Building Leaders, One Recess at a Time

When we think back to our childhoods, many of us remember happily roaming the neighborhood with a pack of other kids, planning games and settling disputes with minimal adult assistance. But when we look at our own children and students, it’s clear that the way kids play today has fundamentally changed. And this change has led to many young people in this generation who haven’t been given the opportunity to build their own capacity for leadership and independence through play.

Here at school, we see the fallout of that new reality most clearly during recess. For many kids today, recess is one of the very few times when they are expected to take part in unstructured and undirected play. So it’s not really surprising that we see some kids struggling with social interactions during recesses. That’s why we need to proactively help our younger students develop the skills they need on the playground.

To do this, we’re turning to some of our older students. As Grade 6 teachers, we see a wealth of untapped resources in our grade 6 and 7 students. We know they can do good things and make their community better, but they can only do that if we show them how to build their own capacity for leadership. Because when they do, they end up seeing themselves as capable members of their community who can serve as agents of change.

This year, a number of Grade 6 and 7 students have stepped up and taken on the responsibility of becoming our first set of Community Recess Leaders. It’s a big job with a lot of responsibility, so we knew we had to help set these leaders up for success. The first step was a full day of leadership and conflict resolution training provided by one of our education partners, Playocracy, a local agency dedicated to helping kids develop social skills through the power of play. The training included team-building activities, role-playing, and exploring positive traits of leadership. The students also created their own games and spent the afternoon teaching their games to kids in grades 1, 2, and 3. Throughout the process, they reflected and iterated their games based on feedback and experiences.

The next step is for the leaders to put on their bright orange vests and head out onto the field during recesses. During recess, the leaders will help strengthen our community by mentoring younger students, leading games, and providing conflict resolution for students in grades 1-4. By being out there on a regular basis, all the leaders will be given plenty of hands-on experience in leadership and mentorship.

We know that this is a tricky job filled with potential pitfalls. That’s why the leaders will also participate in a weekly meeting with both of us (Ms. T and Ms. Phillips). During those ongoing support meetings, the students will reflect, debrief, and test out new games with each other. They will also work their way through a comprehensive leadership training manual that was provided to them by Playocracy. Of course, we will still have a full roster of teachers out on duty in the park every day to help our leaders and other students deal with issues that may arise.

We’re very excited about this new initiative, as we feel it will help build leadership and independence across the entire school in a very organic and child-driven way. The initial few steps have been very successful and heartening, and we are looking forward to a year of growth and learning alongside our first cohort of Community Recess Leaders. Watch this space and our social media channels for further updates throughout the year!

Lauren Phillips & Kirsten Tenebaum

If you’re interested in learning more about student leadership at KCS, check out our blogs on student-created social enterprises, helping at the Special Olympics, and student-led learning.