A group of ten-year-olds earnestly discusses whose life they will affect — the young woman in Indonesia whose village needs water filters, or the young man in Jordan trying to pay his school fees?
The students are debating where to direct the funds they’ve raised. Their project, done in collaboration with Kiva.org, instills the belief that — regardless of age — everyone can make a difference in the lives of people all over the world.
Kiva is just one example of setting the bar high and stretching students’ capabilities. The following are three ways schools can help grow these experiences and help even very young students see themselves as highly capable individuals:
1. Treat children as competent learners who can navigate their campus, manage their own schedules, leverage technology, present ideas and work in groups to solve real-world problems.
2. Teach students how to be strong, clear and persuasive communicators. These are exceptional leadership skills which will serve them throughout life — whether they want to be a scientist, entrepreneur, artist or CEO.
3. Give structure but also a lot of space. It’s in that space where confidence, independence and leadership grow. As Gareth Fancher, head of St. Luke’s Middle School in New Canaan says, “Trying, failing, learning from mistakes. Working together to find new solutions. I can’t imagine a better way to learn than to do.”
Parents also play a tremendous role in building the confidence to lead in their children. When parents allow children to take greater responsibility for learning — handling homework, meeting with a teacher independently, overcoming inevitable obstacles — they’re signaling that they believe in their child’s ability to figure it out. The result: students perceive themselves as people who can learn, contribute, and lead.
Jim Foley is the assistant head of school for leadership & innovation at St. Luke’s School in New Canaan. St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school serving grades 5-12. For more info, visit stlukesct.org.