Students today, leaders tomorrow

With a reputation for excellence in education, Shanghai's international schools not only give back to their communities, but are finding ways to foster the leaders of the future.
Students today, leaders tomorrow

At SCIS, everyone can have their say

At Shanghai Community International School, being a Student Council member means that you represent your classmates and your school. You are expected to participate in making the school a better place for students and teachers alike. Together, we not only try to communicate and solve issues inside the student body, but we also plan dances, Spirit Weeks, Java Jam, Destress Fest, Candy Grams and more. 

We selected our committees at the start of the year via elections, so now we all work in small groups planning separate events. During our meetings we collaborate with one another to improve ourselves and add to the enjoyment of learning at SCIS. 

Students today, leaders tomorrow

Zoya Cassidy is a Grade 10 student at SCIS Pudong campus.

Right now, myself and other Student Council members are excited to be planning the Halloween Candy Grams and Java Jam. 

On the Candy Gram committee, I am able to make decisions with my group regarding how we want to buy, sell and distribute Candy Grams. 

The Java Jam committee, on the other hand, gets to plan, audition and organize the whole event, a night when upper school students and teachers share their love of the arts with individual performances in a relaxed, ambience with drinks, snacks and an audience ready to be entertained. 

The best part of Student Council is being allowed to make our own decisions and striving to improve certain aspects of SCIS through our input.

(The article is contributed by Zoya Cassidy, Grade 10 student at SCIS Pudong campus.)

Service with a smile, leading from the back

The task was straightforward, but there was hesitancy in the group of elementary student government representatives. 

Usually, after the working lunch, the representatives head out to recess along with their peers who have just finished lunch in the cafeteria, where a crowd of students waited to be dismissed for recess, aimlessly trying to put their lunch trays away. This day, though, was different. The representatives began serving as leaders. “Can I take your tray for you?” inquired one. The student, bewildered, responded, “Yes, thanks!” 

This continued until all lunch trays were put away for cleaning.

When students arrive in elementary school, they already have a notion of what leadership is or who can be a leader. It is most likely they have seen varying degrees or types of leadership in their homes and communities around them. To them, a leader might be “old,” have a title, or be bossy. 

Leadership is much more than that, and provides an excellent reason for student organizations and clubs in schools to develop student leadership.

In addition to a misinformed idea of leadership, rarely do students connect service to leadership. 

Students today, leaders tomorrow

Casey Koschmeder is a Grade 3 teacher and advisor to the elementary school student government at Concordia International School Shanghai.

Robert Greenleaf, the father of servant leadership, is credited with saying, “To become a good leader, one must become a good servant.” 

The truth in this quote resonates the need to humbly understand those being led. A servant leader will encourage other servant leaders and have an exponential effect through empathy and humility.

Along with servant leadership, we must build student leadership capacity. In other words, we want students to be able to lead in circumstances that may be new to them using the leadership skills they already have. 

When we provide opportunities, such as student government, or other empowering organizations for them to join, we are providing opportunities to practice leadership while allowing them real influence through serving others.

The lunch trays had been put away, but the learning had not yet finished. 

Two representatives were chatting at the side of the lunch room as students filed out for recess. I asked, “What happened?”

“First, I took a tray for someone. Then THAT person took someone else’s tray for THEM! I didn’t even tell them to!’

The hesitancy was gone; the purpose was clear. All of a sudden, it was so simple to serve, to lead.

(The story is contributed by Casey Koschmeder, Grade 3 teacher and advisor to the elementary school student government at Concordia International School Shanghai.)

The complex art and science of fronting a school club

At the start of the new school year at Shanghai American School, enterprising high school students set up shop at the Club Fair, enticing their peers to join their clubs. Competition is fierce as attention spans wane, but by the end of the day hundreds of students have joined at least one club.

Newly minted presidents have already designed the club’s mission statement and secured a staff advisor.

Next, they have to navigate their way through the cooling-off period for new sign-ups and brace themselves for two audits. The student executive council does the auditing, on the look-out for flaky clubs designed purely to go on college applications.

Students today, leaders tomorrow

Rachel Wright is a high school English teacher at SAS Puxi.

“That’s not only detrimental to their integrity, it’s harmful to others. It creates a sense that service isn’t really about service, it’s just about college apps,” says Ricky Zhong, president of the Executive Coucil.

