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Welcome to Learning to Lead!

Learning to Lead 2017: Building a Culture of Inclusive Leadership
When your students hear the word "leader" do they think of themselves? If not, they should. The world needs leaders of all backgrounds, personality types, and passions. Join us for the fourth annual AIMS Learning to Lead Workshop where we will explore the topic of inclusive leadership. Learn how to demystify the concept of leadership, teach students to recognize the leader in themselves, and create a positive and diverse leadership culture in your school. We welcome teachers, administrators, and staff who work with children in Kindergarten through 12th Grade.

You may read our previous issue of Learning to Lead Newsletter here.


Calvert School Hosts the Middle School Leadership Summit


Jay Parker
Director of Student Life

Calvert School



On February 17, over 100 students from area schools came together for a leadership summit at Calvert School. Schools in attendance were Maryvale, Calvert, Severn, St. James Academy, McDonogh, Boys' Latin, St. Paul's, Park School, and St. Paul's School for Girls. The event was a chance to interact with students from other schools and share ideas on leadership. Like the theme for our educator workshop at Gilman on March 30, the student summit focused on the concept of Inclusive Leadership. Students collectively defined Inclusive Leadership, and identified empathy, collaboration, cultural awareness, and listening as essential components. Severn, Maryvale, and Calvert hosted student-led workshops which demonstrated how even 13 and 14 year-olds can lead when given the chance. The conference culminated with students creating initiatives to bring back to their school to exemplify what they learned throughout the day.  

The tone of the day was set by an inspirational keynote from Baltimore City Councilman Leon Pinkett III. Councilman Pinkett encouraged school cultures that value inclusive leaders who are community builders, take risks, and lead with a moral compass. Ultimately, he challenged the middle schoolers to see themselves as leaders for a future Baltimore, a city that needs young people who care about what is right and have the courage to step up for a better tomorrow.

Both Councilman Pinkett and the students remind us that we must be intentional in order to create a culture of inclusive leadership in our schools: places where each and every student feels empowered, and where our communities are catalysts for positive change beyond our campus boundaries.


Student Spotlight: Growing Leaders Through Peer Education


Julia Sturtz
Class of 2017
Roland Park Country School


"Where quiet had represented a different sort of power in the gym, here the power of sharing thoughts and ideas shone through."  

The morning of our tri-school day, I walked into the gym lobby to find all of the juniors and seniors from Roland Park Country School, Bryn Mawr, and Gilman crowded around the food tables, socializing with both new and old friends. Slowly, the large crowd of students made their way into the bleachers and onto the gym floor to take their seats. There was a sort of buzz in the air, as people, whether they admitted to it or not, felt a sense of excitement, wondering what exactly this co-ed day held in store. Grasping the attention of an entire gym full of teenagers proves never an easy task, but Ron Shapiro stepped up to the plate and brought it home, exemplifying his own message of meeting life’s challenges with perseverance and thoughtfulness.  His interactive discussion on how to deal with difficult conversations segued us into the discussion portion of our tri-school day. To introduce the coming dialogue, a panel of students, including myself, shared tough situations, written by us and our fellow facilitators, with our peers. We stood on a makeshift stage, and passed the microphone from one person to a next. As we delivered each scenario, the emotions behind the words truly seemed to resonate with the entire crowd, as the whole gym full of people engulfed itself in silence. Next, we all filed out of the gym and to our assigned rooms to begin our discussions.

Once in our room, my partner and I passed out blank index cards and pencils, instructing our peers to think of a tough conversation they have experienced and then write it anonymously on their card. My partner and I then took turns reading each of the cards allowed with a discussion following each one. The topics ranged from gay jokes to school-associated stereotypes to discussing sexual behavior with parents. Not a single card was met with silence. Where quiet had represented a different sort of power in the gym, here the power of sharing thoughts and ideas shone through. After the discussions, our grade came together for a debrief. I was amazed and thrilled at just how powerfully the day seemed to affect my peers. People felt the day was so meaningful that the entire room lit up at the idea of having another tri-school day. This reflective time period brought tri-school day home for many. While some, particularly facilitators, had recognized the strength behind the day as a whole before our meeting, coming together to reflect made everyone realize the unifying significance of that day. So many ideas that were previously surrounded by stigmas had been brought to light, allowing all of us tri-school students to become more comfortable with each other. In this way, tri-school day cultivated both a better academic and social environment for us all.

