Leadership for the 21st Century
Leadership is a critical focus at STS. In the last few years there has been a movement across the country recognizing that there are critical skills for the 21st century that encompass not merely traditional academic areas such as math and science, but leadership, character, ethics, and team work as well. In an age where technology brings the global community closer and closer together, and the challenges that the interconnected world faces increasingly belong to us all, possessing ethical and effective leadership skills will be crucial.
Research into the field of leadership has revealed what many of us have suspected all along: leadership is not the possession of one particular characteristic or strategy; it is the informed and successful use of a myriad of social and emotional skills that can be applied in different settings. STS recognizes this, and its program offers student opportunities for leadership throughout many different areas of school life. One defining characteristic of the school’s program is sharing with our students the very research on leadership itself, so they can leave this school with the ability to think rationally, critically, and creatively in all kinds of problem-solving situations. The 7th Grade Life-Skills program will hone in on this very area.
Our school’s mission underlines the critical focus of leadership at this school, connecting this with the important notion of global citizenship.
The mission of St Thomas School is to develop responsible citizens of a global society. In partnership with parents, we inspire and motivate intellectually curious students. Our small, nurturing environment supports the acquisition of a broad academic foundation with an emphasis on critical thinking, leadership skills, and the development of strong character and spiritual awareness.
The STS Student Outcomes
The experience from early childhood through 8th Grade is a carefully crafted journey. This journey not only is one of academic purpose, but also provides our students with the capacity to reflect about themselves and the world. Many of our student outcomes focus in on strategic elements of leadership:
- A developed awareness of the larger world and its current challenges, asking significant and relevant questions about that world, and wrestling with its important questions
- A clear ability to make responsible, ethical decisions and an active concern for the welfare of others
- A knowledge of the role leadership and service and the ability to set, plan for, and carry out goals
- A developed set of interpersonal and social skills needed in order to work, team, and play with others
- A notion of citizenship founded upon understanding local, national, and global responsibilities
The work of Daniel Goleman has connected successful leadership to an effective mastery of emotional intelligence. Our future citizens will need to manage themselves as well as their relationships effectively. Through class meeting time, through our social problem-solving focus, and through homeroom/advisory activities, students will get to experience the following set of skills:
- Emotional self-awareness
- Accurate self-assessment
- Orientation to service
- Organizational awareness
- Achievement orientation
- Developing others
- Visionary leadership
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Communication skills
- Conflict management
Our Chapel program offers many opportunities for students to experience these elements of understanding themselves and others though its exploration of different stories and opportunities for deeper reflection. The Chapel program also emphasizes character development, which tackles many of these skills while discussing the great human world stories. The Middle School years also allow our students to question more deeply as ethical dilemmas are presented to provoke a more thorough understanding of values. Chapel constantly provides students with opportunities to practice public speaking, developing confidence in front of a large audience. The older students play more significant roles in leading and planning Chapel for the entire school. Our 8th Grade program will see each student plan, prepare, and deliver a Chapel lesson.
The school’s conscious commitment to our core virtues emphasizes the very areas that build and enrich leadership. These virtues become part of the vocabulary of the Chapel program, as well as classroom expectations and curricula discussions in academic fields. These virtues pervade all aspects of STS life: gratitude, responsibility, respect, courage, integrity, tolerance, compassion, perseverance, and generosity. This focus nurtures students’ character and spiritual intelligence.
Public Speaking and Presentational Skills
One of the first things noticed by our visitors is how poised, articulate, and confident our students appear. Our high expectations are reflected in the verbal domain as well as with the written. Our students are expected to present clearly from the early years throughout their STS journey. Students are given opportunities to plan and prepare for their presentations in all classes as well as for Chapel, and opportunities for self-reflection and supportive, instructive feedback allow our students to grow. They frequently have to enact roles with expressive features, be it during the Scientist of the Week program in 2nd Grade, during the Hero Project in 4th Grade, or debating to save the life of Julius Caesar in 6th Grade.
Careful focus on vocal techniques occurs during classes studying storytelling and speech-writing. Debate is highly valued, and our 8th Graders will be exposed to a course on global issues where research into both sides of the issue will be critical, as well as an ability to argue a case in detail. Drama will be an important part of our growing Middle School program, again offering students critical opportunities for interpersonal skills as well as vocal techniques. Technology plays a critical role as well as our students are expected to plan and prepare high-quality presentations using a variety of tools.
One of the most important building blocks of the STS approach to Leadership is our Service Learning program. Our school has a long history of service. The school has a carefully crafted model of experiences that see students taking on more and more individual responsibility in the planning and execution of Service Learning projects. Service-Learning is a process and a cycle, where students learn concrete methods to prepare projects that are directly applicable to the world beyond school. The following steps are part of our Service Learning process:
Our projects are founded upon the notion of meaningful service. Linked to the curriculum, powerful moments for students’ voices to be heard and choices to be exercised define these experiences. Service learning involves partnering with others both within our own community and with those in communities outside our school. Service-learning offers opportunities of service that promote the understanding of improving society, working for social justice, and caring for the environment. Through these, an understanding of the concept of democracy is grasped.
Opportunities are sought for partnerships between different grades at our school. Older students are able to assume leadership roles when they partner with younger classes for important program experiences. An example of this is our 5th and 6th Primary Partners program. This draws out a special leadership skill set as the younger children look up to their 5th and 6th Grade partners as guides, mentors, and special friends. This relationship between students of different ages becomes significant for those of each age. Through moments of community in Homeroom, serving as role models every day, and through their activities with their Primary buddies, our 5th and 6th Graders develop the internal confidence which enables them to stand up and express themselves with authenticity, clarity, and power.
Rites of passage mark wonderful moments of transition, adding meaning and depth to different stages as our students prepare to step out of childhood into the adult world. Graduation in the past has always been an experience of amazing intensity at this school where our students delivered personal speeches with passion, clarity, and energy. Graduation provides students with the opportunity emphasize service to others, leadership, self-reflection, and their educational journey.
Research on Leadership comes from Daniel Goleman’s article Leadership That Gets Results. Harvard Business Review, March-April 2000.