“Eggschange” helps farmers in rural China sell their eggs, and has been running successfully for years. Winning ingredients? A club with a unique, specific vision and a motivated team run by strong leaders. 

So what drives some students to want to set up, or lead, a comic magazine club or “The Happiness Project” or a marine biology club? According to Zhong, “what really sets people apart is that they want an effect that goes beyond themselves. Many people are passionate about photography, but we have a photography club at school and it’s full of people who want to share and learn from each other. That sounds like a great club to be part of.”

(The article is contributed by Rachel Wright, high school English teacher at SAS Puxi.)

Building a school leadership structure

At Yew Chung International School, we value student leadership. Building leadership into the core of our school has had a profound effect on our students and brought improvements to every aspect of the education of the children in our care.

At YCIS, leadership begins in Year 1, as every child gets the opportunity to perform rotating duties, from handing out books to collecting lunch cards, so everyone develops their ability to take responsibility for an important task. From Year 3, students have numerous ways to get involved.

• Student Council

From Year 3 onward, students can apply to join the Student Council. They must prepare and deliver a PowerPoint presentation to their homeroom class, and then the class votes to select those who best represent their voice. Even just putting your name down takes a lot of courage! 

The elected students meet fortnightly to discuss projects, ideas and suggestions for the school leadership team. They lead charity projects and there is a focus on eco-awareness and healthy eating habits.

 • House captains

Students are arranged into four houses which engage in and compete in various activities throughout the year, building friendship, a friendly rivalry and school spirit. House captains are chosen from Year 6 students. These students have to have the enthusiasm to motivate others and receive weekly public speaking lessons to build their confidence. 

• School captains

Our school captains are similar to head prefects in secondary, and have a formal spokesperson role. For example, we recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of YCIS Shanghai, and during the celebrations our school captains represented the school as emcees for the event in front of an audience at our school and hundreds of people joining via live webcast worldwide. 

To become a school captain means a formal interview process. Many students apply and must write a page-long application on their ambitions for the role. They are interviewed in both English and Chinese by the vice principal and the head of Chinese language studies, who make a shortlist to be interviewed by our co-principals. The elected students receive formal presentation training to help them perform to the very best of their abilities.

• Profound results

Throughout the year, all Student Council representatives, house and school captains meet regularly to initiate projects. They come up with ideas and have to take ownership and responsibility for each project. 

They develop incredible confidence and skills including communication, organization, time management, patience, planning and teamwork. They lead our whole student body by their example and genuinely help to improve our school each and every day. 

Watching students of all ages develop their leadership skills through these opportunities is one of the most exciting, inspiring and rewarding parts of our work.

(The article is contributed by Jana van Zyl, early childhood education and primary student well-being coordinator at YCIS Puxi.)

Teacher in the backseat, students at the wheel

I often find myself biting my tongue at Student Council meetings. Hearing snippets of event committees discussing details that to me, are very obviously three or four weeks away from being pertinent for their current planning status. However, I resist the urge to intervene, for the benefit of these aspiring leaders.

It is stressful to knowingly allow students to fail. As educators, it is normal to ensure that accuracy is emphasized and that mistakes are corrected. When it comes to student leadership, the temptation can be difficult to overcome. With pressure from various stakeholders, taking a step back feels risky, when we could easily jump in and make everything run smoothly.

As challenging as it may be, it is important to let students make mistakes. This is especially true for student leaders. Without being given an opportunity to take chances, to potentially fail, and to learn from those failures, there is no way to gain meaningful experience. What is even harder to wrap our heads around is how much more they stand to learn by leading an event that does not go according to plan, versus putting in lip service for an adult-run production. A more supportive role still gives teachers a chance to demonstrate the necessary leadership skills these students may need to stay on track, while allowing them the freedom to navigate the rough landscape that leadership can present. 

As hard as it is for both students and teachers, it is important to see the positives this freedom can bring. Growing, adapting and knowing how to learn from their struggles allows our students to develop grit. This will make their eventual successes that much more rewarding, and fuel the next challenges they encounter on their leadership journeys. 

(The article is contributed by Nilan Asanka Senaratna, IGCSE/IBDP biology teacher and head of student development at SSIS.)

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