What were your expectations of this event? What was your goal as a panelist/group facilitator?

During the facilitator training the Saturday before the event, we wrote our own situations out on cards and simulated the group discussions. We bonded over shared interests while also cultivating and respecting our individual leadership styles. We discussed group expectations and guidelines in hopes of keeping our peers both engaged and non-judgmental. Truthfully, I expected there to be plenty of people who did not take this event seriously. As a facilitator, in particular, I realized just how wrong I had been. Just about everyone in my group voiced their opinion at one point or another during the discussion, and I heard similar reviews from facilitators in other groups. Everyone seemed to not only respect the views of others but also genuinely want to express their own opinions about topics that can be controversial. I think that people often feel like they have no place to discuss such issues and, thus, understand the perspectives of others.

What was the highlight of your day? Was it something the speaker said? Something in your small group?

A person in my group wrote a card about dealing with homophobia. He or she felt that they had nowhere in which they could be themselves. All around the room, I could tell people felt sympathetic, sharing words of encouragement. One girl, however, bravely shared a similar situation she had experienced and how she got through it. This girl had not said much during our discussion up until this point, and her courage at that moment I found moving. Her ability to share a very personal story for the sake of another really exemplified the unifying goals of tri-school day.


Leadership Can and Should Be Taught

Ray Wright

Upper School Science & Leadership
Landon School


Are leaders born or made?  This key question is posed early on in Learning to Lead, a semester-based senior seminar offered at Landon School.  Students reflect on this inquiry through a brief written piece, and the following day they align themselves shoulder-to-shoulder, with “born” on one side of the room, “made” on the other, and “combination” in the middle.  Without fail, a couple boys feel that leaders are born.  Invariably, most express a combination of the two.  I have yet to have a student say that leaders are solely made, although some do greatly minimize the possible genetic component.  The class-wide debrief that follows ends with the postulation, “If leaders are solely born, is there any meaning to this class?”  My indirect goal is to begin to encourage all students that leadership can, and should, be learned – it is a practiced skill rather than an innate trait.

Spring semester juniors often approach me to inquire about Learning to Lead.  My reply notes that the course is segmented into three parts: students spend the first few weeks learning about themselves, then shift their lens to focus on how they function in relation to others, and finally, consider how they might function in relation to people from other cultures, the notion of global leadership.

Students engage in a variety of formal and informal assessments to shed light on their current state. They initially complete the Student Leadership Practices Inventory 360, in which they rank themselves on how frequently they engage in 30 different leadership actions.  This inventory also provides them with an opportunity to have other people, including teachers, peers, coaches, and family, rank them, resulting in a report providing a “360 degree” view of their current displayed leadership.  Students then complete StrengthsFinder 2.0, which highlights their five top strengths; an abbreviated version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI); a ranking on various emotional intelligence domains and competencies; and a grit quiz offered through Stanford University.  After completing these personal leadership assessments, students have a much stronger understanding of who they are and how they function.  Previous feedback has included, “I’m glad to hear other people think I’m open-minded.”  “I didn’t realize how pessimistic I can be.”  “Maintaining harmony is central to who I am.”  “I need to actively listen to diverse viewpoints.”  These anecdotes, and data points, are encapsulated in a Leadership Development Plan (LDP), wherein students note key themes and blind spots identified.  The LDP also provides students with an opportunity to identify core values and set one or two goals which can be realistically achieved by semester’s end.  

