Teaching every student to lead

By Greg Whitby, 26 February 2020
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

There has been plenty of discussion this summer about what good leadership looks like. I like to think it’s a strength each of us needs to develop, including at school. So what are we teaching students about leadership?

In my school days, prefects had a bad reputation for either prissiness or tyranny. These days, the process for choosing student leaders tends to be more democratic.

But are we sometimes missing the opportunity to get students thinking about what makes a good leader? Do the loudest voices, the most outrageous or those who make the biggest promises get the gig? Is that what we want school leadership to be?

Often primary school captain elections are soon after the Canberra excursion, an iconic experience of school in Australia. This includes visiting the Australian Electoral Commission for a crash course in the quaint old notion of citizenship. There’s some useful learning in that for future voters (and indeed, candidates).

Do you remember when schools used to give out citizenship awards at assemblies? Some still do, and they’re a great way to recognise the leadership students consistently show as members of the school community. I reckon the kids who cleaned up the citizenship awards probably went pretty far in life.

Every school should still be striving to make sure every student has meaningful opportunities to develop strong leadership skills. Couldn’t we think differently about leadership, and show that we are all leaders in the structures we see at school?

I don’t believe there’s a place for presidential style leadership contests in the playground. I know that those who have coveted an SRC lapel badge may disagree, but I wonder how their 29 classmates (and their parents and carers) feel about it?

There is a high level of cynicism about political leadership in our community at the moment. What is this teaching children and young people about change and responsibility? Let’s make sure that every student is learning to lead at school, rather than to be led.

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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