Eighth graders are the de facto leaders of the Middle School, as the most senior students in the division. But being real leaders requires more than embracing their position in the hierarchy.
Beginning this year, eighth-grade faculty are more greatly emphasizing leadership at their grade level, finding new ways to work with students to help them understand what it means to be leaders as well as to develop the skills they need to lead and to put those skills to work for the benefit of themselves and others. It’s an initiative that will continue to be part of the grade-level curriculum moving forward.
True leaders understand that instilling a sense of belonging in a community helps people to work together towards a common goal.—Dr. Chandani Patel, director of equity and inclusion
“I am a firm believer that leadership is a skill that can be learned,” said Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education. “Anyone is capable of developing leadership skills.”
To kick off this year, faculty introduced the topic of leadership during three days of workshops in September. Students took part in several learning sessions focusing on the building blocks of leadership, including creating inclusive communities, identifying and developing club opportunities for the Middle School, and turning conflict into opportunities for connection and growth.
“True leaders understand that instilling a sense of belonging in a community helps people to work together towards a common goal,” said Dr. Chandani Patel, director of equity and inclusion. “Likewise, they see that working through difficult conversations can lead to greater understanding and strengthen group dynamics.”
Different types of leadership was also a topic of conversation in the workshops. While the concept of leadership may bring to mind someone being “in charge,” faculty wanted students to realize we all have a sphere of influence and impact on our community, and that there are many ways to lead: through helping to organize activities, communicate goals, create feelings of inclusion, or observe and record activities for later reference. “We want kids to recognize that leadership comes in a variety of forms,” said eighth-grade American studies teacher Mary Jo Marker.
Eighth grader Sabina L. found the workshops to be a valuable experience, both when it comes to identifying personal leadership styles and to remind students that a variety of resources are available to them as they uncover their leadership abilities. “We have the resources so we can get help from trusted adults. But they also have taught us how to communicate, and how to guide people and listen to people,” she said.
And the work is just beginning. The eighth graders will be putting their leadership skills into action throughout the year, first by leading several clubs available to students in sixth through eighth grades. During the September workshops, these students formed teams and came up with ideas for the clubs, then presented the options to their fellow middle schoolers. The clubs include Dungeons & Dragons, upcycled fashion, weightlifting, vegetarian cooking, and executive functioning. There is literally something for everyone, and by allowing eighth graders to focus on subjects they’re passionate about, the Middle School is getting them excited about practicing leadership.
Running the lacrosse club, I have developed skills to get people’s attention. I have also learned how to talk to them and give advice, when I used to be timid in doing that.—Halle P., class of 2027
“Running the lacrosse club, I have developed skills to get people’s attention,” said eighth grader Halle P. “I have also learned how to talk to them and give advice, when I used to be timid in doing that.”
Clubs will run through December, and while all groups are overseen by faculty, students will lead the activities at all times. Giving the students this opportunity not only builds leadership skills in them but is also directly aligned with the central vision of Rowland Hall: developing people the world needs.
“We hope students lean into leadership roles, strengthening their communication, self, and peer-advocacy skills,” said Charlotte Larsen, Middle School assistant principal. “We hope this creates a deepening of student leadership opportunities in the Middle School, highlighting student voice and choice in creating the community they want to engage with each day.”
Banner: Members of the Upcycled Fashion Club give old clothing new life.