By Andy | January 14, 2018 | 2 Comment
This is part three of a three part series of articles on student leadership - If you haven’t already read Parts 1 and 2, you can do so by following these links:
In the first part of this three part series I looked at how we used to do student leadership at Wells Cathedral School, and some of the areas that encouraged me to rethink our approach.
Then in the second part of the series I outlined the new system we were implementing for this academic year, and some of the rationale and processes associated with these changes.
So in this final part I want to look a little, now that we are part way through it, at how this system has worked in practice. Reaction from the students themselves has been mixed, something which was highlighted in an event which gave rise to the title of this series of posts.
In October 2017 our debating society discussed the motion ”"This house believes it is no longer a privilege to be a prefect.”. The debate was rigorous and, as you’d expect, articulately argued from both sides. In the end the vote went the way of the motion by a small margin.
This debate forced me to reflect on the changes we had made, and whether as a result we’d lost something really important. The crux of the students’ argument was that by providing leadership opportunities for everyone (or at least everyone who wanted one) it was no longer special to be a student leader; it no longer reflected an achievement and was therefore no longer a privilege. At the time I was concerned by this response, but as I reflected more upon it I came to see that the idea that being a prefect should be a privilege missed the point entirely.
We had for many years emphasised to students that student leadership opportunities were not a reward for something they’d done, they didn’t earn it, they weren’t owed it — it is a job that needs to be done.
So whilst we are only a few days into the second term, and therefore have only just rotated the leadership of many aspects round to the next group of students, I feel we’ve made a positive change this year.
Student leadership should be a right, not a privilege. The opportunity to develop and hone your leadership skills - something which can only be done through real practice - is something which needs to be open to all students not just the select few whose skills are already best developed.
That’s not to say that I think we’ve got all the details right; nor that every student who has a role this year has or will make the most of that opportunity (although that was as true when we had 20 students leaders as it is now we have almost 90). However I feel that we’ve started on a journey which over the coming years will allow us to tweak and refine our approach further so that every Wells Cathedral School student is provided with opportunities to develop their leadership potential and hone those skills.
Alongside this will sit more work ensuring that not only are there high quality leadership opportunities for those in the upper sixth, but that we pull together the various other leadership opportunities which exist for students of all ages. We will develop a ribbon of leadership development which threads through their school careers ensuring that every student who comes through Wells understands what leadership is really about, and has the skills to to lead in whatever field they they choose in later life, whether it’s as the leader of a small team, or leading an ensemble, section or orchestra, or leading in the military, as a teacher, or as the CEO of a multi-national organisation. We all need the ability and skills to show leadership in our lives, even if we don’t consider ourselves as leaders, and this is something I’m passionate about helping all students develop.
Since writing this article, we've since further reviewed this programme in light of what we learned from the first year through. You can find out more about what happened next by reading Student Leadership - Project Leadership