Chicago area schools preparing kids to lead us all into the future

Today’s world is constantly changing, and students need to be able to be prepared not only for what is going on right now, but to be able to adapt to what might come in the future.

“It’s difficult to know exactly what the future will look like,” says Kate Cicchelli, principal at Bennett Day School in Chicago’s West Loop. “Tomorrow’s leaders will need to be nimble, adaptive and strong collaborators.”

She says a project-based approach like the one offered at Bennett will empower young leaders for an unpredictable future.

The school uses a progressive, Reggio Emilia-inspired program that believes children learn through questioning, exploring and discovering.

The school emphasizes social awareness and participation, and builds a strong sense of community.

“With carefully crafted activities, materials and questions, we find our students taking increasing, developmentally appropriate risks,” Cicchelli says. “Great leaders lead by listening, understanding, empathizing and innovating methods for change and growth.”

One way the sense of community is fostered is through weekly all-school morning meetings, where students of different levels have different responsibilities. The older students are encouraged to take responsibility for younger students, and work together to solve school issues.

“The (older) students brought to the attention of all students at Bennett Day that they felt the indoor play space was too noisy of an environment and suggested ways they could improve this,” she says. “This is now a quieter space, thanks in a large part to the leadership of the (older) students. This is a powerful example of real-world problem-solving for young children.”

Teaching young children to be leaders is something that’s infused into every facet of the educational experience at Montessori Academy Chicago, says Head of School Fosca Shackleton White. Leadership is not only built into classroom activities, but into every aspect of school life, she says.

Students learn to work collaboratively not only with their classmates but with students in other grades, she says.

“(Older students) work in the nursery level reading to the children and assisting the younger children with their routines,” she says. “They also have community jobs like doing laundry, shopping for snacks and helping with the morning car line.”

Students also act as escorts for visitors to the building and help with monthly open houses, she says. Older students also are responsible for planning their own field trips and doing community service work, she says.

“These might not sound like leadership activities, but it requires cooperation and accepting ownership of a task,” she says. “They also need to learn to be a leader at one moment and a follower at another, and be able to shift back and forth.”

At British School of Chicago, all students have the opportunity to be leaders.

At the secondary school, students have the opportunity to serve on the student council and work with school officials to discuss topics including school uniforms, clubs, activities and charity events.

“Student Council is a powerful tool to not only raise student voices in our school, but it also teaches children how to speak publicly, think outside the box for ways to further improve their environment and gives them an opportunity to lead their peers,” says Danielle Stone, primary student council leader at British.

In middle and high school, students elect head students to represent them. They have house captains who lead their members in school competitions and spirit events.

They also have other opportunities, including mentoring programs, clubs, and music productions. Leadership qualities including personal values, respect, communication, thoughtfulness and cooperation are incorporated into the curriculum.

“We use these skills to solve problems in our daily interactions with others, and prepare our students to interact positively within the world community,” says Demelza Wheeler-Ozanne, primary international primary curriculum leader. “This curriculum also teaches history, geography and society lessons by focusing on skills-based learning which provides the children with adaptable skills to use in all of their future endeavors through to high school, college and beyond.”

Chicago Grammar School uses a holistic approach to teaching students how to be good leaders, says Phillip Jackson, the school’s executive director.

The school’s curriculum is based around a classical education, focusing on history and literature.

“Inherent to a classical education is to teach the values that we hold strongly here in Western civilizations,” he says. That means studying issues like individual rights and the dignity of man and discussing how those ideas started and why they are valued.

“We start history in first grade, looking at things and how they interconnect,” he says. The subject matter is tailored to the grade level, with older grades building upon the foundations they learned in earlier years.

The school teaches logic and skepticism and developing critical thinking skills.

“The school’s motto is ‘Sapere aude,’ which means ‘dare to know,’” he says. “Question and look at the truth you’ve been told, and determine the truthfulness of what you’re going to believe and act upon.”

Those critical thinking skills teach students the foundation to what they need to become leaders later in life.

“It’s very intellectual and heady, and the kids might not totally understand that’s what we’re doing, but we’re planting the seeds for later in life, so they can be a leader, as opposed to a follower,” he says.

Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.

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