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Learning to Lead 2019 in Review: Pathways to Civil Leadership 



On Thursday, April 12 over one hundred and twenty educators and students came together at the National Cathedral School for Girls to celebrate student leadership. With the picturesque Washington National Cathedral as the inspiring backdrop, the day was marked with passion as we identified and shared best practice. Whether it was creating a student-driven club, establishing a comprehensive retreat program, or collaborating on a day of inclusivity - each of our workshops highlighted how we are all working intentionally to promote civility and build stronger school culture through our work. In a time when our students are getting mixed messages about the concept of “leadership” from the media, it made this day even more meaningful, more important. Our day closed with an inspiring keynote from Rodney Glasgow, Middle School Head and Chief Diversity Officer at St. Andrew’s School. He reminded us all that leadership is not about standing idle while simply being respectful and nice, that is merely civic management. If we are truly creating “Pathways to Civil Leadership” in our schools, students must be empowered to be active, engaged citizens who stand up and have their voice heard - this is the true meaning of civil leadership.

By Jay Parker, Director of Student Life, Calvert School 



Integrating a School-wide Leadership Model: Earth Day at Gerstell Academy

by Amy Morrow Funk, Head of Lower School, Gerstell Academy


In our workshop at the Learning to Lead Conference: Pathways to Civil Leadership, our team from Gerstell Academy explained the requirements of high quality Leadership Development Education. First, specific education and training in specific leadership areas and skills must be provided. Second, an environment which reinforces the goals of the leadership program must be maintained. Finally, students need authentic opportunities to put their leadership knowledge and skills to the test.

On April 23, 2018, Gerstell Academy incorporated its Leadership Model into a full day of activities celebrating Earth Day. Planned by the Lower School Science Faculty members, Mrs. Kim Eysaman and Mrs. Heather Snider, with support from all levels of administration, the day included community service, cross-campus adventures, and environmental education. The entire student body PreK through twelfth grade and all faculty members participated on teams led by the senior Class of 2018.

Our student mentoring program, called Falcon Friends in the Lower School and Oaks & Seedlings in the Middle and Upper Schools, formed the basis for team assignments. It was the role of each senior team captain to keep their team together, motivated, and working to accomplish the assigned tasks. They took Action and set the Example (Gerstell Academy Leadership Attributes) by approaching their leadership endeavor with passion, conviction, and persistence (Gerstell Academy Leadership Principle #6). Kindergarten students Hibba and Brock said, "It was a good day because we got to spend all day with our Falcon Friends!"

In the Amazing Race, teams trekked all over campus to complete roadblocks and detours while respecting the Divine Nature of Life in the universe (Gerstell Academy Leadership Principle #10). Seven different station masters provided athletic activities and team building cooperative games on our nature trail, our tennis courts, our playgrounds, our stadium, and our grassy quad.

Volunteers from the Coastal Conservation Association guided our teams in making concrete reef balls which will provide habitat for oyster colonies in the Chesapeake Bay. Students listened carefully to directions and problem solved through the lengthy process. They gathered ingredients such as sand, gravel and water, mixed concrete, constructed and filled the molds, and tapped the sides to release trapped air bubbles. There was an important part for each student regardless of their grade or age. "The senior captains were very involved and supportive," noted fourth grade student, Mackenzie. "It was fun how everybody worked together on the reef balls." Another fourth-grade student, Grace, commented, "In our teams, the older kids always helped the little kids. They were very patient with the little ones." Everyone contributed to the creation of 32 reef balls which will be seeded with oyster spat and planted in the Chesapeake Bay. Within 3 years, they will become a thriving habitat for oysters.

The Coastal Conservation Association also provided two educational stations in which they explained the history and importance of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay and pointed out the body structures and organs. The students were fascinated to see how oysters filtered the bay water, improving the clarity and promoting the growth of aquatic plants. They increased their understanding and appreciation of the delicate balance necessary for a healthy marine ecosystem. "It was really neat to see the inside of the oyster," said fifth-grade student, Andrew. His classmate, Danny commented, "I learned how building the reef balls will help the environment which is part of our [Gerstell Academy] Leadership Principle #10."  Afterwards, the students expressed their appreciation to the guests with cards and letters.

