Student Leadership, Gone Viral

The following was first written for our community two years ago. Leadership projects are as viral as ever at KCS. Students clearly have great potential to make the world a better place. Please pass this on so more schools can help unleash that potential.

A small selection of photos from student leadership initiatives.

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Student Leadership, Gone Viral

My day began by walking past a multicultural food drive organized by five boys in grade 6. Not much later, a student in grade 1 announced to me that he is saving his allowance to buy food for charity. Shortly after, a girl in grade 5 emailed to let me know she is helping a group of grade 3 students organize a talent show. I popped into a grade 5 class and witnessed a group starting to organize a poster contest. That afternoon, a different student in grade 5 came by to ask if he can start a student newspaper, similar to the one the grade 8s established a couple years ago. On my way out at the end of the day, I learned from a grade 4 student that he made a colouring and activity book for the grade 3 classes as a supplement to their unit on the rainforest. This, in addition to the dozens of leadership, community service and service learning projects I know our older students are working on. All in one day.

That is when it became clear student leadership was going viral.

The 21st century is for people who can make success happen. It is a century where leadership skills aren’t just helpful for the few, but required by all. At Kingsway College School, student leadership is a major pillar in our effort to prepare students for the 21st century. While not every day is punctuated by this number and breadth of student-initiated leadership projects, it happens often enough. If you long for a day like I had, the following are some steps that helped get us here:

1. Make time for it. Leadership is a timetabled subject in grades 6 to 8. Students learn about the important aspects of leadership, such as initiative, persistence, active listening, participation and flexible thinking. They use these periods to come up with their own leadership projects. They research, prepare their proposal, work out the logistics and deliver on their project. Awareness campaigns, charity drives, fundraisers and school and community events are some of the more popular projects, though the possibilities are endless. Reflection on the project and self-assessment of their growth is also a valuable part of the experience, and set the students up to be self-aware leaders throughout life.

2. Make leadership for all. Leadership is an egalitarian, unelected pursuit at KCS. It is open to anyone who wishes to initiate it and follow through. In fact, in the older grades, all students are required to learn about and experiment with leadership in their leadership classes. We don’t give students the choice of learning to read, and we believe we shouldn’t give them the choice of learning to be leaders. If it matters, everyone needs to start the journey.

3. Make it personal. Leadership can manifest itself in infinite ways, with the most powerful leadership being rooted in personal interests. Helping children find and leverage their passions to make a difference is an appropriate, though overlooked, role for education. At our school, one boy who loves to read committed himself to writing book reviews for the library. A group of girls who love to dance came up with a “Get Out of your Comfort Zone” Challenge, encouraging students and teachers to perform in assembly. Another boy and his friend prepared and delivered an unforgettable presentation on Down’s Syndrome, breaking myths surrounding that condition. There are dozens of different projects underway, each adding dimensions to everyone’s school experience that the faculty alone could never provide.

4. Let them lead, with guidance only. Many students are naturals at leadership. If invited, they will organize a group to deliver on a significant community project, regardless of age. Some students don’t find it quite as easy. They will need guidance. Give it to them. Also, give the students lots of freedom to change or drop their ideas, and even to follow through with unsuccessful projects, without penalty. Let this be a realm where they can learn to lead the way they learned to walk, being allowed to fall, and then cheered when they get back up and try again.

5. Let them be small. Very rarely are students solely responsible for huge leadership projects. Craig Kielburger, founder of Free the Children, is an inspiration but most children and youths, if really in charge, will come up with smaller ideas. Adults should resist the temptation to jump in and take the lead. It may end up big and polished, and it may even make a truly significant difference to the community or charity of choice, but it isn’t developing the students into leaders. When we step in, it’s the adults’ leadership skills that get honed, not the students. In fact, when faced with the large quantity of projects that need to be coordinated, small is generally the wiser choice for all.

6. Have a variety of opportunities. Leadership experiences at KCS take many forms: earning a brick on our Wall of Service in return for initiating an act of service; lunch supervision roles, where students assist supervising teachers; assisting with clubs and teams; House Captains; peer tutoring; leading assemblies; as well as all the opportunities to come up with one’s own project. We also point out to students the many unplanned opportunities for leadership during class, at recess and outside of school through setting a positive example, resolving conflicts or initiating an activity. The variety ensures there are many opportunities for everyone, at every stage of their leadership journey.

7. Have them share what they know. The presentation of leadership projects is at the heart of making them go viral. The school-wide presentations of our older students inspired the younger students to follow their lead. The result is an ever-increasing number of projects. Let the presentations keep happening. Visibility and quantity matter when creating a culture of leadership.

A word of warning. If you embark on establishing student leadership throughout the school, be prepared for an onslaught of students stepping up. Leadership potential is lying dormant, but will potentially overwhelm you if awoken. Larry Rosenstock, founder of San Diego’s High Tech High, has said a critical attribute for success in the 21st century is a tolerance for ambiguity. For a profession that is more comfortable with prudent adult planning, unleashing school-wide student leadership will rock your world.

Relax. It’s worth the ride.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

A Haunted House that Left Me Scared, and Bursting With Pride

A preschool-aged sibling hid in his room. A writhing trapped rat greeted us at the door. A skeleton sang and swayed while playing the keyboard. A ghost fell on my head. The masterminds? Two boys in grade 4 and their trusty crew of friends, one sister and parents. The mission? To raise money for breast cancer research.

