By: Mary Hackett, High School Principal
October 11, 2018
Category: advocacy | caring | character traits | leadership
Sometimes school doesn’t make sense to me. Illogical I know, being a High School Principal, but I struggle with the idea of schooling. Curriculum and instruction often focus too heavily on tests and it’s hard for me to always justify education in terms of those high stakes and percentages and scores. It’s not that those things don’t have value or importance, but the work of the school, what matters most, is often lost in those conversations. At Inwood Academy we are not in the business of education, we are in it for people. Our mission asks us to see our students as agents for change, a community of assets, of leaders, who will act to make this world a better place. This means we need to take a break from traditional schooling to give our students a platform to be heard.
After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland last year, the high school leadership team and I felt it impossible to wrap our minds around how such brutal violence continues to occur within schools. A school is a place where students should feel safe, be able to express themselves and be heard. Too often we hear reports of the opposite, and after the Parkland shooting we once again as a nation, and as a school, felt rattled dealing with the aftermath. But the youth of Parkland took that moment and spoke out. They were calling for change. They had something to say, created a space to say it, and people listened.
In discussion and reflection, it became clear that we needed to change our school schedule to create more time and space for our students to speak, and to be heard. We decided to cancel a Professional Development Day three weeks after the Parkland shooting and invited students to come into school to talk to one another about issues that mattered to them. Our first Student Leadership Day day had 146 students in attendance. Students and teachers partnered to lead workshops that students could elect to take. At the end of the day, a student asked me “can’t we have school like this every day?”
March 2018 Student Leadership Day
We heard her. When we created the schedule for this year, we devoted two days to student leadership and advocacy, one in the fall and one in the spring. On October 4th we had 220 students in attendance for our fall Student Leadership Day. The theme for the day was Caring with a focus on listening and hearing one another. We had 16 sessions led by student leaders that focused on issues ranging from masculinity, loving yourself, and embracing your natural hair to mental illness. Students created their own schedules going to three sessions of their choosing.
Days like October 4th are an important way to create an opportunity for students to be heard and to hear one another. I constantly feel humbled in this job by how much the students teach us, how they all have questions and, more often than not, have all the answers. As a leadership academy it is crucial that we give our students the opportunity to lead, and we follow. Leadership is not a skill we teach in classrooms, it’s something that we must experience. Through these experiences, we can see the problems our students face and collectively we act to address them. Student Leadership Days seek to create opportunities to do just that.