While many schools may not look at kindergarten students as leaders, Inly provides five-year-olds with a unique opportunity to be leaders and explore what that it means to them. On the day before school begins, Inly invites incoming kindergarten students to join the incoming third, sixth, and eighth graders for a Student Leadership Summit. This year, approximately 50 students attended the September 6 event, where the oldest students in each level come together to learn and discuss what it means to be a good leader, both inside and outside the classroom.
The mix of students is a critical piece of the Summit’s success. Younger students not only get the chance to spend time with older counterparts, but they gain confidence from being in a peer group together. Older students have a chance to flex their leadership muscles and mentor the younger ones. This type of multi-age learning is a foundation of the Montessori philosophy and an important aspect of Inly’s community.
The Summit began with a pizza lunch in the Meehan Family Artsbarn. Head of School Donna Milani Luther welcomed the group and explained, “Many of you have been in your classrooms for quite a while. We are expecting you to be leaders and to help the other children in your classroom. We are expecting that you are going to help them in a respectful way.”
Students worked in multi-age groups to discuss what makes a good leader. Each group outlined one of its members on a large piece of paper, and then wrote or drew their interpretation of the qualities of a good leader on the inside of the body outline. Common qualities were responsibility, caring, and listening. Other traits included: reliability, honor, empathy, compassion, and creativity.
Later, students worked in groups split by age level with a focus on more practical, day-to-day scenarios. The kindergarteners talked about how they would work together in different situations, like when other students are disruptive in class, and then they acted out how they would deal with the situations. Third graders used role plays and discussion to explore the “right” and “wrong” situations and how to manage different personalities. The sixth and eighth graders worked in teams to determine, by consensus, the most important items they would need if they were stranded in a desert. At the end of the day, everyone came back together and shared insight on their small group work.
Valery Billings, a Children’s House teacher who helped lead the Summit, was impressed with the student interaction. One participant told her that being a good leader needs “to listen, to listen to what the other person has said to you, and not to respond right away…but to listen to their ideas, and to take those ideas into consideration and build on them.”
Defining and practicing leadership skills now is an important step Inly students take in their educational journeys toward becoming “global citizens” who are responsible, caring, and creative.