Developing Student Leadership

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about our expectations of students’ leadership, and how we can help them to come into their own as leaders. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, middle school is such an important time for students in terms of creating their own identities. They are challenging who they were, negotiating who they are and dreaming about who they want to be. For some students, being a leader is an important part of this dream of their future self.

With both year 7s and year 8s in our classes, we work with a tuakana/teina model. Our year 8s are our tuakana, our big siblings, and the year 7s, who are new to our school are the teina, the little siblings. This model, based on Kaupapa Maori theories of education, has an inherent focus on leadership. Our tuakana are our schools role models, and leaders (Bishop, 2001).

At the end of year seven our students get the opportunity to apply for leadership positions for the following year; these positions cover all sorts of things, from flag raising, to sports referees, to performing arts leaders and librarians. The students submit CVs and cover letters to apply for the job and are then short listed and interviewed. At the beginning of year 8, students then take up these roles. 

I love that we have this opportunity for our students, and I love the way we take them through the process of applying for a job in an authentic and meaningful context, but this is only one side of leadership. This is formal leadership. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about how encourage informal leadership. The kind where students take initiative and take responsibility for something without being asked, show their maturity and stand up for what they want. I’ve seen some awesome examples of this in action this week, so I thought I’d share a couple.

Last week our 4 syndicate captains came to us at the end of a syndicate (teachers’) meeting and said that they had made some changes to our fitness programme they’d like to try. We’d been suggesting to our kids that week that if they had any ideas to let the captains know, but we didn’t expect how much the captains had taken this on board. They had reworked our fitness routine completely  – making it way harder and actually a little bit brutal but the students LOVE it! They stood up and explained it to the syndicate, they ran it, they demonstrated it and at the end they lead the syndicate through a reflection of the new programme. All of this without any teacher prompting – that’s authentic leadership and learning in action!

Two of my very capable (but with the potential to get bored, distracted and disruptive very quickly) boys have taken on some extra responsibility in creating a soccer skills programme for the class. The are both soccer (or as we are calling it in class to prevent the soccer/football argument – Fuβball) mad and spend every lunch time playing. Earlier in the term I asked them whether they would be interested in teaching the class, partially as a extension task for them and also because I wanted to steer them towards positive leadership roles within the class. Well, the boys have absolutely taken to it and planned and delivered a fantastic lesson last week for 45 minutes. They lead the class and me through it and I barely had to step in with the classroom management. They’re all set getting ready for the next one, and I’ve already got other students lining up to take responsibility for teaching the class a new sport in the next 3 terms. Win! 

Bishop, R. (2001). Changing power relations in education: Kaupapa Maori messages for mainstream institutions. In McGee, C., and Fraser, D. (Eds). The Professional Practice of Teaching. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press