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In with the new: the Waterkloof House Preparatory School learner leadership model

| March 26, 2013 | 0 Comments

By Brigitte Theunissen

Waterkloof House Preparatory School (WHPS) would like to share with other schools our progressive values-driven learner leadership model, intended to prepare WHPS boys to take up their roles and responsibilities as good citizens in a fast-changing national and global context.

The old

Since 1953, WHPS had used a learner leadership model organised around prefects and a head boy. This leadership model had a number of significant shortfalls, namely:

  • It focused on leadership identification via a ‘winner takes all’ approach. As a result, leadership opportunities for the majority of boys were reduced.
  • It was built on a ladder system and the onus was mainly on the child to progress up the ladder. However, experience has shown that most of the boys were too young to fully understand, appreciate and fully benefit from the process.
  • The boys played roles that were often more ceremonial in nature and less focused on developing real leadership skills. • The system encouraged unnecessary and even unfair competition among the learners and among parents, diluting the potential educational benefits for the boys.
  • Boys and parents who perceived themselves as not worthy tended not to buy into the process, thus compromising the legitimacy and validity of the system as a whole and, at times, even compromising values and discipline.
  • Boys attached too much importance to whether or not they moved up on the leadership ladder.

The new

The new learner leadership model embodies a number of strategic shifts, the most notable of which are:

The new learner leadership model embodies a number of

strategic shifts, the most notable of which are:

  • It anchors leadership in the WHPS values. Leadership involves outlining a personal vision for each boy and committing to a set of values in an explicit way. Discipline is about putting values into practice so that boys learn the following vital leadership skills: to serve the school community, be responsible and honest, foster a vision, define your own goals, think ‘win-win’ and prioritise. Other leadership skills we believe in inculcating include: synergising and working with others to determine and achieve collective goals; carrying commitments through to a successful conclusion; practising being active, reflective listeners who respond effectively; respecting oneself and earning the respect of others; and taking stock of oneself regularly.
  • It provides equitable access to leadership opportunities for all learners, rather than a select few. Every Grade 7 boy is made a monitor and remains a monitor for his entire year. But each boy has equitable access to leadership development opportunities.
  • It instils broad-based leadership skills. All learners have the potential to develop and demonstrate leadership skills over time. Whilst not every boy will necessarily become a great leader, the leadership potential of each boy needs to be unlocked so that each boy can become the best leader he can be.
  • It balances individuality with group dynamics. Synergy is about maximising the benefits of working in deep collaboration with others.
  • It ensures that opportunities for leadership are rotated among learners. Learners will have the opportunity to serve on all the committees and apply their leadership skills in different areas.
  • It is partnership driven. The sustainability of the leadership model is premised on the understanding that since it potentially benefits all learners and, through their efforts, the local community as well, there will be greater buy-in and engagement by all learners, parents, teachers, the school and the local community, thus creating new partnerships in support of continued leadership initiatives.
  • It catalyses learners’ awareness and enhances the value of leadership at WHPS. Learners will realise that their views are important to teachers and management and that they can influence what happens at school. These opportunities can be of particular significance to groups of learners who do not enjoy school.

• It is integrated in the WHPS curriculum and focuses on good citizenship. WHPS now offers a much broader range of experiences for a larger group of students under the umbrella of student leadership. Teachers build understandings and skills across the total curriculum and the many varied aspects of school life. The programme introduces the idea of self-knowledge, moves onto teamwork and then focuses on renewal. In this way, learners develop their individual capacity to lead and influence others in a responsible manner. Leadership activities link strongly with learning about citizenship and the processes involved in a democracy that values social justice.

  • It develops participation and leadership skills in all learners through specific programmes, such as:
    • the school committee structure, which includes:
      • community service
      • class monitors
      • lunch monitors
      • break monitors
      • sport monitors
      • the eco committee o captaincy (house, sport teams) o peer support o buddy systems o debating, public speaking o visual, creative and performing arts o curriculum involvement/activities in the classroom o information technology.
  • It allows for ‘multiple need and speed development’ and not ‘one size or one speed fits all’!Whilst all boys have equal access to leadership development opportunities, actual development and the timing of development may differ from individual to individual. The model allows for the potential of the individual to be exploited fully by identifying and promoting a range of styles of learner leadership, matching individual learners to particular styles that best suit them and allowing them to grow in the time that best suits each individual.
  • It recognises and incentivises progress in leadership development. Achievements will be celebrated in written and oral forms, such as:
    • newsletters
    • school assemblies and functions
    • merit certificates: every half- term, certificates will be awarded for ‘Recognition for Leadership Duties’
    • special personalised functions.

Hatching special eggs

CS Lewis reminds us that: “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”1


1. Lewis, C.S. (1996) Mere Christianity. New York: Touchstone.

Category: Autumn 2013

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