Outstanding teachers have a wide repertoire of strategies to engage the learners in their care. Across Early years, Primary School and beyond, I have had the pleasure of working with teachers who excel at facilitating student leadership. Without a doubt, students who are empowered as leaders are also empowered as learners. So how can we create opportunities for our learners to be leaders? Here are some examples of great practice I’ve seen in recent years:
Plan my day
Classroom management in an Early Years setting requires flexibility and endless patience. Some of the most exciting learning environments I’ve seen in Early Years have student leadership at the centre of all learning. 4 year olds self-register and create their own activity plan for the day using visual timetables of learning tasks and then review and reflect them at the end of the day. The student led nature of learning in Early Years promotes leadership as children can direct themselves towards tasks and activities.
Helping hands is a simple way of assigning responsibility to young children and fostering a culture of care and consideration for the learning environment. A wall display where children’s names or photographs are added to tasks makes student leadership visual and engaging. I’ve seen some very proud 4 and 5 year olds announce their roles as ‘line leader’, ‘Paper Police’ or ‘Library Monitor’ to visitors or peers.
Ask an expert
By using students as experts in lessons across the curriculum, we can empower both the experts and those seeking help. Some children find peer-to-peer interaction a more accessible way of consolidating learning; less daunting than asking a teacher questions and often a bit more fun! When children self-nominate as experts, they assume a coaching responsibility, which allows them to be leaders in supporting their peers. An expert’s cape, badge or sign on a desk in Primary classrooms can make this a real honour for the experts chosen!
Collaborative learning activities are a great opportunity to provide each student with a leadership role. I have seen some wonderful Primary level humanities lessons take place where research responsibilities are shared among a group of learners to maximise both engagement and immersion into a topic. For example, when introducing a unit on rain-forests, teams of children are given materials for research a particular sub-topic and their task is to collaborate and create a marketplace poster. With limited time and resources, roles are assigned and each child is responsible for something. Success depends on all children taking on their leadership role to contribute to their group. Once posters are complete, 2 of the team depart to tour the ‘marketplace’, finding out information from the other posters, while the remaining team present to marketplace visitors. At the end of the session, the information collectors, feedback to their team to ensure that everyone is equipped with the learning needed to begin the new unit of study.
Perhaps one of the most traditional means of engaging learners through leadership, student councils take varied forms and can provide a fantastic opportunity for student leaders to give voice to their peers. Allowing students to set agendas and learn how to manage student council meetings can be fantastic learning opportunities. Facilitating action and change through their leadership can be incredibly empowering.
Many students thrive on developing a peer mentoring relationship. I have seen this work in many ways including ‘Friendship Stops’ staffed by senior students in a playground, to ensure younger students have friends to interact with, reading buddies from across phases in schools and learning ladder links where students from each year level get together once a term to share highlights of their learning.
By Jenny Murray