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Best Possible Selves 28

Monday, May 1, 2017

Last Friday I had the pleasure of discussing our leadership program with the Upper School teachers (Grades 4-6). Since the further refinement of this program has been a Strategic Plan goal for us, we thought it would be a good time to update each other on progress and perhaps even to seek greater clarification. My ongoing assumption is that leadership development may manifest itself both in curriculum and in community life, so I was eager to test this idea against the backdrop of actual evidence. The first part of the conversation focused mostly on non-classroom activities: reading and math collaboration between older students and younger ones -- formalized in our school as Learning Partners, public speaking and debate at Community Gatherings, caretaking of younger children in Extended Day, opportunities for creativity and responsibility in Winter Clubs, Girls on the Run, spontaneous events such as Talents Shows, scheduled performance opportunities at All-School Assemblies and Concerts, Student Ambassadors at Open Houses and Parent Coffees, 5th grade Leadership Class with the Head of School, and 6th grade speeches at Graduation. This list is not complete but is intended to provide a sample of the broad range of activities available to students.


The conversation then turned to classroom-focused activities across the core subjects. Note: because this meeting included homeroom teachers and not specialists, we focused naturally on the core subjects of language arts, writing, math, and social studies.  In 4th grade literature the students explore leaders and followers by looking through the lens of characters’ action and motivations, while in 4th grade social studies they examine the idea of positive leadership in the Medieval Ages and the Renaissance by examining fundamental questions (i.e., Who Holds Power?). In 5th grade the students take their learning to other classrooms in the school, most recently creating partnerships in math with the 3rd graders and in poetry with the 2nd graders. Leadership Class in 5th grade also brings together abstract themes such as justice and creativity with everyday assignments across the subjects. Finally, the 6th grade research project serves perhaps as the capstone experience for our entire program. With a conscious international focus, this project impels students to study change-makers throughout the world with a eye toward inspiration, virtue, and goodness. For me, the conversation helped to reinforce the idea that leadership is a powerful lens through which we can attempt to point our students to their best possible selves. Our hope is that this focus is the rule rather than the exception and that everything they associate with Chestnut Hill coalesces through this lens.