The second part of the course pivots outward, with a broad array of areas examined.  Topics range from active listening and perspective-taking to innovation and risk-taking to motivating and developing others to ethics and vision setting.  Students read a variety of supporting articles and participate in a multitude of conversations to first consider these topics, but importantly, they also engage in activities and fictitious yet realistic role play situations to practice these techniques. Activities include Debono’s Six Thinking Hats, where various perspectives are considered; Building a Better Shopping Cart, where innovation is heralded; Win as Much as You Can, where relationship bonds are quickly broken; The Secret Path, where trust is (slowly) regained; and Get on Board, where students attempt to inspire a shared vision.  Frequent debriefings provide the keystone to the foundation that has been set.  Realizations include, “Active listening really does feel different.”  “I didn’t realize how easy it is to stifle innovation.”  “Getting others to coalesce around a vision is really challenging.”  “Leaders must face frequent challenges to their ethics.”

Learning to Lead concludes with a foray into global leadership and a capstone leadership portfolio.  In the former, students examine various cultural practices through a country study and engage in a week-long simulation focusing on the ongoing situation in Syria.  Stakeholder positions are assumed, with selected roles including the Syrian government, Russia, Saudi Arabia, United States of America, Germany, and Islamic scholar, among others.  It is during a UN General Assembly-style meeting that students begin to realize how extremely complicated global situations can become, and how difficult exercising leadership can be.  Across three semesters, only one leadership cohort has arrived at a tenable solution, which is reached by at least three-quarters of those present voicing satisfaction with proposed resolutions.  In the latter, the leadership portfolio, each student’s semester-long growth is demonstrated.  Physical evidence is readied, papers are written, and symbolic displays of growth are devised.  This involved process begins one month in advance and concludes with two days of presentations.  

These final days prove bittersweet, as the growth experienced is real and profound for almost all, yet the realization of the course’s nearing conclusion equates to a sense of loss for just as many, myself included.  Closing sentiments have included, “This portfolio allows each one of us to show the surprising amount of growth that we all have had throughout just a few short months.”  “This was an incredibly eye-opening course.”  “Learning to Lead has truly been a life-changing class because of how it helps you become a better person, leader, classmate, teammate, student, and frankly, a better version of yourself.”  And finally, a personal favorite, “Now I know that leaders are made, not born.”


Park Students Learn to Advoc8


Rommel Loria
Director of Civic Engagement & Service Learning
Park School


Now in its third year, The Park School of Baltimore’s eighth grade Advoc8 program challenges students to apply the skills they have developed throughout Middle School to become advocates for change.

The theme for the eighth grade at Park is advocacy, and in many classes, teachers find meaningful and authentic ways to provide opportunities for students to better understand this concept.  With this theme in mind, I joined a group of Middle School faculty members to develop the Advoc8 program in the summer of 2014, supported by the school’s F. Parvin Sharpless Faculty and Curricular Advancement program. Our work was an effort to build an experience for students that further prepared them for active citizenship in our democratic society, an explicit goal of the school. This resulting Advoc8 project, which is not connected to one particular discipline but has widespread support across the disciplines, emphasizes experience as a tool for research. We challenge our students to act thoughtfully and empathetically while adding to the array of techniques used to teach advocacy in the Middle School.  

The program stresses the importance of experiential learning, analysis of the root causes of issues, and interaction with those engaged in similar work. The structure of the program also gives students room to explore their interests and the different paths to address issues that they see in the community.  There are three phases to the project: observation, formulation and construction.  

In the first phase, students engage in observation through service learning experiences with community partners, and through dialogue with professionals engaged in advocacy work. Partners have included Civic Works’ Community Lot Team, the Maryland Food Bank, the Baer School, and the Y.E.S. Drop-In Center for homeless youth. This phase prompts students to begin thinking about the root cause of the issues by observing how partner organizations address social issues.

In the second phase, “formulation,” students begin researching an issue that interests them and developing a plan to address that issue. While traditional library and electronic research plays an important role in this phase, all students are encouraged to seek interactions with experts in the field. Phone calls, emails, and meetings with professionals in the Baltimore area and beyond abound in this phase. These interactions benefit students in many ways, allowing them to see that their work forms a part of a community of people working on similar issues. Moreover, students develop communication skills, both written and oral, in an authentic context, and begin to see that time is a precious commodity in the professional world. “I never thought it would be so difficult to set up a time for a phone call” is a common refrain. The second phase ends with students developing a plan of action for the third phase.

