A few years ago, I read a blog by a well-respected headteacher who wrote about developing leadership in a school as a rainforest grows. This is a well-versed principle. Trees in the rainforest begin as saplings protected by the canopy; they strive to reach the light that is offered by the prospect of reaching the lofty heights of adulthood. As time progresses over many years, they then reach this goal; one or two of this leafy army emerge above the canopy as the giants of the forest. It is clearly an analogy that works in many walks of life, but it is particularly applicable to schools. We can view our Nursery and Reception children as the saplings, the Years 7&8s as the canopy and then the more senior prefects as the giants that emerge from the top. Of course, like a rainforest, a school is self-replenishing. As the giants in the forest fall, new trees grow to capture the light that is offered by the space and new giants reach their peaks. In a school, as the Year 8 make their journey to the senior school of choice, new Reception children join in the September and new prefects are chosen.
Leadership is a key concern of schools for both children and teachers and this is something that is more pressing now than ever. We live in an age where there seems to be a lack of leadership at world level and where sound-bite is more important than principle. Schools have a duty to educate and this includes literacy and numeracy, creative and artistic pursuits, sporting opportunity and achievement; however, it also must include character development. The ability to look someone in the eye when shaking their hand; the desire to genuinely take an interest when asking after another; standing up for what they believe and being able to articulate their meaning. While these may sound relatively straight-forward and perhaps unambitious, they are some of the most difficult attributes to embed in a child and a challenge for every school. The world is a scary place and it is easier to take a path of non-engagement. In fact, sometimes it is a far safer option and many of us may recall overhearing a conversation that was perhaps racist or sexist in nature and not being willing to challenge it for fear of jeopardising our own position.
It has been a delight to see the staff at Daneshill work so hard on establishing these positive leadership behaviours. We try to give the pupils the confidence to emerge from the pack and to take responsibility. To act with integrity and to be consistent; to be diligent, kind and to have a concern for the happiness and success of others. I have witnessed this many times during my first half-term here. The Year 7&8 pupils have been outstanding by leading the younger children during wet breaks, the ability to converse and perform with the confidence that some children have shown during assemblies or in interview practice. Most recently the tours conducted by the Year 8 on Open Day which were met with huge enthusiasm by the prospective parents and arranged with huge pride by the school. We could genuinely say to these parents that we had not cherry-picked their tour guides, we had used the entire Year 8 group. The Year 8 then interviewed our Deputy Head candidates and once again showed these teachers everything Daneshill has to offer.
Leadership is not easily defined but it is easily recognised when successful. This is partly because we can see the growth in the individual leader, but more importantly because we can see the way that they bring out the best in others. It is an ongoing challenge for us to teach the skills required to achieve this. There is a truth in what the American Football coach Vince Lombardi once said:
“Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”