By Gail Hill, Director of Curriculum and Instruction
The Personalized Path to Leadership
Students aren’t the only ones who benefit from Graland’s trips program. Last fall I was fortunate to accompany our eighth grade class on their Civil Rights tour of the south. It was an eye-opening experience, and one particular message keeps coming back to me: wear your own clothes.
On the second day of our trip, we attended a service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and Wear Your Own Clothes was the title of the minister’s sermon. As he stood on the pulpit where Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached, he shared that over the years many parishioners asked him how he felt about carrying on MLK’s legacy. This expectation was a heavy burden for him to bear and it took him time to come to grips with the fact that he couldn’t be the same type of leader that MLK had been; in other words, he had to wear his own clothes.
Some leaders are charismatic and outwardly influential while others are more introverted, lead by example or make a big impact while avoiding the limelight. History shows us that the strongest leadership teams are made up of people with varying strengths and styles. Graland works to foster this model around campus. According to seventh grader Anna Bock, “Our Peer Leader group is varied which makes us stronger.” When 7/8 Peer Leader members were asked to describe their leadership styles, they gave these answers: enthusiastic, positive, impulsive, confident, quiet, and action-oriented. It sounds like they have it covered.
At Graland we take fostering leadership skills seriously. Inspiring leadership is even one of our guiding principles. Faculty members take this responsibility to heart and provide a variety of opportunities for students to take the lead. In kindergarten, students act as line leaders, classroom welcomers, and Wise Owls who help run meetings. By third grade, students are learning about philanthropy through the Penny Harvest Program
. Fourth grade students lead the way with their Unified Neighborhood project, and in higher grades, there are additional, organized leadership groups such as Student Council and 7/8 Peer Leaders. These are just a small sampling of the student leadership opportunities at Graland.
Leaders affect others, plain and simple. On a small scale, student leaders affect the classroom environment. According to second grade teacher Justine Hall
, “They are a very positive force in the classroom because others can look to them to figure out what’s going on.”
On a larger scale, student voice affects community change and paves the way for new ideas on campus. Laurie Chandler
, sixth grade team leader and math teacher reflects, “Student leaders get to shape experiences whether social or service related.”
Drama teacher Tony Catanese
agrees, “It’s the students’ community as much as it is ours. Students have opportunities to decide how they want their community to be, look, and feel. When they leave Graland, they feel like they’ve left a part of themselves here.”
Laurie also believes leadership opportunities foster personal growth. “They help students take a step toward looking outside of themselves. Part of growing up is learning to look beyond your own personal self or experience and gain empathy for others. Graland offers a safe and supportive environment for students to try out their leadership skills.”
However, leaders don’t always emerge while they’re at Graland. Tony recognizes this and notes, “Maybe some Graland students don’t take the risk of being a leader until later, but the capacity for leadership is within them because they learned the skills while here at Graland. Not everyone’s a leader while they’re here, but they see other peer leaders in action and that may inspire them to be leaders down the road.”
Personally, I agree with eighth grader Andy Sevilla who shared, “Everyone in this school is a leader even if they don’t know it. There are so many different types of leaders at this school. Everyone does their job to make this place run smoothly.”
I’m honored to be a leader at Graland and am proud to be part of a community who takes teaching this real-world skill seriously. As I walk into classrooms and observe changes to our community over time, I can confidently say that we have a lot of faculty, staff and students wearing their own clothes.