I have been blessed to teach at many outstanding independent schools in the state of Alabama, and they all promote many of the same characteristics. They all talk about excellent academics, a tremendous family atmosphere, and that they promote student leadership. Highlands School does all of these things, but I want to tell you specifically how the unique environment at Highlands allows students to flourish in roles of leadership, particularly in the Middle School. One particular advantage Highlands has in developing leaders is the fact that we only have students through 8th grade. The 8th graders are the “top dogs” on campus and set the expectations in terms of behavior and academic success for the entire campus. Having middle school students be the oldest students on campus allows them to feel a sense of ownership that is different from a campus that also has high school students.
We are intentional and thoughtful about promoting leadership throughout the middle school years, but we are building on a foundation that starts all the way back in early elementary. As students arrive in middle school, we continue to expect and encourage them to find and promote their voice in and out of the classroom. Students are asked to formulate their own thoughts regarding academic issues as well as social and emotional issues. Once they have formulated those thoughts, they are asked to share those thoughts with everyone in a variety of ways.
We also use our advisory program as a way to promote leadership within the middle school. As students come into middle school they are linked with an advisor that they keep from 6th grade through 8th grade. Our advisory programs are fun and educational and are designed to build relationships between faculty and students. The advisor also serves as an advocate for the student and gives them another adult on campus to help them navigate through the middle school experience. In our advisory groups, the 8th graders have a natural place as leaders and mentors to the younger students in the group. They assume that role because when they came into the advisory groups as a 6th-grade student, they saw the 8th graders acting in that capacity.
Another way in which leadership is developed is that the faculty and administration are consistently asking the students about their thoughts and opinions regarding almost any decision where the students can have input. As the adults on campus, it is very important to us to hear student ideas and feedback. We want the students to have a voice. The product of this is that the students learn to take on roles of servant leadership. The Student Council is responsible to run all of the events that they put on; from collecting money, to making sure there are chaperones at the events. The National Junior Honor Society has multiple student-led fundraisers and events. Again, all schools have student events like these, the difference at Highlands is that the students don’t wait for the adults to act, they prepare and lead these events with appropriate support.
There is no doubt that this year has looked very different in everything that we are doing on campus; almost nothing is normal. However, one of the things that have remained constant is the expectation for leadership opportunities in the middle school. I can speak from experience that Highland School is different when it comes to student leadership.
Highlands School, 4901 Old Leeds Road, Birmingham, AL 35213, (205) 956-9731
Highlands School's 'whole child' approach to education and commitment to academic excellence, creative expression, and leadership development prepare and motivate students in grades 4k through 8 to make a positive difference in an ever-changing world. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Highlands School holds dual accrediation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Associations of Independent Schools (SAIS).