There are many new additions to the school this year, including the GFA’s first-ever 10th grade leadership seminar, a venue for the class to learn and develop leadership qualities.
In groups, students meet weekly with different faculty members. Their goals are to learn a variety of critical skills like problem-solving, ethical assessment, listening, conflict resolution, team-building, and of course leadership, to name just a few, and to be able to use them in daily situations — in the classroom, on the athletic field, at home, anywhere.
“The 10th grade seminar is a place where one can insert a critical skill that doesn’t fit into the academic curriculum,” explained Elizabeth Day, Upper and Middle School Counselor. She is joined by faculty members from different areas around the school: Sue Teyan (US Science), Tauni Butterfield (Athletic Director), Chris Mira (Physical Education; boys varsity soccer coach), Lisa Waldstein (Visual Arts Department Chair), in hopes that the concepts will carry over into other areas across the curriculum.
At the outset of the seminar, the 10th graders learn a series of acronyms that help reinforce core concepts of the program. For example, SOLVE encourages the students to:
Outline the problem;
List multiple strategies;
Veer toward consensus;
Other acronym-based concepts — LEADERSHIP, STRESSORS, CONFLICT, TEAMS, CONFRONT, INFLUENCE, (Leadership) STYLES, FOLLOW(er), and ETHICS — are designed so that students can easily access the skills in a wide variety of situations.
During their meetings, the students will put these concepts into action through a series of challenges and activities that require diligent attention to detail and focused teamwork. In one challenge, blindfolded groups listen to activity directions: completely color in a shape without coloring outside the lines. They elect a leader, who is not blindfolded, to help them complete the coloring challenge. Each time, leadership styles and success rates varied, and the groups came together afterward to discuss what worked and what didn’t. (They also figured out that listening more closely to the initial instructions would have provided them with a loophole.)
According to Day, she and her colleagues were passionate about sharing these skills with the sophomores because: “Leadership needs to be a focus, not just for some, but for everybody. We’re teaching this so kids now have a common vocabulary around leadership.”
Out of that initial effort came a GFA CLC Leadership Club, modelled on the College Leadership Competition (CLC), which is made up of 88 colleges and is a competitive forum for teams to demonstrate mastery of leadership skills. This year GFA joined area schools King and Masters in forming its club, with the goal of meeting for an interscholastic competition on November 3.
In the weeks leading up to the competition, The Farmers would meet for practice exercises, which were typically multi-faceted and not always as straight-forward as they initially seemed. Like the blindfolded coloring activity, an activity asking the group to coordinate efforts to build a giant origami swan had information hidden within the instructions. For example, while specific design standards and criteria had to be met, the teams would also get more points for a faster finish — a part of the instructions they forgot as they diligently constructed the swan. While their swan technically passed inspection, the group would only have received 20 points out of a possible 100. Like the coloring challenge, this one contained unexpected nuances — they’d need to work on catching on to these by competition time.
In their post-activity analysis, the team listened intently to the feedback from each other and their mentors, and found ways in which they could learn from their missteps, and continue to hone their leadership skills leading up to the Nov. 3 competition.
“We’re asking them to be reflective: Am I being a leader? Am I being a follower? If so, am I being a good follower?” explained Day. “The kids are seeing this make sense, and asking themselves, ‘How can this be better?’”
The three schools met on Saturday for a head-to-head-to-head leadership competition, and by all accounts, their hard work paid off. The teams were given a variety of challenges, and then judged on rubric that measured team effectiveness based on the following criteria: maintaining inclusivity and control, managing people and process, leading style, setting the emotional tone, ensuring ethical behavior, and team member/group behaviors. With each school fielding two teams for a total of six, GFA’s teams, The Farmers, finished in second and third place.
Day and her colleagues shared their pride in the teams’ hard work, especially when they thrived as their numbers dwindled throughout the day. In fact, the whole crowd was supportive of each other: according to Day, as The Farmers 2 neared completion of a Domnino challenge, the entire room erupted in cheers.
“And what a moment it was!” Day exclaimed. “We did more than awesome! We're ecstatic!”
The CLC Club, comprised of Cayla Bernstein, Grant Goodrick, Will Mackle, Jackson Rassias, Maeve Reynolds, Samantha Freeman, TJ Abbazia, Max Morfoot, Annika White, and Annabel Lawton, is looking forward to its next challenge.