I wrote about leadership earlier in the year and have reflected on this theme since, usually as my focus has drifted on train journeys to and from London (email admin not holding the entirety of my attention I am afraid).
Additionally, we are in the throes of announcing the next troop of Prefects, student leaders who have the potential, if they do the job right, of making a significant and positive difference at school. This has also been on my mind.
The interplay between a leader and their organisation has become the focus of attention as classical ‘great man’ conceptions of leadership have been overwritten. Leaders are now seen to shape and be shaped by the environment around them. Conceived thus, leadership is less about a singular activity invested in an individual but rather shared responsibility distributed throughout an organisation. Student leadership in schools can be understood through this lens as an integral part of wider, shared authority and responsibility which binds both teachers and pupils in a joint endeavour, aligned to whole school values.
There are many informal ways in which students can enact leadership in schools irrespective of age or formal position, Prefect or otherwise. Group work in lessons, co-curricular clubs and societies, the Combined Cadet Force, Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditions, and the like, all provide recognised avenues for peer leadership to flourish. Stepping up to lend a helping hand, hold a door open, to be still and listen to a friend… the list is almost endless. Informal, organic opportunities for leadership are ubiquitous and they quietly, persuasively set the tone for all. Every day many BGS students catch my attention and impress in this way. I wonder if they recognise the positive impact they are having on school culture? I see it. The fine grain of innumerable human interactions makes a difference, for good and ill.
I have supported and led a range of outdoor education programmes during the course of my teaching career and been influenced to a significant degree by these experiences. Before Growth Mindset gave increased profile to the opportunities for learning provided by personal setbacks and perceived failure, outdoor education methodologies had been gifting young people both responsibilities, individually and collectively, and ‘safe’ spaces to enact it, and to learn from successful and problematic teamwork and leadership. On overseas expeditions, responsibilities are distributed and rotated over a period of weeks whilst tackling challenges in an alien culture. Planning itineraries, managing budgets, arranging food, transport and accommodation, ensuring routines run smoothly for healthy living and harnessing the strengths of peers, keeping spirits up when the going gets tough… these are rich contexts for learning though leading. The same is true in local woodlands and on nearby hilltops, you need not travel far.
Navigating conflict within the bubble of an expedition group provides significant challenges. When managed appropriately however, they provide powerful learning opportunities. Whilst Bruce Tuckman’s ‘forming–storming–norming–performing’ model of team genesis might be a little old hat, it has relevance for those of us who have helped young expedition goers coalesce as teams … or, maybe it was early monsoon onset and numerous Giant Himalayan Slugs that motivated much ‘storming’ at that damp camp above Manali in 2005? One for another time, another blog maybe.
This week we announced the appointments of two new Head Prefects, four additional Senior Prefects and 40 Prefects. The list is always greeted with a crackle of excitement, then quieter murmurs of approval and, inevitably, disapproval. Mr McOwen has improved the Prefect selection process for this year. Letters of application identified a cohort to take forward to the voting stage, with equal weighting given to the choices of any individual Sixth Former or teacher. The top six become Senior Perfects, all of whom, if they were willing, were interviewed for Head Prefect positions. Additionally, and significantly, we have equal proportions of Prefects and newly instituted Pastoral Prefects going forwards as we seek to foster greater levels of peer-to-peer support to ensure high levels of student wellbeing.
We are rightly excited about the prospect of welcoming and inducting a new team of student leaders. Head and Senior Prefect appointments often grab most attention, perhaps understandably. I will however, close this blog by returning to a point made earlier, that anyone, everyone, can influence and provide a lead to others in a positive and powerful way.
Small acts can resonate with significance as we, students and teachers together, talk and walk our shared values, informing and influencing each other’s behaviour. A passing gesture, reflective of a kind and generous soul, can have a huge impact.
“Small acts can resonate with significance as we, students and teachers together, talk and walk our shared values, informing and influencing each other’s behaviour.
A passing gesture, reflective of a kind and generous soul, can have a huge impact.”