Teacher Blogs

Learning to Lead in Middle School
Posted 08/22/2017 07:58AM

By Lisa Vardi, Director of Cross Divisional Curriculum

August 2017

I witnessed extraordinary Middle School learning and leadership on the Bullis campus this week at a time in our country when the qualities of good leadership are being debated.

Dedicated school leadership, thoughtful and articulate students and a talented group of Bullis parents came together to collaborate, think critically and share experiences about leadership. Mind you, this happened prior to the opening of school!

Twenty-six Bullis Middle School students came together for a three-day Emerging Leaders Academy Summer Retreat as part of a new program to develop effective leaders within the Middle School who embody the Bullis core values in all they do. Prior to the start of the retreat students, read two books (Hard Hat: The True Story about How to be a Great Teammate and Who Moved my Cheese?) and watched the movie, Apollo 13, to help root discussions and further explore the virtues of leadership including embracing change, teamwork, innovation and creativity. Dr. Moreno, Dr. Trammell, Ms. Henry and Mr. Daniels facilitated a number of retreat activities including small and large group discussions, small group teamwork, creative challenges, written reflections, and preparation for parent panel discussions, all within an encouraging and nurturing environment.

How best to embrace change was the topic of a panel discussion on Wednesday, August 16th. Bullis parents Avi Benaim, Nigel Brazier, Devin Cheema, Joe Lee, John McKew, Sara Romeyn answered student-prepared questions on the topic. One of the final questions, how does one deal with "smart" failure, elicited some wise responses. Ms. Cheema shared how different failure is perceived in the present generation: "Silicon Valley sees failure as so positive. If you are not pushing yourself enough to fail, you are not learning." Mr. McKew echoed the same sentiments about failure, saying "Most of what scientists do is fail. This is the way to learn."

These same sentiments on failure are what we discuss in educational circles, specifically in my doctoral program at Vanderbilt. We want students to fail, yet, does our grading system encourage exploration and the "safety" of failure? As students progress in grades, I do not think we do. I know I can do better to encourage the "safety" of failure in my own classroom. I look forward to doing so in my 9th grade Human Geography class this year.

This summer retreat was the kick-off to a year-long enrichment program which includes a total of 38 Bullis Middle School students who will participate in a series of leadership skill-building and community service activities. I look forward to watching the progress of these students and the talented Middle School faculty who will lead them in their journey.

Leadership development does not stop in the Middle School. It continues in many forms in the Upper School. One new offering this year is a new course called Leadership in Action, part of the Entrepreneurship Signature Program. The course will teach students to build and grow teams, identify leadership opportunities, and provide strong leadership at Bullis.The course will follow case studies on leadership, teams, ethics and will culminate in a leadership-in-action opportunity for students. As with the Middle School leadership training, it will be taught by a team of dedicated Bullis faculty including, Ms. Antokas, Mr. Pollicino, Mr. Steren, Dr. Trammell, and Ms. Vardi (me!).

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