Construction, the third phase of the Advoc8 program, is the time for students to take action. For example, one group of students learned about the quality of Baltimore water and the related infrastructure. These students built a prototype pollution sensor that would alert passersby to dangerous levels of pollutants. Other students researched reading literacy and volunteered with Reading Partners, a national nonprofit devoted to this issue, at a local school to support the development of young readers. Following the social unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, a group of students focused their efforts on learning about police brutality and racial bias, producing a short documentary detailing their process. Accompanied by a teacher, group members visited Sandtown and nearby murals that captured the emotions of the protests. The Advoc8 program gave these students the space and resources to explore and experience the power of race and its connection to events in Baltimore.

Through Advoc8, students use experience as the basis for their understanding of a social issue. This is an authentic, engaging, and dynamic way to demonstrate knowledge of social problems and an ability to address them, and to support the development of students who will be responsibly and actively involved in their communities.


Growing Leaders Through Peer Education

Carolyn Parker
Upper School Counselor
Roland Park Country School

"Being a part of a tri-school community allows students at all three schools the unique opportunity to experience same-sex education and take part in vital real world co-ed discussions."  

At Roland Park Country School, our Peer Education program embraces student leadership development as a key tenet in our mission. Students are empowered in two distinct ways: as Peer Health Leaders and Peer Mentors. Our Peer Health Leaders teach eight classes per year to the 5th, 8th, and 9th grades. Peer Mentors are matched up with individual students in our lower and middle school who are having a hard time academically, socially, or emotionally. The Peer Education program is graciously funded annually by the Christopher O'Neil Foundation, an organization that also supports Peer Education at a dozen independent schools in the Baltimore area.

This year, our peer educators have been giving back both in the classroom as well as on a larger scale in the community. In October, sixty students from Bryn Mawr, Gilman, and RPCS attended a training seminar on facilitating small group, student-only, discussions. The topic for the discussion groups was how to have “difficult conversations in peer groups”. School counselors John Mojzisek of Gilman School and Vicki Mermelstein of Bryn Mawr School collaborated closely with me on this student initiative. Our efforts, combined with the upbeat attitude of the student leaders, set the tone for a positive experience.  The day started with a student generated brainstorm on what is hard to talk about in peer groups. Topics included drugs and alcohol (use and abuse), political views and political correctness, sexual identity and expression, dating, consent, and relationship violence.

Charged with a goal to ultimately lead difficult conversations at an upcoming “Tri-School” event, it was essential that our peer educators experience the discussion process themselves. They broke up into practice groups, and each student anonymously wrote down a problem in their own life that is hard to talk about. In co-ed pairs, students facilitated the group. Each leader read one issue aloud, and encouraged peers to provide supportive responses on how to manage each situation. We developed this model based on Catherine Steiner-Adair’s Advisory method Open Session which we use in advisory at RPCS.

One card read “My significant other and their friends continually made fun of my appearance when we were going out. I still think about those times and their words resonate with me today.” One Gilman student said “this is awful, this person should know they deserve better than that.” Working at a girls’ school, it is not often I get to hear the male teenage perspective, and I felt so thankful to witness this important coed discussion. Being a part of a tri-school community allows students at all three schools the unique opportunity to experience same-sex education and take part in vital real world co-ed discussions.

On November 1, our sixty student leaders were prepared and eager to run their small groups. We had 550 students on two campuses talking with no adults present in the room. I ran into male and female peer educators coming out of their group discussions and heard feedback including “I was amazed how much people had to say,” and “that was really rewarding.” These thoughts were echoed in my debrief to the whole junior class the following week. The students said they wanted to do this more often and that they loved that the day felt student run. I often say my favorite part of my job is leading our Peer Education program. Helping students become group facilitators, teachers, and mentors is inspirational and awe-inspiring, and at the heart of this is seeing each of them grow into confident, thoughtful young leaders.

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