When I first started teaching, I remember a student election that was quite controversial. One of the “bad” kids decided to run for president and he was very likely to win. This was not a kid that cared about necessarily improving the school, but wanted to prove that he could win the election because that is how little “student leadership” meant to the students. His platform was run on the idea that he would win the election, and then do nothing. He eventually bowed out but he had made his point. To be honest, the student council was a joke to many and this student was just proving it.
So why did the kids consider it a joke? Most likely because student leadership in school had no real ownership over anything (at the time). Yes they would organize dances (based on how many we would let them have and only if teachers would supervise), but other than that, there was not much the students could do. They had no say in how things were taught in school or could they really talk about how they would want to learn. There were a lot of active kids that would organize things, but only if they were allowed.
Without ownership, there can be no leadership.
When I came to my current school division, I remember my first principal putting me “in charge” of technology within the school. I had heard similar sentiments before, yet when it came to decisions in my past schools, I was not asked for input. That was a role for administrators, not for “teachers”. Throughout the year though, I was continuously asked by my principal on my thoughts, and saw my input not only being valued, but also use for implementation. At the end of the year, when the budget was put together, I was asked to look after the technology portion and make the decisions for purchasing. At first I was astounded by being able to “oversee” this, and my principal simply told me, “I have hired you for your knowledge in this area and it only makes sense that you make the decisions.” My dedication to the school rose exponentially because now if initiatives succeeded or failed in this area, it was my responsibility.
I continuously have been given leadership opportunities within Parkland School Division that are tied with the ownership over the process and results. When I became principal, my hours were much longer, because I cared a ton about the success of the school, but I was okay with this because I loved what I was doing. With that being said, my focus was to transfer the ownership to our school community to build leadership.
When I realized how much more job satisfaction I had, when I was trusted to help move our school forward (in all my positions), I wanted to give as many people that same ownership that I felt and continuously develop leadership. Not only did my staff lead our professional development, but they also defined the goals for the school. If the goals were not achieved, it was on all of us, not just the principal. People stepped up and did an amazing job for our school. There was no more “passing the buck” to someone else; these was our goals, our implementation, and we all shared in the success and failures.
We often talk about developing leadership, but if people do not have the opportunity to own it, how far can they really go?