Ask any parent about the skills they hope their kids develop as they grow up, and undoubtedly, leadership is fairly high on the list. Leadership is a highly sought-after trait in both the personal and professional realms — after all, how many times have you told your kids that they shouldn’t blindly follow others, but be themselves and take initiative?
But for all of the talk about how we want our kids to be leaders, there isn’t as much discussion about how to go about developing their leadership qualities. Usually, by the time they hit high school a few natural leaders rise to the top, but for those who aren’t born with an innate desire to be class president and more, how can we foster leadership skills?
As it turns out, a major piece of the equation is community, especially in school.
What Is Community
Many schools these days have made community a significant part of their curriculum. But what is a school community, exactly?
The typical definition of a school community is that it is the group of stakeholders — individuals (including parents, students, and teachers), groups, agencies, organizations, and businesses that have a vested interested in the welfare of the school. However, within a specific school environment, the definition goes much deeper than just “We care about the school.”
When educators refer to a school community, they are referring to the deep connections that the community members have with the school, and with each other. Community is closely tied to the culture of the school; a school with a strong community makes everyone feel included, heard, and cared for, giving them a sense of shared purpose and investment in the success of the school.
Community is vital to a functioning, successful education environment. When everyone feels as if they are part of the community, they are more involved and committed to the success of the school. From a student’s perspective, a sense of community helps form their identity; students who are applying to American Hebrew Academy, for example, do so because they want to discover and refine who they are within a like-minded community.
Everyone wants to belong to something and feel that their needs will be met, whether they are social, emotional, or educational. And in many cases, when a student feels like they are an important and valued part of the community, they remain committed for life.
Community and Leadership
So what does all of this talk about community have to do with leadership? Well, studies show that strong communities foster strong leadership. In fact, one of the hallmarks of a functioning community is a sense of shared leadership, with many diverse perspectives and voices contributing to the running of the community.
In the educational realm, this means allowing students to have a voice in the issues that affect them, and giving them opportunities to engage in initiatives designed to improve the school community. By modeling processes for change and governance, rallying support from stakeholders, and listening to diverse perspectives, you show students what leadership really is, and help them develop the skills and confidence necessary to lead in their own lives.
As you evaluate educational options for your child, pay close attention to discussions of community. Most schools will tout the leadership opportunities for students through sports, student government, and other extracurricular activities, but ask questions about how the school fosters a sense of community.
For example, ask:
- What opportunities are there for feedback and discussion about the curriculum and other aspects of the school, for both parents and students?
- Are parents invited to sit on boards or committees? What type of student representation is there?
- How do you foster community among students? Are there events, service projects, etc. that allow them to stretch out of their comfort zones and be a part of the community?
- What role does the school play in the larger community? Do you conduct outreach, or encourage students to extend their leadership building beyond the confines of campus?
By asking questions to get a sense of the school community before you enroll your child, you can find an environment that will help foster your child’s leadership skills while also creating a sense of belonging for the entire family. Community may only be a piece of the leadership puzzle, but it’s an important one, so don’t overlook this important consideration.