The Earth Day activities extended the environmental science education which is part of our classroom science curriculum as well as one of the five academic areas of our leadership program. As the students interacted with each other, they reinforced the leadership model by using our leadership language and demonstrating our leadership values. The senior team captains put their leadership skills to the test by guiding their teams throughout the day and provided opportunities for all members of their teams to work to reach their full potential as leadership examples for each other.


Student Spotlight:
Empowering Student Leaders Through Mini-Grants


by the Calvert School “Green Team”


In fall of 2016 a group of Calvert School Sixth Grade students--Catherine, Wes, Julia, Jacob, Robert, and Yasmine --volunteered for an interesting leadership challenge; to co-write a Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) Green Grant proposal alongside teachers and Calvert’s Director of Development, Mrs. Sarah Walton. The parameters were broad and vast. The students were tasked only with creating a sustainability initiative under $10,000 that would benefit the whole school and make a lasting difference on the Calvert community. But where to start? These now Seventh Graders share how they made going green a reality.

“In April, Mr. Parker, our Director of Student Life, approached us with a cool opportunity to make a real difference at school. Our student team had helpful meetings with Mrs. Forrester (2nd Grade Teacher), Mr. McGraw (Director of Finance), and Mrs. Walton (Director of Development) and started to brainstorm ideas for an addition to Calvert’s Green Schools program. After many discussions around cost, academic outcomes, and student involvement, we settled on taking on a Greening Lunch goal. We wanted a grant proposal where all students could learn and be active together. And, something that could grow each year. We knew earning the grant would help to improve the school by making it a healthier community and bringing students from both the lower and middle school together. In August we discovered we had earned $6,000 from BGE, we were all so excited to see our work becoming something real” reflects Julia.

Robert and Jacob provide more information on their solution and plan. “Greening lunch begins with reducing the amount of waste created at each meal. Our solution was to host a once-a-month composting day. This began this past fall in November 2017. Our first few compost days have been a success in the Lower and Middle Schools. But, in order to be successful, we needed to educate all the students about what compost is, and why it helps reduce waste. In both schools, we had a lot of fun leading silly, but informative assemblies. It was not only successful when students recognized the compost bins are only for vegetables and fruit, but also when we had teachers dress up as bananas and carrots. We weren’t totally sure we reached everyone at first. But then the Fifth and Sixth Agers were having so much fun eating as much fruit as possible at snack one day just so they could put it in our bin. In fact, we ended up with 40 pounds from just one day.”

Another key piece to going green is the addition of a community garden on campus. “Our idea also involved establishing a community garden on Calvert’s campus, which is located in a forgotten area of campus that is now beautified. Mr. Chenoweth (Director of Facilities) and Ms. Lears (Director of Athletics) our both avid gardeners, and helped make the garden a reality, and the winter crops are already growing. The compost from lunch could ultimately be used to fertilize our crops, and we could use the garden as an educational tool for science classes both for growing plants and living green. We also wanted to ensure that Lower School students are involved in the composting as well as the new garden, so that it is not just the Middle School students who are involved. By teaching the Lower School students about how composting works, they understand how they are helping. We are excited that for years to come Sixth Grade science classes will use the garden for their peer education sessions. The first session will begin during Earth Week this April” notes Catherine and Wes.

Yasmine Worley looks to the future and how the garden will be an even more inclusive part of Calvert’s ecosystem. “Although the grant only stated we would create an educational garden and compost system, we realized after a few meetings that a great way to get all the students involved would be through community arts projects. Simply, we want art that has been crafted by all ages. That’s what community is all about, coming together as a whole. This garden really shows the bond throughout the grades and that will become even more evident as it starts to blossom this spring. The garden area will include colorful mosaics and signage from Lower School art classes, a sign designed by a fellow Seventh Grader, and a large inspired mosaic flower garden created by our art teachers, guest artists and a team of Middle School student volunteers. It has been a lot of work - but well worth it.”

The Calvert “Green Team” was recognized at the BGE Green Grants Award ceremony last fall, and they will continue to watch their idea flourish through the spring and beyond as they apply for another grant and continue on their mission to green our school.


Rethinking Student Leadership Training to Create Culture Shapers



By Mimi Schwanda, Leadership & Ethics Program Director, Episcopal High School (VA)


Student leadership election season is an exciting time for any school. It is April or May, and our current senior leaders are fading, not doing much as they head towards their last days of classes and graduation. We, the adults who work with student leaders, always have high expectations of the new school year. “This is a great group of kids,” we think. “They will lead the school so well!” We agree to invite them back to school early for Student Leadership Training, and we spend the late spring and early summer planning programming to get them ready for their roles.

