What are five qualities of leadership in today's world and how do you become a successful leader? Those were two of the questions Grade 8 students from Landon and Holton-Arms School answered at a Leadership Symposium held at Holton on April 10.
Five Landon and Holton Middle School teachers and 35 students developed the program. Work began in the fall as the group identified five traits of leadership: self-awareness, courage, confidence, being present, and vulnerability. Students recognized quickly that one of the most important traits of a good leader is a person's ability to connect with others.
They also discussed the challenge inherent in each of these characteristics, and why it is important for leaders to practice these qualities, as well as related behaviors—including putting down cell phones to listen to others and being willing to address difficult topics with one another. The Grade 8 leaders recognized in particular how much they can learn about themselves and their peers when they share personal stories, and wanted to provide that same opportunity for their classmates.
"We, the teachers, wanted the students to learn what they have in common with one another and see through some of the masks they wear," said Eighth Grade History Teacher and Middle School Student Council Advisor Sarah DeCamps. "And just by telling these stories to each other, they exhibited courage, confidence, and vulnerability—traits that do not always come naturally."
The Leadership Symposium included three parts, each led and presented entirely by students, including a presentation about the five qualities of leadership, a symposium highlighting these characteristics through students' personal stories in the form of speeches and slam poetry, and discussion groups about positive community leaders who embody these characteristics.
"Their presentations were powerful," recalls DeCamps. "The students stood up in front of 150 of their peers and told very moving stories about everything from issues of race, gender, power, and segregation to struggles like moving, having sick family members, feeling excluded, or dealing with developmental disabilities. To see 14-year-olds stretch themselves in this way and talk openly about difficult issues was inspiring. Each speaker embodied the leadership traits they were discussing: self-awareness, courage, confidence, and vulnerability."
Earlier in the school year, Grade 8 boys had written personal speeches in their English classes, and the Landon faculty identified students whose speeches exemplified the leadership traits that were the Symposium's focus. Likewise, Holton's Grade 8 girls had written poetry about issues of importance to them, and their teachers invited some of the girls to present their work.
Along with DeCamps, Landon Form II Dean and English Teacher Eric Harrison, Landon Form II English Teacher Jamie Sorge, and Holton-Arms faculty counterparts, Carrie Braun and Lea Hunerkoch, led the program on behalf of the faculty.