Learning to Lead

Marina Fabris and McEnroe Jean, Head Prefects for the 2020-21 school year, lead a Senior School assembly.

What does a Head Prefect do? Who does a Head of House lead?

Although these sound like prompts for a Harry Potter book report, they are actually some of the key questions our Grade 11 students need to know the answers to as they prepare to take on formal leadership roles in their Grade 12 year.

The Grade 11 Leadership Program at SMUS, now in its fifth year in its current format, helps students see themselves as leaders as they set their sights on formal roles – from School Prefect to Head of a council – in their final year of high school. Some Lifers have been dreaming about taking on these positions since they started at SMUS in Kindergarten. Others feel compelled to give back to their new home after just one year of seeing how significant an impact the Grade 12 leaders have had on making their transition to SMUS as smooth as possible. Students go through a process of skill-building in preparation for the spring student elections.

The Learning

Throughout their Grade 11 year, students work through a series of leadership modules to gain a better understanding of themselves. The program was inspired by the work of Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge and their Five Practices of Leadership which include ‘Model the Way’ and ‘Enable Others to Act.’ During leadership sessions throughout the year, the Grade 11s have completed activities to test their leadership skills: they have worked cooperatively to decide which items would be key to survival on a deserted island to ‘Inspire a Shared Vision’ and have written notes to a friend “just to say hello” and to ‘Encourage the Heart.’

Students who may not have considered themselves leaders have become aware of when they do take initiative, whether it be captaining a school sports team, or completing group projects in academic courses. Each year, I appreciate the wide range of responses from the students as they interpret what leadership means to them.

Below are a few of the responses from this year’s Grade 11 students reflecting on the values that inspire them on a daily basis to be better leaders:

“Empathy has allowed me to look from other people’s perspectives and to relate to them, create friendships, have meaningful conversations and be kind.”

“Discipline means taking the hard road to what’s right for others and yourself. … Discipline will put you on your path towards a high quality of life.”

The Leading

After students have had time to reflect independently, and within the relative safety of their cohorts, they can choose to run in the student elections. This is a nerve-racking experience as students have to put full trust in themselves and run against their peers and friends, in the attempt to be elected by their schoolmates and teachers.

The most high-stakes competition kicks off first with the Head Prefect election. The two successful candidates become a bridge between the student body and faculty, and are looked up to by those in younger grades. They lead by example, they are driven and committed, and they follow a long line of incredible student leaders who have come before them. Next week, these students’ speeches will be shared with the school community, the online votes will be cast, and by the first week of May two students will become known as the Head Prefects for the 2021-22 school year.

The elections for the wide variety of other leadership roles within the school and boarding communities will follow processes that include speeches, surveys and votes, with all successful candidates getting a clearer picture of their Grade 12 leadership contributions by the end of May. There will be excitement as well as disappointment, both of which offer humbling opportunities for reflection and resilience.

I have witnessed the excitement and nervousness from these student candidates and am in awe of their tenacity, creativity and bravery. This process certainly keeps me spellbound every year as I watch the process unfold and look forward to seeing the next student leaders revealed. And after all of their hard work, I am confident they will continue to set the standard for the next generation of aspiring leaders.

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