A new school year. A fresh start for student leadership.

“Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence. To lead, you must see ahead, have vision.” Dr. Everett Dirksen. Leadership at school begins with everyone in an organisation having a sense of their role in achieving the school’s mission

The beginning of the school year sees schools across the countryside inducting their newly appointed leaders. Whether it be part of the opening school mass, a targeted liturgy with students and their families or a handing over ceremony from one set of school leaders to the next, it is an exciting time for the student, their families and the school. Student leadership is about learning. It is about learning how to lead, learning how to follow and learning how to work together for the common good.

At St Edward’s the three key components of student leadership program are service, decision-making and communication. While these may seem like simple concepts, they provide a foundation upon which students can build their own unique style of leadership. Each component offers learning opportunities in its own right.

Within service learning there are many learning experiences to be gained. Students learn what it means to serve others and their school community, they develop skills in working as a team and they discover the importance of serving with humility. They also learn that leadership is about actions not words and through their actions they have an opportunity to influence and inspire others.

In decision-making, students learn about the importance of taking into account the views of others, weighing up all the options and making a decision that is in the best interests of all concerned. They also learn to think on their feet and to be decisive. This is an essential skill for any leader.

Communication learning is all about learning how to communicate effectively and learning how to listen, so that you can hear what is being said. Student leaders learn the importance of good communication and they also discover their own learning styles in this area.

Each component provides learning experiences for students. It is through these learning experiences that student leadership develops into something valuable and worthwhile for the school.

Holding the experiences together is the foundation of faith. Every learning experience is grounded in Catholic tradition and faith. This ensures that the actions of our student leaders are an extension of their belief system and a reflection of what they believe as Catholics.

When you put these three components together, service, decision-making and communication along with a strong foundation in faith, you have the key ingredients for effective leadership. It is this combination of components that sees our student leaders achieve so much at St Edward’s and it is what sets them apart from their peers.

Our school leadership program provides a foundation for the development of faith-based leadership skills in students. This gives our graduates an advantage when they leave St Edward’s and enter into high school, not only are they well equipped to become future leaders, but they also have the foundation of faith to guide them as they do so.

What are the benefits of having student leaders in schools?

There are many, but three stand out in particular. The first benefit is that student leaders help to build the school community. They do this by creating bonds among their classmates and with staff, as well as fostering a sense of belonging. The second benefit is that they develop skills such as collaboration, problem solving and communication. They also learn to work together in teams to achieve their goals, an important skill of learning for life. Finally student leaders learn how to represent themselves and the school community well. This includes learning how to speak clearly and confidently on topics that matter while maintaining a respectful and positive attitude.

In order for students to experience the benefits of learning through leadership, there are three key components that need to be in place. The first component is the school environment and culture. Student leaders thrive in a learning environment which is safe, supportive and welcoming while at the same time challenging them to go beyond their comfort zone. The second component is the type of leadership program. Student leaders need opportunities to participate in learning experiences that are both structured and unstructured, as well as creative and reflective. Finally, the third component is the quality of adult mentors who work with student leaders. These adults should be positive role models with a passion for learning and a commitment to providing growth opportunities for the students they work with.

As a school, there are certain structures that help facilitate student leadership. A student leadership team is the first of these structures. We establish a student leadership team with representatives from each Year level. These students are selected by their peers for this role and they meet regularly to discuss ideas, projects and activities that will benefit the school community as well as provide opportunities for growth and development for our leaders.

The second structure we put in place is a focus on learning through service. We want our student leaders to learn how to serve others and this includes spending time with the elderly, helping younger students and working within their local communities.

The third structure is providing opportunities for leadership roles and responsibilities across all areas of school life, not just in one area or discipline. This includes leadership roles in academic, spiritual and sporting areas.

In addition to the structures mentioned above, there is one key element which I believe helps to motivate student leaders at St Edward’s. This is passion. Passion for our school and passion for learning through doing. Our students learn how to be effective leaders by putting them into situations where they are required to lead. They have opportunities to work collaboratively in teams, communicate with others and develop skills such as time management or conflict resolution.

Our school leadership program is a lifelong learning experience for students that extends well beyond the classroom walls. It involves connecting students with their community through service, providing them with authentic learning experiences which allow them to acquire knowledge and skills while also building relationships with their peers.

The benefits of this type of learning are endless. It allows us to nurture the character traits we want our students to develop such as empathy, compassion and resilience by giving them opportunities to practice these traits on a daily basis outside school hours through activities like peer mentoring or coaching younger students in sports or music.

It also helps them develop core competencies like critical thinking and problem solving which will serve them well later on in life when they need to make decisions about education, career choices or relationships with others. This type of learning experience provides an excellent foundation for future success both academically and personally because it teaches students how important it is to work together collaboratively in order to achieve their goals.

Student leadership is vital for Catholic schools and it begins with creating an environment where students feel safe, supported and valued as individuals while also having opportunities to lead others through service projects or other activities that benefit the greater good of society at large.

In Summary

Student leadership is critical for schools as it helps to build community, develops important skills and prepares leaders of tomorrow. By focusing on creating a positive learning environment, providing opportunities for structured and unstructured learning and having quality adult mentors, schools can create an effective student leadership program that benefits all.

Author: Dr Jake Madden

Jake Madden (Dip Teach; B.Ed; Grad Dip: Leadership; M. Ed: Leadership; EdD; FACEL; MACE) Dr. Jake Madden is currently the Principal, St Edward’s Primary School, Tamworth. He has enjoyed a successful teaching and principal leadership career over the last thirty years building teacher capacity through the development of learning in the contemporary world, the promotion of flexible learning spaces to meet the needs of the 21st century learner and curriculum for global mindedness. Jake is a leader in the notion of teacher-as-researcher and is widely published in this area, authoring and co-authoring books and a number of journal articles showcasing his experiences and research into leading educational change.

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