I am writing this as part of my Professional Growth Plan this year: Student Leadership.
I love being a middle school Student Council advisor. To other people, planning middle school dances, trying to run meetings with 12 year olds, and organizing monthly assemblies with grades 6-8 students may not be the best ways to spend your spare time. For me, I am energized by working with fun, silly, good-intentioned middle schoolers.
I love seeing what they can accomplish and their belief that with hard work, they can accomplish anything. I see my job as StuCo advisor to create opportunities for my students to act as leaders and to shine. The less you see of me, the better.
Despite my belief that my StuCo members do develop as leaders, it’s been a bit like throwing a non-swimmer in the ocean. Kids learn on the job. It’s a joy watching the upperclassmen (the wise and wizened 8th graders) teach the 6th graders how to get things done. But I haven’t set aside time for them to learn leadership skills. And when my amazing Vice-Principal, Susie Clifford*, suggested that we hold a leadership retreat for our middle schoolers, it seemed silly that it wasn’t something we didn’t do as a matter of course.
So this Wednesday, Susie, Adam Clark** and I jumped in cabs with 12 students and headed away to school to the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club. And while the kids were there to learn things like public speaking, how to communicate with adults and peers, and project management, I learned just as much as they did.
I learned our kids can teach. We gave the kids an hour to work in small teams to come up with a 15 minute lesson plan on their topic. To be honest, Susie and Adam and I thought they might struggle to fill the time. Instead they planned amazing lessons***. The group teaching about running agenda, created a beautifully planned agenda for their lesson, with action items and discussion points and then had each group (including the teacher group) act out a good meeting. The group teaching about communicating with adults had each group write an email asking for chaperones for a dance and then chose the best intro, body and conclusion. There were visible thinking routines, quizzes, pair-shares. I saw little things I know I do in my humanities class. I caught glimpses of my colleagues in watching this middle schoolers teach. It was awesome. And they were amazing teachers.
I learned that it’s important to get away from campus for a day. It’s a special occasion for the kids (and adults) to leave campus, eat non-cafeteria food, and spend the day thinking about their roles as leaders. And it can’t be interrupted by all the things that happen at schools. It was special and we don’t do enough of those things for the kids.
I learned we need more opportunities for cross-grade interactions. I truly enjoyed watching 6th graders work with 8th graders. And for 7th graders to switch between being mentors to the ones being mentored. If you remember middle school, the gulf between grades can be vast. But watching the kids laugh and hang out and play games and get to know each other was the best part of the day. And the community that is formed is invaluable. And we need more create more chances for the kids to learn from each other.
I learned that schools should value student leadership. Student leadership is one of our school goals this year. It’s because of this that the school supported three teachers leaving campus for the day and paid for the leadership retreat. The belief is that if we train student leaders, they will then teach other students to lead. I truly believe that this can happen.
I learned the kids want to lead. The last hour the kids worked on projects using the skills they developed. They worked on the assembly which would happen the next day (which was according to a 7th grader was “flawless”). They worked on fundraisers. They wrote a blog post about the day to share on the school website. One group worked on setting up an agenda for our future meetings. And for the last 30 minutes, our incredible StuCo president Kai ran the meeting. Watching him run the meeting like a boss was proof the day was worth it.
The evening after the leadership, I was buzzing. It was so much fun to spend the day with these kids and some days when you’re a teacher you just want to have fun with your students. And then I got this email from our president, Kai:
Today was a really fun day and I learned a lot about how to run meetings, and how to be a good leader. On behalf of the student council I would like to say thank you for everything you taught us today, and the time you put into it. I feel like we can now all be advanced leaders, and our meetings will become more student led. Hopefully, we can start to be more productive on our own in meetings.
I think it goes without saying, but we’re already planning our next leadership retreat.
* There should be no confusion, this leadership day was the brainchild of Susie. And she did the vast majority of the work getting us ready for the day. This day could not have happened with Susie…like so many other things at YIS.
**This day also couldn’t have happened without the indomitable Adam Clark. He ran so many of the activities, games and took the amazing photos you see on this blog post.
*** I did something similar a day later with my grade 11s. Their lessons were lecture based with maybe a small quiz. I’m not sure what that means, but I think it means something.