Instilling Leadership in Our Youngest Students
As part of the Yew Chung International School of Beijing Student Leadership Programme, Primary and Secondary students are being introduced to what it takes to be an effective leader and communicator earlier than ever before! Recently, a selection of Primary School students from the Student Leadership Group participated in an entertaining leadership-building activity, the Go Games, held in partnership with the Hutong. We spoke with Primary School Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Mills on the impact of Primary School Leadership on our young representatives.
Please introduce the YCIS Beijing Primary Student Leadership Programme
Our student leadership group consists of an elected representative or two from each class in Years 2-6. They work with Karen Killeen, the head of our pastoral care committee. The group meets as a whole every two weeks to talk about things the student leaders feel they want to improve. Some of their initiatives have actually made a very big difference; one of the major goals of theirs was to make sure that students took better care of the bathrooms. As one of their initiatives, they designed a “Cleanest Bathroom” trophy to award students each week. They have criteria they judge each bathroom against, making sure each bathroom is clean, that water is turned off, etc. It’s been a very effective way to get students to keep their communal bathroom spaces tidy!
When was it introduced and why?
This year, there was a shift in the way we thought about this leadership group. Previously called Student Council, it used to only include students from Years 5 and 6. This year, we renamed it Student Leadership and included representatives from Years 2-6 to develop leadership from an even younger age. This year each student is also part of a little portfolio, e.g. environmental, financial, and so on; each of the students have a little area of expertise that they’re looking after.
What criteria is student selection based on? How do you select student leaders?
Students are elected by their peers in their student groups. During the election process, they had to present themselves and talk about why they’d make a good student leader. For this particular Go Games event, if we had some student leaders who couldn’t come, we went to the teachers to select which students they consider to have a strong potential in leadership who could benefit from this event.
What are the benefits/challenges of different year levels working together?
One of the major challenges for the children is that they have different ideas about different things, which requires them to develop their communication skills to come to agreements. For the older students, they have to be a bit more patient with the younger ones, an important quality for a leader to possess, while the younger ones have to rely on some of the older students for help and assistance, improving both sides’ collaboration skills. I think the multiage factor adds a new dimension to the group we didn’t see in previous years.
What activities does this programme offer?
All activities offered help to develop essential “soft skills” like critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, working in groups, etc. They aren’t necessarily cognitive skills like you’d learn in a classroom, but these skills are becoming more and more essential in our marketplace. We want our kids coming out of YCIS Beijing who’ve shown potential to be recognized developed at a young age. With this even greater emphasis on early development, it allows them to more smoothly transition into leadership roles in Secondary School and beyond.
Please describe the Go Games that students played. What were some of the exercises that students engaged in during the game?
We came up with this idea for a student leadership event so that we could actively upskill our youngest students. The Go Games was run in partnership with the Hutong, who came up with this program where students had to work in groups containing all year levels with a total of 21 students split into four groups with teachers accompanying each.
The students moved around campus with iPads that told them to visit specific locations where they encountered preloaded questions or challenges; for instance, at one location they were given stepping stones and were told to imagine there was a river. They had to pass the stones from one leader to the next in order to make it safely to the other side, picking up the stones they used as a bridge as they did.
How did this activity, along with Student Leadership, enhance students’ leadership and other soft skills?
Like any Primary School Leadership activity, it was full of great exercises to improve a variety of “soft skills.” The students improved their collaboration and critical thinking by talking through a variety of problems. During the activity, if your team ran into another group, you had to challenge them to a short performance competition, after which both groups needed to come to a consensus as to who was better. Any bickering would result in lost points, so diplomacy was necessary. It also helped students to realize that to be a leader doesn’t necessarily mean winning.
What do you hope that students took away from this workshop?
I hope that they understand that everyone has leadership qualities in them to develop and that people can improve themselves if there’s a willingness. I also hope they had a sense of achievement and that they had fun and made new friends. Student leadership meetings during the week are very work-heavy; students each have tasks to do and not much chance just to socialize. Finally, I hope they’re interested in continuing to nurture their leadership skills.