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
|Level 3 – Choice – Teachers give ‘jobs’ to learners awarded based on non transparent criteria
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
|Level 7 – Teacher Strategy – Teachers build leadership capacity over time in the learners
|Level 9 – Personalised ‘By’ the learner ? – Learners co-develop new practice with school leaders