The joy of being a Primary School leader is that whenever the pressure and heat is turned up in the office, the playground provides the opportunity for some restoration and rejuvenation. This ensures that I am well positioned to navigate the balance of my day successfully as I am wrapped in the warmth and care of the various child greetings I receive alongside the vibrant energy of students delighting in the possibilities of playing in an environment and interacting with other humans.
Without fail the one thing I observe in the playground dynamic is that depending on what is taking place in the social interaction or game at hand, different combinations or individual students emerge as the leader. This natural dynamic is indeed the most sought after skillset in the world at large. The uncertainty of the future has increased the call to grow a specific range of skills in our young so that they can lead when the need arises in order to meet their own and community needs.
Early leadership theories spanning from the 1800s up to 1940, identified a select small proportion of people who had specific traits and/or demonstrated certain behaviours were qualified to lead the masses as the designated leader. These theories have been replaced by the most current understandings of agile authentic leadership which focuses on all members of a system as co-contributors who can remain high functioning and creative within an ever-changing landscape. Today, importance is placed on information gathering when responding to what is happening in the physical world as well as the social world. It is this agile adaptive leadership that is nurtured in students from Year K through to Year 6 as students reflect on their personal state of being and actions, gather information to deepen their understanding of the people and world around them and use strategies to regulate themselves into a good space so that they can interact with the challenges and contexts at hand in the best possible way, just like a great leader would.
After working in the domain of student growth for leadership for many years I have identified six areas that form the building blocks underpinning leadership. These areas are grown purposefully in the Moriah College Primary School students and can be promoted easily by parents at home. I’ve included them below and suggested how to put each into practice.
Being a leader means that your child is willing to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions. Personal responsibility is shown when your child is accountable for their behaviour, for their belongings and for the welfare of others. Practical ways to develop responsibility include:
- Giving them responsibility for a certain part of their day such as getting themselves out of bed each morning
- Encouraging them to restore relationships with others including siblings when they mess up
- Taking responsibility for household chores including resolving problems if they forget to do them
The ability to share your message clearly and powerfully with others is the greatest skill any person could acquire. As children move into any leadership position, be it in play or in an academic context, they are required to speak publicly. Their communication skills can be developed through regular one-on-one or small group experiences at home and at school. Practical ways to develop your child’s communication skills include:
- One-on-one conversations with adults about a wide variety of issues and topics
- Regular discussions at the meal table where children learn to share their thoughts, listen to others and report on events of the day
- Reinforce school-based learning on how brains work. Your child has learnt how the striatum lights up when they extend a kind or supportive discourse with other children or assist a peer or sibling to resolve a conflict. Similarly they understand that when they are stuck in the amygdala and are deep in fight or flight response they need to move into the pre-frontal cortex to connect again with the options available to them to make smart choices.
- Encourage your child to participate fully in speaking activities at school and at home so that they can debate, deepen their understanding and elaborate upon their explanations. Sometimes the adults need to exercise extreme patience in this context and instead of filling the gaps in their oral narrative rather ask them to help you understand the idea or what else they can tell you.
The ability to organise yourself and others is central to effective leadership. Thinking what needs to be done, planning ahead and making time for what is important but not urgent, are basic organisational skills at the heart of personal effectiveness and leadership. Practical ways to develop organisational skills include encouraging your child to:
- Keep their personal space including their bedroom tidy and organised
- Use a digital or paper-based diary to help manage their time
- Organise a weekly chores roster including all members of the family
Effective leaders are masters at cooperating, encouraging and accepting others. During collaborative group work challenges, team events and even individual learning activities; the capacity to be curious, challenge assumptions, learn from mistakes and use different experiences to firm up personal learning. A family is a great place to develop a sense of teamwork in children as it naturally requires them to stop and be curious about what is happening in their home and compromise or adjust their own stance for the sake of keeping the peace or achieving an outcome. Practical ways to develop a sense of teamwork include:
- Encouraging children to share their time, possessions, and spaces with other family members
- Practise teamwork at home by encouraging family members to cook and do other chores together
- Emphasise the role of being part of a team by focusing on your child’s contribution to a team or group rather than individual achievement
An underestimated quality shared by most admired leaders is their ability to remain calm when things don’t go well. This emotional intelligence skill requires self-awareness, an ability to identify their own emotions and respond appropriately to the emotions of others. Our educators frequently refer to the traffic light system so students identify whether they are running red hot and escalated, amber into simmering into a pre-escalated state or perfect green where they are at a calm baseline and ready to engage with others purposefully and insightfully. Parents can nurture these skills in the following way:
- Help your child recognise their emotions by referring to the traffic light system or a 0 to 10 “aggro-barometer” “Could it be that this makes your angry?”
- Help your child recognise emotions in others. “How do you think your brother or your friend feels right now?”
- Discuss emotions of characters in books, television programs and movies. “How you think that character felt when he was rejected by his friends?” “How could the character have changed his reactions to turn a bad situation into something great?”
Everyone appreciates kindness and generally people complete acts of kindness for different reasons. Our Primary School students are trained in this area through community service initiatives such as Boots for Africa which gives to those less fortunate than ourselves and the buddy system which encourages older children to support younger students to build their skill and connectivity. Similarly same age buddy systems encourage an abundance mentality and a climate that grows everyone in the space as there is only enough opportunity for one superhuman. Writing letters to children experiencing the latest conflict in Israel or understanding the importance of those students who cooked for the less fortunate in Kids Giving Back ensures that it becomes second nature for our students to enact kindness. The warm glow that follows an act of kindness has been researched to encourage further kindness which facilitates wellbeing in students and heightened functioning. Additionally, research has shown that mirroring occurs when individuals show an emotion: smiles beget smiles and warmth elicits a warm response. It is frequent that the networking and the building of connections and the return of a good deed that comes out of a positive or generous action are often followed by the same in return.
The home environment is perfectly positioned to encourage this aspect of servant leadership which builds others and improves outcomes and productivity. It also leads to a personal identity associated with kindness, be it kindness to the planet, to animals or to people with different needs.
Parents can nurture these skills by:
- Acknowledging acts of kindness in the home in support of parents or siblings
- Giving children responsibility for enacting acts of kindness to the elderly or the less fortunate as well as their own siblings
Leaders are needed in all walks of life – at work, in school, in families, in sport and in the wider community. The skills of leadership are best developed in the first group that children belong to – their family. By encouraging your child to be a contributing, responsible, caring family member you will be going a long way toward developing their innate leadership capabilities. Home environments will most certainly be happier places with all the leader inhabitants pulling in the right direction and the school environment will see high performing students interacting as the best sort of skilful leaders in both academic and informal contexts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.