Three Steps to Encouraging Student Leadership

The importance of teaching leadership skills in order to help students navigate a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world has been a hot topic - and this was before COVID-19 seriously changed how we define complexity. Shortly before social distancing began, the International School of Paris (ISP) community came together to reflect on what it means to be a leader. 

Step 1: Starting a Conversation about Leadership

The first step in encouraging student leadership is listening to student opinions on the subject and understanding what they need in order to become skilled leaders. ISP's bi-annual debate series, Complexity Hub, edition VII, featured a revamped format where students spoke about leadership to an audience of teachers and parents.

During Complexity Hub VII ISP's student leaders supervised groups, whose objective was to discuss elements to include in a leadership curriculum. Each group produced different guidelines for teaching and encouraging leadership at school, such as:

  • goal setting and helping peers reach their set goals is a way to foster collective leadership;
  • academic success is a form of leadership and students who improve their scholastic performance should be recognised as leaders;
  • the benefits of acting as a leader should be made clear;
  • role-play should be used to practice leadership, and should allow students to train to take on adult roles;
  • older students are often obvious leaders, but identifying leaders across age groups is a way to celebrate leadership.

A second step in encouraging leadership is putting students in contact with experts in the field. Complexity Hub VII was also the opportunity for students (and all guests) to hear advice from experienced leaders, and ISP parents, Suzanne Akten and Mitali Aon. While they had differing viewpoints on many aspects of leadership, they did agree that leadership takes practice!

Step 2: Bring in Mentoring and Coaching Experts from the Community

ISP alumna Carole Reniero has made a career of helping people of all ages practice leadership in the form of mentoring and coaching. She was the third leadership expert to visit ISP this academic year. During her visit she hosted a two-hour training session on how to become a coach or mentor. 

The session focused on the difference between coaching and mentoring and the importance of active listening. Student feedback was positive and all participants are eager for another session with Carole. 

Here is what the students thought about mentoring, coaching and active listening:

"...there is an element of leadership to [coaching and mentoring] which is something I really enjoy and seek out opportunities for."

"I am constantly thinking about how I can appropriately respond to people around me while showing full engagement and compassion. This session about mentoring and coaching gave me a proper time to reflect on how we should be connecting and helping others."

"I would definitely enjoy being someone's mentor at ISP...All students could benefit from this [training], and hence this could be taught in...homeroom, for instance."

You can hear more about Carole's time with the students and her viewpoint on leadership in the 21st century by listening to Episode 2 of iSPeaks, the International School of Paris podcast. In the podcast interview Carole reminds students that they can practice their leadership skills despite not being in school. Participating in online activities or doing leadership exercises during social distancing can help keep leadership skills sharp.

Step 3: Practice Makes Perfect

A third step to honing leadership skills is practice. Carole shared her favourite leadership exercises and you can try them all by exploring the links below!

GROW Model: Goal, Reality, Options, Will. According to Carole, "this model can be used by both adults and young people to stay motivated and understand what it is they need to do to improve in their personal or professional life."

Wheel of Life: Carole says that this exercise "helps you to narrow down where exactly you need to get better in terms of skills, confidence or independence. It's often used as a starting point for coaches to have a conversation with coachees."

Jar Exercise: Carole included this exercise because it is "very good for students and adults alike who struggle with prioritising tasks and procrastinating in times of crisis/boredom." The jar is a metaphor for life, and the exercise encourages reflection about how we fill our lives. 

Active Listening Exercise: To do this exercise, Carole advises picking a person in your household and asking them a personal question. Next, really pay attention to his or her response, including body language and the atmosphere during the conversation. Also pay attention to yourself and whether you notice your thoughts drifting, or if you are able to fully focus on the conversation. Lastly, note your reflections on the experience and refer back to them each time you repeat the exercise.

Carole recommends this Ted Talk with Robert Waldinger to go even further. He talks about how happiness and success come from building networks and relationships with people. 

Says Carole: "The core of leadership is precisely this ability to build those relationships in a meaningful way. That's where happiness comes from. No leader can stand alone! A leader needs to be surrounded by the right people."

Perhaps a step 4 for a future blog...surround your students with the right people for success in leadership!

  • coaching
  • Complexity Hub
  • leadership
  • mentoring