Distribution of Leadership

{Please scroll down to the ladder if you wish to skip the following explanation}
Link to the other aspects by clicking the appropriate letter  E  O  R  D  E  R

In 2002 I did a series of observations in High school, Primary and Infant classrooms specifically to look at how early leadership skills were developed and utilised by teachers.  In most classrooms there were a handfull of learners who were repeatedly used by the teacher to help them manage the learning.  Examples included organising groups, collecting equipment, running errands or even as reliable backstops when a question/answer session wasn’t going to plan.  These same learners tended to also be used by other students for guidance and support when the teacher was unavailable.  By high school many of these leaders had ‘gone underground’ and were offering support to others (or organising rebellion!) largely without the teacher being aware.

The actions of the teacher had an enormous impact on the numbers of such ‘leaders’ available.  Talking to teachers, many who were using student leadership effectively were doing so intuitively out of a respect for the learners as ‘co-developers’ others were intentionally trying to create a classroom environment that encouraged the development of leadership skills.

At a school-wide level, those schools that involved students in realistic roles with genuine authority tended to have more teachers utilising these skills in the classroom (chicken and egg?).

Since 2002 I have been fortunate to be involved in student voice initiatives in numerous countries and visited some outstanding examples internationally.  The incredible power of schemes that promote such leadership at every level is undeniable.  I have tried to ensure that the same ladder can be used for leadership development in both students and staff.

If you are personalising your school then the following ladder provides a way for you to gauge progress and set targets in this area.  In terms of REORDER this aspect is concerned with learners engaging with what they are learning and why.

Level 1 – One size fits all – Most teachers and learners have no decision making autonomy

  • Changes and modifications must be agreed centrally so very little local variation at the teacher level happens.
  • The term ‘answering back’ and similar phrases help to maintain the feeling of a fixed hierarchy in the school
Level 3 – Choice –  Teachers give ‘jobs’ to learners awarded based on non transparent criteria

  • Teachers and learners may have opportunities to lead projects or teams but may be unclear why they were chosen
  • There are a subset of students used most often for responsible roles.  It is unclear how to join this group.
  • There may be a student council that is elected through voting but the criteria for voting them in is unclear as is their role.

The simplest first step in personalising empowerment is to introduce a number of roles of responsibility to your routine.  At the simplest level this can be making a student the ‘on duty’ person for that week and making sure you ask them to hand out or collect in papers and equipment or check desks are behind tables when the class is empty.  In fact any roles you can think of that involve a small degree of trust placed in one student or in a team of students.  Students can give announcements, re-ask questions at the start of lessons, choose who answers a question etc.

Level 5 – Personalised ‘For’ Groups – ‘Prefect’ systems or similar.  Roles are allocated by teachers

  • Learners are given roles that assist but ensure that the teacher retains control, decision making and budget
  • Roles may be shared evenly over time and may contain status such as early lunch passes or badges
  • Most students and teachers can give examples of projects or roles that were designed to promote student leadership
  • Students play very little part in recruiting or training their successors and if a key member of staff were to leave it is likely that their leadership team would cease to be able to function without them.
Level 7 – Teacher Strategy – Teachers build leadership capacity over time in the learners

  • Teachers track the development of leadership competencies and provide appropriate challenges to build these
  • Teachers coach learners into roles and may be behind the scenes as learners present their work or achievements
  • The school leaders role model this approach with teachers also, distributing budgets, responsibility and autonomy based on evaluated success
  • Leadership opportunities are part of a ‘curriculum of opportunities’ that allow progression and promotion.  Entry onto this progression is open to everyone and is encouraged to be widely used.
Level 9 – Personalised ‘By’ the learner ? – Learners co-develop new practice with school leaders

  • The school uses all decisions as learning opportunities inviting ‘qualified’ learners to take active roles.
  • External benchmarking and peer assessment used to ensure qualification of leaders is transparent and respected
  • Learners evidenced evaluations of how effectively they have progressed are used to justify the purchase of new resources and equipment as well as to determine which curriculum opportunities will be maintained
  • The content in the curriculum may be modified by student led action or evidence based lobbying
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