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Lessons in Leadership

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

We celebrate many milestones at Breck: the first day of school, partnering of our senior buddies, eighth grade graduation and commencement day. But one thing that isn’t often as celebrated is the transition to fourth grade.

What makes fourth grade important? Fourth graders are the leaders of the Lower School and for them, it is the first time they have the chance to serve as role models for their peers.

In order to help these Lower School leaders understand and develop into their new-found roles, the fourth-grade faculty developed a leadership curriculum for students.

“We realized that we kept saying to our fourth graders that they are the leaders of the Lower School,” says Tara Feeney, fourth-grade teacher. “But we never really defined what ‘leader’ or ‘leadership’ meant. We thought it was really important to develop a curriculum around some of the leadership skills that we want to instill in our fourth graders.”

Watch the fourth grade chant!

The curriculum is centered around four themes: lead, team, serve and pride, and includes events and activities throughout the year.

“To kick it off in the fall, we have a leadership day where the kids go through a group of rotations,” says Feeney. Each station is designed to build community and develop an understanding of leadership themes.

“The station focusing on ‘lead’ included discussions on the qualities of leadership. This year we did a Venn diagram talking about the word ‘servant’ and the word ‘leader’ and how those two relate to one another.”

Students selected words to describe each word individually and then discussed those words that described them both.

“I found out that there are many things that are similar,” says Patrick, a fourth grader in Karen Pape’s classroom. “Some of those things that were similar were being kind and being empathetic.”

The ‘pride’ station allowed students to write their own spirit chant around leadership. Students will use the chant throughout the year as they cheer each other on in the fourth grade.

“For the ‘team’ station we worked with Peggy Fifield in the Physical Education department to lead a communication activity with the human knot,” says Feeney. Students had to learn how to untie the knot by communicating in different ways – teaching them that communication is very important but so is listening.”

Finally, students completed their rotations by creating their own unique puzzle piece. The pieces each contained a letter and together, form words that describe leadership. The mural is on display outside of the Lower School office.

At the end of the day, some students reflected on their work by writing blogs for their class.

Patrick says, “To be a good leader, or to have good leadership, you need to have many different qualities that go well together. Some of those qualities could be being a good teammate, being able to serve people, being prideful but also being modest, and of course, being willing to lead.”

Nyrah says, “I learned that being a leader is not just about leading people, it is also about helping people who need extra help.”

Other students reflected on what they learned through each activity of the day. But more than just learning about leadership, the Leadership Curriculum is also about building community.

“We really find that it gives them more vocabulary and more of a common language to talk about some of these skills,” says Feeney.

Throughout the year the students have the opportunity to lead within the Lower School as well.

“One of the cool things is that they biddy for the preschool and kindergartners,” Feeney adds. “You can just see the preschool and kindergarteners’ eyes light up. It’s like they’re superheroes to them. A lot of these kids have come through the Lower School watching the fourth graders. Now they get to be the mentors.”

Leadership day also included presentations by the Breck Student Body president, Gigi Gunderson, as well as the Mayor of Golden Valley, Shep Harris.

Throughout the year, students will spend time learning about servant leadership, a theme that permeates throughout Breck.

“Service learning and being a leader is echoed throughout our whole school,” says Feeney. "This opens their eyes to the service projects happening here.”

And it couldn’t be more important, especially for these young leaders.

“Service learning is vitally important to these kids,” Feeney adds. “These kids are the changemakers of the future. They have the chance to make a difference in the world so why not start preparing them to make a difference as they move through Breck. Instilling this in them early will really make them life-long learners and servant leaders.”

This year’s fourth graders participated in leadership day on October 28. They will participate in leadership activities throughout the year, which will culminate with a field trip to Feed My Starving Children in the spring.