in which 60 middle school students from 20 schools will be coming to his campus, and his senior leaders will guide the groups. But then he adds, “Students can learn leadership anywhere. The opportunities are happening all the time. When a student is giving a speech, in that moment, she could be learning about leadership. The class is hers. But so many of those moments pass, because nobody points it out to them.”

Fred is describing in the third paragraph above our recently developed, “Signature” youth leadership (and innovation) summit, a very exciting initiative now two years old where we host 60-100 of the finest 7th and 8th grade student leaders of the city of Tucson for a day-long intensive training, a program managed in large part by our own high school student leaders.   Below are two videos from this program:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This is important work, leadership education for all, because all of our students will need the skills of facilitating collaboration, serving as a meaningful role model, influencing positive change, and making a difference in a community.   As Fish says in his conclusion,

With the right kind of practice, sufficient repetition, and effective mentoring, human beings can become substantially better at virtually any skill. In a world desperately in need of good leaders, why wouldn’t every school make a strategic and intentional plan to develop young leaders today for the challenge of global leadership tomorrow? It seems like a timely investment to me.