This story goes back to the first day of school. A boy in grade 4 approached me, clipboard in hand. He explained that he had started organizing a Haunted House fundraiser and wanted to meet to discuss it. He knew that’s all it took to launch a leadership project. “Drop by my office and we’ll talk. But remember that you must be willing to persist, and to think flexibly as we plan.” This wasn’t part of a club or program and would test his commitment from the start by making him take responsibility.

He had lots of ideas. He gathered a team. When they learned they couldn’t create a Haunted House at KCS, his friend suggested they could transform his garage. When this boy asked his parents if they could use the garage, his parents replied that they needed a written proposal. The proposal passed, posters were made, a Powerpoint presentation to their classmates was given and a note to their parents posted in the weekly newsletter. Throughout were lots of drafts, changes, challenges, and mistakes. They gave up their recesses, tracked me down a dozen times or more, and devoted two weekends to preparing the garage.

The boys and their siblings raised a significant amount for cancer research. Dozens of visitors experienced an unforgettable Haunted House. This group, through their efforts, made the world better in multiple ways.

And adults of the world are left with a lesson. Don’t ever assume children are too young to lead. Let them lead. We’ll all enjoy a world that’s much richer for it.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Leadership, Passion, Cootie Catchers and Flexible Thinking

What happens when those four collide? Thanks to two boys in grade three who approached me last Monday, I can now answer that.

It was recess and I was working at my desk. These two entered my office with something they clearly wanted to say. Trouble is, some things are hard to articulate, especially when you’re eight. Eventually deducing they wanted to do a leadership project, they hadn’t yet thought of what that project would look like. I encouraged them to start from a personal talent or passion, and out came this: “You know”, said one, “I’m really good at making Cootie Catchers. I’m probably the best in the school. I make the biggest in the school, that’s for sure.”

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Now, you are asking, “What does making Cootie Catchers have to do with leadership?” “How could they make a difference in the world?”

That’s where flexible thinking came in.

We struggled for a bit. It was clearly a new conundrum for all three of us. Where could these popular little games help? Well, they clearly help develop fine motor skill and strength – that’s important in grade one. Maybe they could be made to help practise basic academic skills too? Some trial and error later, we had defined a leadership project that has real value and that the boys have embraced with zeal. Dozens of different Cootie Catchers are being created to practise basic addition in grade one. Students will be given questions, the answer will be found, and the reward, a selection of smelly stickers, will be hidden in the heart of the Cootie Catcher.

I’ve no doubt this will be a hit with the grade ones. The beauty of these projects, however, is what they do for the budding leaders. The boys may not choose to stick with Cootie Catchers as their main contribution to the world. However, they have started a path with leadership, passion and flexible thinking that they would do well to continue on throughout life.

And who knows, maybe the humble Cootie Catcher should have a big future. It’s at least good to know that these boys will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of ways to make a difference.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Lead to Make a Difference

Lead To Make A DifferenceA student entered my office this morning. “I have the chocolate”, she said, then promptly opened her pink flower-covered backpack, pulled out a bag and showed me multiple packages of fair-trade chocolate, each tied up with ribbon. We’re approaching the big moment when she and her friend present their powerpoint at a school-wide assembly and initiate the leadership project they have been working on since last year: Fair Food Friday.

They are in grade three. How we got here is an interesting story.

They knew about leadership projects, because they happen here frequently and visibly. They approached me about doing a project on chocolate, “because everyone loves chocolate.” One thought it would be great to collect recipes, and maybe students could win something by contributing recipes.

During one of these early meetings, her friend remarked, “I don’t know. Most of the projects here do something. They matter. This one doesn’t seem to.”

“But just doing something you like matters!”, she replied.

“Yeah, but…” Back and forth they went.

At this point, I told them about a leadership project from a previous year when students spoke at assembly about the connection between the chocolate we all love, and child labour in Africa. Upon hearing this, raising awareness of this underside of the chocolate industry, and awareness of fair trade foods, became the compelling purpose of the project. The plan is as follows: They will start the project with a presentation at assembly that tells the story of chocolate, child labour and fair trade. Also during this presentation, they will invite students and teachers to contribute their favourite recipes. Every week, they will randomly draw one recipe from their box, and give fair-trade chocolate to the person who shared it. At the end of the year, the recipes will go into a e-cookbook, and a hard copy cookbook for the KCS library.

With the plan in place, the girls wrote their speech, decorated their recipe collection box, bought the chocolate prizes, and are almost finished their power point. The official launch of Fair Food Friday is imminent.

Last year, the article “Student Leadership, Gone Viral”, first published by OurKids, explained the bigger picture of student leadership at KCS. But it’s the details that go into each project that excite me most. And it’s the details that convince me our students are really learning to be leaders, because the students are behind the details every step of the way. As for making a difference, without these two students, 310 people would likely not hear about the connection between chocolate and child labour. Most wouldn’t learn how fair trade practices have been established so that consumers can make things better by their purchasing choices, not worse. They would not be reminded of these things week after week, making the memory of this lesson stick. Many would not have the opportunity to savour fair trade chocolate under the envious eyes of their school community over the course of the upcoming year.

This is leadership that makes a difference. As icing on the (chocolate) cake, it inspires me to follow their lead. And it is just one of the dozens of student-led projects I’ll witness over the year.

This is not what schools were designed to do. But they could be. Imagine what a difference that would make.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
Follow Andrea @afanjoy