The St John’s College leadership model
The challenge St John’s faces, which is also shared by parents, is how to shape wonderful boys into exceptional men. For generations St John’s has been aspiring to produce young men who are “well trained in body, mind and character to serve Thee well”. The reality is, of course, that boys are not always wonderful, and the men who are shaped are not always exceptional. The reality of all our human endeavour is that sometimes we are wonderful and exceptional, but most of the time we are just ordinary, we don’t take the lead and we make mistakes, but hopefully we learn from them and can pick ourselves up and aspire to do better.
Our leadership programme is an acknowledgement that leadership can be learnt, and everyone should therefore be given the opportunity to learn. We recognise that all senior boys at St John’s must be given the opportunity to develop as leaders, gain knowledge of themselves and develop the maturity to take responsibility for their actions. Our programme has been carefully thought out with the support of the housemasters and the school executive. It has been adapted from a similar programme running at Upper Canada College, Toronto, one of the top boys schools in Canada, and with St John’s, also a member of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition. Essential to its success is the concept of support for each boy from his tutor, who acts to monitor, encourage and challenge him. The programme allows boys to experience and reflect on their leadership practice and grow in character and courage as they deal with both success and failure.
The past practice at St John’s was that the choice of school and house prefects was based on the votes of boys and staff. The choice was thus based on their success and popularity in previous years. The boys chosen to be prefects were then put into a position of power and privilege. On the whole this system worked reasonably well, and the innate quality of the boys chosen, together with the support of their parents and the housemaster, often moulded them into good leaders. However, this model had weaknesses. There was an overemphasis on position, with little emphasis on skills, knowledge and character building. The truth is also that several boys, once made prefects, did very little to earn the respect of their peers, teachers and the boys. Some even abused the authority they had been given. In addition, this model led to significant frustration for those boys who were capable of learning to lead others, but were not selected. In fact, there were always those who even though not selected proved to be outstanding leaders, but who could not enjoy the formal acknowledgement of being a prefect.
Our current model has the following characteristics: Each candidate will:
- Have a specific portfolio in his house or in the school where he will be able to exercise leadership
- Have the opportunity to mentor a junior and help him to succeed at St John’s
- Need to serve the wider community through participation in the community service programme
- Need to exercise a leadership role in the school by setting an example to others of the high standards of personal behaviour, industry and integrity
- Attend lessons on leadership, which will increase his knowledge and understanding of the different leadership paradigms. Senior Tutors in each house will be able to reflect back to the boys in their progress and guide them
Ultimately we would like the pupil leader of St John’s to have learnt to take responsibility for himself, act with integrity and demonstrate courage. We would wish him to have the self-esteem to see himself as a leader, with a dynamic understanding of the role and with the ability to work effectively in a team where he would value collaboration and diversity. Leaders are helped to develop a clear understanding of self. They learn to lead in contexts of ambiguity and complexity. They learn to be creative, value and nurture relationships even when difficult, and learn to hold people accountable. A leader at St John’s would demonstrate a willingness to accept failure, frustrations, and “road blocks” and learn from them. They would love the work, not the title, and in all of this be generous and appreciate a lightness of heart.
A tough challenge, but one that is worth the endeavour, because we want to provide the opportunity to shape wonderful boys into exceptional men.