In the Shipley Magazine Spring 2014 story: “Meeting of the Minds: Can You Learn How To Lead?” John Fry, Drexel University President and Shipley parent, said “The most powerful way to teach leadership is by giving students a chance to lead and giving them permission to take risks. That way, failure is a part of learning how to lead. Ultimately, the best way to learn how to be a leader is through constant trial and error.”
Shipley’s philosophy on cultivating strong leadership skills in students begins with integrating leadership training into the curriculum, offering a multitude of opportunities, and providing a supportive environment from Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12.
A good leader possesses the abilities to listen well, engage others, collaborate, and communicate. Lower School builds those critical leadership skills. Students in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 5 practice these skills through integrated curriculum opportunities in group work, as well as leadership opportunities like student council.
Lower School Student Council, a group of elected fourth and fifth grade students, advocate for their peers to better their school through various initiatives. Inspired by author and innovation education expert Grant Lichtman’s visit in the fall, the student council observed a need for improvement in the cafeteria. The student council members conducted interviews and collected data, toured Shipley’s kitchen facilities, and taste-tested new yogurt brands.
“By organizing their findings and generating ideas, they were able to follow up to make things happen, says Tim Lightman, Head of Lower School. “We want our students to experience that process and model for other students in the School,” says Lightman.
Think, Care Act Project
The fifth grade TCA project challenges each student to think deep within him or herself to identify his or her best skills and what initiatives he or she feels passionately about. Students must complete a service project and present their achievements in a culminating fair. This project builds confidence in students and is their first chance to emerge as the sole leader of a project and take ownership of all the working parts.
“Leadership skills learned in Lower School help students develop empathy,” says Lightman. “We can nurture students who are empathetic and have a sense of community. The sense of confidence, accomplishment, and self-esteem is embedded. It really helps students who may struggle in other areas to step outside themselves.”
As in all programs at Shipley, a strong foundation allows the student to achieve greater successes moving through Middle and Upper Schools.
Critical Stages in Leadership Development
Fifth graders leave Lower School feeling empowered and enter Middle School eager to learn more. Shipley’s Middle School faculty cultivates this energy into inspiring students to grow as leaders and build on the foundational traits learned in Lower School. The Middle School years, developmentally, prove to be tough for adolescents, but Shipley’s flexibility in curriculum accommodates the perfect opportunity to teach respect, responsibility, and leadership.
“Middle school is a place where students are going through an enormous amount of development that does not focus on the curriculum being taught in your standard academic subjects,” explains Stu Malcolm, Assistant Head of Middle School. “Schools that ignore the need to focus on respect, responsibility, and leadership are missing out on one of the essential things that needs to be accomplished in this time period.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Shipley’s Middle School supports the development of the students into leaders through an elected council and leadership course.
The Middle School Student Council, a group of elected sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, demonstrates a great ability to lead by listening to and engaging the student body to share their ideas. Each council member speaks in front of the entire Middle School student body about the new initiatives happening in the School.
“Our students are constantly encouraged to strive for the ideas and visions they come up with,” says Malcolm. “It’s a great opportunity to practice being leaders.”
Shipley’s eighth grade Social, Emotional, and Ethical Development (SEED) course solely focuses on leadership. Similar to the fifth grade TCA project, the course is designed to identify the characteristics of great leaders and support students through the trials and errors of creating, planning, and executing a service project with the support of their peers.
“By emphasizing the ability to work well in groups and with difficult personalities, to have confidence, and to realize that in challenging circumstances you have to have enough calm and sense to approach it with balance, we are getting them ready for success as an adult,” explains Malcolm.
Moving On To Upper School
Entering the Upper School with an even stronger foundation in leadership skills, accompanied by more practice and experience, students discover a wide range of leadership opportunities.
Similar to the Lower and Middle Schools, the Upper School Student Council executives, class presidents and All-School President are elected by their peers. These students hear issues of concern as well as plan and organize events to support programs like Prom. Some of these elected students also sit on the Judicial Board, a group that determines appropriate actions for students who break the Shipley Honor Code.
The opportunities do not stop there for Upper School students. With a variety of clubs and organizations available, students find their passions and take on a leadership role that fits who they are.
Each advisory group completes a “Pay It Forward” project at some point during the year. Entirely student-led, the advisory group identifies a cause they are passionate about and carries out a service project to benefit that cause. The small-group setting challenges students who may feel uncomfortable stepping in front of a larger group of students to take a risk and try leading the group.
“The more people we have involved in the life of the School, the more rewarding it is for everyone,” says Jackson Collins, Upper School Dean of Students. “So it’s a combination of building a lively community and preparing the students to be successful beyond the walls here at Shipley.”
“Leadership takes different forms – and we realize kids are going to do different things,” explains Collins. “For me, it’s about allowing kids to build confidence and bounce back from failure. A leader will try to come up with a different approach to a new problem; those are all skills they will need no matter what they do.”
Leading the Future
Shipley emphasizes nurturing the skills necessary to become a great leader from the moment a student starts his or her educational journey. The high expectations Shipley has for a student always lead back to one goal: preparing the student to be a successful adult and contributing member of society. Shipley encourages students to pursue their own passions, big or small, with confidence.
“The students also don’t have to come out of school and be big, corporate leaders,” explains Lightman. “These skills are a benefit. We want students to be compassionate participants in the world. Leadership really falls within that."