Leaders have a responsibility to develop those around us. As educators, it is our job to cultivate leadership qualities in our students that will inspire them for a greater purpose. This role of a “servant leader”, coined by Robert Greenleaf, elevates people while serving others. One of the best ways to prepare our students for their life beyond high school is to offer more leadership opportunities in the classroom and in the community.
In their book, Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success, Angie Morgan, Courtney Lynch and Sean Lynch suggest everyone has the potential to be a leader and lay out seven key behaviors that are essential in developing future leaders.
Leadership is not about authority or fancy titles, rather its core is about influencing outcomes and inspiring others. “You’re not chosen to be a leader, you choose to lead” (Lynch et al. 2017 p. 15). And as leaders, we have a duty to encourage those around us to answer the call to action. We can assist them in developing the necessary tools to explore their leadership potential.
How can we best cultivate aspiring leaders so once ignited, these “Sparks” become tomorrow’s change agents? Teach leadership skill in a way that can transform students to become “Sparks”. In his article, Larry Ferlazzo’s suggests strategies for nurturing student leadership such as enhancing intrinsic motivation, strengthening self-efficacy, teaching others, and creating opportunities for students to take action to improve their communities (2012). One way Henrico County Public Schools develops young “Sparks” is through its Student Congress program. Ten students from each of its nine comprehensive high schools, plus the Academy at Virginia Randolph, are selected based on their character, academics, and discipline. This criterion attracts more students than those that generally serve on various clubs and traditional student government. Students are chosen for the value they can add to the team and who can most benefit from the program. All 100 members come together four times a year. Their meetings include giving input on new technology or policy formation that Central Office and the School Board use in making determinations. Such topics students have weighed in on include changes to the grading scale, school calendar vacation breaks, the code of student conduct, and raising the GPA standard for scholar athletes to a 2.0 minimum.
As a member of the School Board, I enjoy participating in these meetings and observing the students, as they listen and learn from each other. The students share a unique perspective from all sides of an issue. Through the “Power of 100,” Student Congress represents the diversity of culture and ideas found throughout our county. These developing leaders help bring us together as one Henrico. After some recent racial tensions, the students organized a Unity Walk drawing attention to the need to be more inclusive and accepting of others. Students also participate in a school exchange program that assists them in a better appreciation for the different cultures and challenges across the county.
In addition, Student Congress members practice service based leadership by involving them in community service projects such as the Henrico Christmas Mother (HCM). Each December, students become “elves themselves” by assisting in preparations at the HCM warehouse where thousands of recipients come to pick up new toys, books, clothing, and food for the holidays. After learning about the program and getting a tour, the students sort canned food and children’s books, prepare signage, and assist in setting up the senior/disabled gift area. During this opportunity leaders step back and let the students lead, but the adults are there for support. The HCM Council loves having the students at the warehouse busily working and laughing. Their presence brings great joy to all the volunteers and by the time the buses roll out, much of the warehouse preparations for distribution are completed.
Giving service based leadership opportunities for students, teaching leadership lessons, promoting inclusiveness, and igniting “Sparks” to make the world better are ways transformational leaders can empower and tap into the leadership potential in us all!
Feriazzo, L. (2012, February 14). Cultivating Student Leadership. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2012/02/14/tln_ferlazzo_leadership.html
Lynch, C., Lynch, S., & Morgan, A. (2017). Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.