Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
The young people in our schools are the country’s next generation of leaders. Schools who take seriously their responsibility for building tomorrow’s leaders value student voice. They also encourage leadership in many other ways. Unfortunately, the old model of school leadership where opportunities are contained to positions such as school captain, a sport or house captain or a member of the Student Representative Councils (SRC) or its equivalent is still the norm in many schools.
In my experience, the naturally gifted at sports were voted as sports captains and the most popular students often got the gig as school captain or vice-captain. The results of these votes always had to be endorsed by the school principal. However, I speak to many parents who lament that their child will never have the opportunity for leadership because they don’t ‘fit the mould’. How then do our schools develop the leadership capabilities of all students beyond these traditional roles?
It is a challenge for school communities because it means moving beyond the idea of ‘personality and popularity’ to finding meaningful ways in which every child can develop and exercise leadership. But it is possible.
I believe it starts with making schools more democratic and this means giving all students the opportunity to regularly express their views on issues that are important to them. It also means allowing students to take an active role in the direction of their learning. This develops greater accountability and responsibility. Young people need to be given opportunities to volunteer, to serve and to contribute to solving problems beyond the school gate. Once you start with the premise that every young person can be a leader, the opportunities present themselves.
Perhaps the most influential world leader right now on the issue of damaging climate change is 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg. I have no doubt there are so many other extraordinary young leaders are out there ready to make the world a better place, if given the opportunity.
Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta