Private schools today are helping to foster the leaders of tomorrow, developing and nurturing in students the skills needed to tackle some of the biggest problems facing our world.
Learning now is not just about the curriculum; it’s about developing the whole student and equipping them with the leadership qualities they need to succeed in life. Whether it’s a pandemic, or climate change, or Black Lives Matter, or Truth and Reconciliation, Canada, like the rest of the world, needs a next generation of leaders to navigate through these challenges and others.
“Independent schools like ours are helping to foster the leaders of tomorrow by providing unique opportunities that help develop ethical, culturally competent leaders,” says Nancy Richards, head of school at St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School in Oakville, Ont. “A private school experience provides robust programming and an all-girls learning environment like ours creates space for students to build their confidence, find their passions, achieve excellence in whatever path they choose by equipping them with the skills, competencies, character and leadership traits needed to thrive in an ever-evolving, increasingly interconnected and interdependent world.”
The school’s Global Citizenship program in particular fosters the individual development of key life competencies and personal characteristics that empower students to thrive as global citizens.
“We are educating our students to understand that leadership is about service and caring, not power. When students see their leadership roles in this way, they immediately look to draw on attributes such as empathy, compassion and understanding to be good leaders,” Richards says.
Here’s a look at what some private schools are doing to develop leadership skills in students and why it’s such an important focus.
The Linden School
Tara Silver, principal of The Linden School in Toronto, says the school likes to take a collaborative leadership approach with students.
“We do a lot of group project work, collaborative inquiry on the academic side of things,” she says, adding that it gives students with a range of different personality styles or perhaps learning challenges the opportunity to showcase their individual leadership skills. “Leadership can be introverted, extroverted. It can have students on the autism spectrum who can also have a chance to purport ideas that they want.”
Social justice is a focus that informs community activism. These connections extend beyond Linden’s walls into the greater community. The curriculum has a strong emphasis on incorporating gender, equity and diversity issues into class work, field trips and school activities.
Michael Piening, head of school at MacLachlan College in Oakville, Ont., says leadership skills are developed in students in the early stages of their education. “The students are really encouraged to ask questions that then drive their own learning,” he says. “Not only will they ask the questions but they’ll do the research to come up with the answers.
“And those are really skills that you want in any leader. They’re not just going to sit back and wait. They’re going to be proactive in their learning and that’s a concept that starts really young with us at MacLachlan and carries right through the program.”
In the upper grades, the school is a participant in Round Square, an international network of 200 like-minded schools in 50 countries that connect and collaborate to offer world-class programs and experiences that develop global competence, character and confidence in students.
Rothesay Netherwood School
Paul McLellan, head of school at Rothesay Netherwood School in New Brunswick, says leadership is a result of academic vigour as well as programs that support and challenge students, and a value system of character, courage, creativity and community.
“We start with every student wherever they are when they arrive. … We want them to become more self-aware. We want them to understand their strengths and weaknesses. We want them to celebrate their strengths and we want them to work on their weaknesses to become a better version of themselves,” says McLellan.
“I feel pretty strongly that any kid can make a difference if they’re given the right tools and the right opportunities. There are so many different ways to make a difference and make an impact on a community that there really is an opportunity for every kid. That could be in the arts, it could be in sports, it could be in community service, it could be in public speaking,” he says.
At the school, a committee called RISE (Resist Injustice Seek Equality) is a student group that discusses global issues like Black Lives Matter, anti-Asian acts and gender inequality.
St. Michael’s College School
Alex Frescura, director of athletics at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto, says the goal of any school is to ensure students become socially, morally, ethically and environmentally responsible when they graduate.
“Now we actually have leadership courses and things like that. There are segments within some courses that would talk specifically about leadership development and theory,” he says. “But there’s always been this emphasis, to use a sports analogy from my field, at some point in the season you always have to turn the team over to the team.
“It always has to be about giving the kids the tools and then eventually they have to make it their own and develop on their own.”
John Connelly, the school’s director of student affairs, says the nature and our understanding of leadership have changed. In the past few years, the focus is on the fact that good leaders are not only those who get results but those who also have emotional intelligence. “Leadership is important to the extent that it builds character. And leadership is important to the extent that it encourages good and empathetic leaders to emerge in the future,” he says.
Holy Name of Mary College School
Holy Name of Mary College School in Mississauga, Ont., fosters a culture of academic achievement that builds self-confidence and empowers girls to become influential leaders of change. It strives to instill in young women unwavering intellectual curiosity, a confidence to question, the patience to listen and the ability to evaluate information in an environment that encourages them to take risks, embrace change, cultivate positive relationships and stand by their convictions. The school graduates students who exhibit empathy through active, caring service towards others.
“We are very fortunate because we’re a small, all-girls school and we spend a lot of time focusing on the whole girl,” says Kathryn Anderson, Holy Name of Mary’s director of student life. “So all of our programming starts there and over the years obviously developed as time developed and the need developed. Our student leaders, it’s all about really what their interests are in leading.
“We do have a program where we work as mentors with all of the girls, even some Grade 5s and all the way to Grade 12, developing who they are, what they’re passionate about and then trying to connect them with the right resources.”
Social justice issues are at the forefront at the school and a council of girls oversees all of the programs run by the school to make sure they align with their beliefs and values.
West Point Grey Academy
Stephen Anthony, head of school at West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver, says it’s essential to develop students beyond the learning of curriculum.
“These students will go on to have many opportunities to have impacts in the future,” says Anthony. “Absolutely fundamental to the ethos of our school must be the recognition that they can, they will and therefore it’s our obligation and our opportunity to prepare them for positions of leadership.”
Part of that involves attracting, professionally developing and retaining exceptional educators. “Then you provide them the professional development opportunities and the support and the autonomy by getting out of their way and allowing them to flex their own creative muscles in their classes to really make real-world global issues come alive for the students in their care,” he says
Youth today are more aware of bigger issues, and sociopolitical and geopolitical problems, climate change and the environment are current and relevant issues to them. Learning about those issues in real time is critical.
“They can see what they are studying in the class is relevant to what’s happening in the world around them,” Anthony says.
Neuchâtel Junior College
For Neuchâtel Junior College students, independence is cultivated through the opportunity to live with a host family in the Swiss town of Neuchâtel. For many, this is their first opportunity to travel, learn and develop leadership skills outside of their nuclear family home.
“They have the support of their host family, teachers, and tight-knit school community as they are exposed to different cultures, opportunities to grow and develop their understanding and connection to the world,” says Megan Watt, managing director of operations at Neuchâtel Junior College.
“Our students are able to build independence, confidence and lifelong friendships with people from across Canada and internationally while completing their Canadian high school diploma.”
Neuchâtel Junior College families share that the student who comes home to them at the end of the year is more mature, independent and confident with clarity on their future path.
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