Empowering our future leaders
There is a legendary story told about a visit undertaken by President John F. Kennedy to NASA in Cape Canaveral in 1961. President Kennedy was taken on a tour to gain a firsthand look at the progress that the USA was making in the race to be the first nation to land people on the moon. President Kennedy is said to have encountered a janitor in one of the corridors and asked him what he does at NASA. The janitor’s immediate response was – “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”
There are so many powerful lessons in this anecdote that speak of the value of a common purpose and also of the fact that the whole is only as strong as its individual parts. One of the other key morals demonstrated by this janitor is how each of us, regardless of our role or status can make valuable contributions.
We recently held our Year 5 Leaders Induction Assembly. On this occasion, I spoke to our students about the difference between the verb “leading” and the noun “leadership.” Schools, businesses, and other organisations often place greater, and arguably unwarranted, emphasis on positional leadership.
We see value in appointing individuals to positions of authority and responsibility and try to empower these individuals with opportunities to develop key characteristics by placing them in situations where they can make decisions, speak publicly and try to inspire others to join in positive ventures.
However, there is no doubt that each of us, regardless of whether we are an introvert or an extrovert, are wearing a badge or not, will be called upon to lead. At our recent Experience Day for students who are applying to join our school next year, I went out to greet the new students who would be spending the day with us. As you can imagine a number of these students did not know anyone at KDS and all of them had some degree of nervousness at spending a day in a foreign environment.
Time and again I was thrilled (but not surprised) to see our Year 6 students walk up to any student who was standing alone and invite them to join in with their group. This is a vital aspect of leading. It is taking your moment to show care for another and to take action to help.
At our school we try to provide opportunities for each student to develop the confidence, capability, emotional intelligence and value-set required to recognise when to stand up and what to do in the situation.
We also try to provide for structures of leadership that allow us to promote student voice and agency and to allow for students to take responsibility for key aspects of the School. In our Junior School this takes the form of each of our Year 5 students nominating to various tzvatim (committees) and being mentored and supported to make a positive difference in this area.
Throughout the School we offer Hadracha training to enable students with the skill sets required to lead others. Our students are given practical opportunities to participate in our Year 5 – Prep Buddy Program and our Year 11- Year 7 Peer Mentoring Program. Students throughout our Senior School participate in the Kol Echad team that lead social justice initiatives. The peak student leadership body across the School is our Hanhagah, a group of seven senior students who take on responsibility for driving the culture, supporting Jewish life programming and representing the student body.
While each of these bodies and experiences are carefully tailored to allow students to take on responsibility and apply their values in various scenarios, we never lose sight of the message embedded in the story of the Cape Canaveral janitor. We are aware that all our students will be required to lead when their time and situation arises and as such we aim to foster a sense of confidence, ability and a strong moral compass that will guide our students in when and how to best apply their knowledge, values and skills.