For many years, we invited our elected student leaders back to school early for a three-day training. After a few ice breakers with the large group, they spent much of the long weekend with their adult sponsors getting ready for the year by focusing on their specific roles. The service council brainstormed potential service partners. The discipline committee went through mock hearings. The list goes on; it was all very practical. By the end of the long weekend, each organization shared its goal for the year with the larger group, and everyone felt excited heading into the school year.

Last year, we decided to flip the model. We realized that the organizational things would get done no matter what, that each group would find the time to do what they needed to do to logistically plan for the year. So how could we make better use of the time we had with all of the student leaders before school began? We had the undivided attention of eighty students, spanning grades tenth through twelfth, representing different friend groups and different spheres of influence. These were the students who had been elected by their peers to be leaders. These were the students who had the power to make change, to shape school culture. This, we saw, was an untapped resource! What if we spent the majority of our time during leadership training working with the large group, speaking to them as student leaders and culture shapers?

As director of the Leadership and Ethics program, I partnered with Ashley McDowell Taylor, Dean of Students; Ben Courchesne, Associate Dean of Students; and Joel Sohn, Co-Director of Equity and Inclusion to plan a workshop for the start of the 2017-2018 school year to kickoff our student leadership training. We decided to go big: instead of a weekend, we did a week. If we are going to commit to this work, we thought, let’s really invest.

The students were engaged in sessions from 12:30 to 3:00 from Monday through Thursday, and then they had Friday and the weekend to work with their individual groups. Suddenly, with the new model, we had ten hours with all of our most powerful change agents in the same room together. What an opportunity! Each of the four adults took charge of one of the four sessions.

First, Ashley led a workshop on “Bringing our School Mission to Life.” In this workshop, the students looked closely at our school’s nine core beliefs, the nine things we do to “achieve” our mission.  The students broke into nine groups, and each group took a belief. On giant post-it notes, they made lists of the actions and behaviors that support those beliefs, and those that do not. In the end, all students did a gallery walk and had a chance to add their ideas.  

Next, Joel led a session on the “Inclusion Imperative.”  This fast-paced workshop led students through a review of vocabulary around inclusion, words like diversity, equity, bias, and microaggression.  The student leaders got out of their seats and were challenged to put themselves on a Spectrum of Allyship: in what areas are they a bystander, and in what areas are they working toward change?  

Then, I led a session on Case Studies and the “Non-Bystander.”  I started by reminding them that as students leaders, they are expected to act.  They have officially turned in their bystander card. At the same time, this work is not easy.  Each student wrote a real case study from their experience at EHS. They then took turns sharing the case studies and brainstorming in small groups different possible action plans.  Finally, the groups picked two case studies to role play.

Finally, we ended on Thursday with Ben’s session on Belonging.  He started by emphasizing the role that student leaders can play in helping their peers feel like they belong in the community.  Each student then had a chance to write on two separate notecards:

1. Describe a time when someone has said or done something during your time at EHS
that helped you feel like you belong here.
2. Describe a time when someone has said or done something during your time at EHS (or not said or done) during your time at EHS that made you question whether you belonged.

The cards were randomly shuffled and distributed back out to the students, and each student read their cards aloud to their tablemates, a very powerful exercise.  In the end, they discussed patterns and thought of how these anecdotes could inspire their work as student leaders.

We kept all of the sessions very interactive. There were role plays, small group reflections, large group sharing, giant post-it notes, and plenty of candy. Students sat at a different table every day. Seniors were talking with sophomores, girls with boys, residence life leaders with GSA leaders. Senior Erin P. said, “I loved looking around and seeing how many different people from different leadership groups were represented. I loved how we were all dedicated to come back to school early and work together.” All of the adults who work with different student leadership groups helped facilitate the conversations and keep the students on task. All week, we emphasized to the students that they are the ones with the power. Senior Isabelle H. left the program feeling empowered and ready to lead: “A lot of the situations we talked about in August have come up this year, and practicing the scenarios left me ready to engage in the real moment.”

As adults, we can give talk after talk, facilitate workshop after workshop, but without student buy-in, our efforts fail.  We hope to continue this model in the coming years. We realized that the best way we can teach leadership and change school culture is to empower the students. With the students on board to making positive change, adults can be on the sidelines--there when the students need advice or training, but ultimately letting them do the work.

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