A Message from Susy Novak
Leadership training is at the core of what we teach
By Susana E. Novak, M.Ed., Elementary School Director
“Leadership skills allow children to have control of their lives and the ability to make things happen. Leadership instills confidence, and helps children solve problems creatively, work in a team, and work collaboratively with others. Leadership gives children many opportunities to develop responsibility.” *
A group of fifth graders make an appointment to see me to discuss suggestions for the production of the yearbook’s artwork. A fourth grader speaks up when he sees a group making fun of a classmate. A third grader suggests a charity in need. In these simple moments, and hundreds of others each and every week, I witness the fruit of our labor, as our students engage one another and our community with leadership, passion, and compassion.
At Temple Beth Am Day School, leadership training is at the core of what we teach, intentionally. We recognize the privilege of housing and educating a future leadership class. If we do our job, they will become creative problem solvers willing to step up, lean in, and make the world a better place. It is really a holy task, and we take it seriously.
How do we foster and develop leadership skills? We do so by identifying opportunities for leadership and mentorship every day, inside and outside the classroom. Here is just a sampling:
• In-class jobs: taking everyday work seriously.
• Class ambassadors and greeters.
• Collaboration with peers in group projects, taking on specific roles.
• Presentations in class and during our school-wide programs in front of large groups.
• Open Circle lessons, understanding other people’s perspectives.
• Fifth grade D’var Torah presentations.
• Fifth Grade and Kindergarten Buddies and Fourth Grade and PK Pals initiatives.
• Student Council.
I could write a Commentator article about each of these, and how they foster growth in leadership. I will focus just on Student Council. Our Student Council program demonstrates how our values permeate every aspect of what we do. We could easily just hold an election, assign an advisor and have a group of children that meet, essentially running like a club that plans activities. That is, for the most part, what student councils look like in many elementary schools. We look at it differently.
The process begins following our Opening Assembly, on the very first day of school, where the program is introduced only to students in the third, fourth and fifth grades. The president position is open to fifth graders only. Fourth and fifth graders are eligible to take on the vice president role. Students cannot just fill out a form to run. They have to think about it, and submit an “intent to run,” which must be approved by parents and teachers. Candidates have to be students in good standing.
Once approved, students may post a simple poster to display their desire to run. Next, they have to show that with leadership comes responsibility. Presidential and vice-presidential candidates have two weeks to initiate and implement a mitzvah project of their choosing.
We then gather students for two assemblies to vote. In the first gathering, candidates are presented with a moral dilemma, and on the spot, they have to react to ethical situations. Third to fifth graders rate the candidates based on the responses given. At the second assembly, candidates deliver a short, minute-and-one-half speech, expressing why others should vote for him or her. In addition, candidates must explain their choice of mitzvah project, and demonstrate how they will or already have implemented it. The student body votes on those two items as well. During that week, class representatives present speeches in their classes as well, and each class votes on a student to serve as a representative.
Once elected, Student Council members become active contributors to the school. Meetings take place every other week, under the guidance of our Student Council Advisor, Coach Craig Mankoff. The members approve our monthly tzedakah projects, as ideas are often presented to them by other students in the school. They disseminate information to their classes and to the younger students, and they serve as role models for our student body. Student Council members run programs such as Talent Shows and Yom Yerushalaim. They make school-wide announcements on initiatives approved, and they serve as safety patrol.
If you have heard our school song, or if you have seen our mascot, these are both Student Council initiatives. Our students have come forward with initiatives for carpool, snacks and a variety of other school improvements. They are motivated, and they are eager to share their point of view.
At every turn at Temple Beth Am Day School, students are encouraged to think, engage and appreciate the privilege of leadership. Every year at Opening Assembly, Dr. Deborah Starr reminds our fifth graders that they hold the responsibility of being role models and leaders of our school. At graduation, I charge our graduates to go change the world. And, I have full confidence that our children will do so.
* Claudia C. Mincemoyer, Ph.D, Leadership in Children, extension.psu. edu/youth/betterkidcare, Pennsylvania State University, 2016