Torch - Fall 2015

Heads’ Message

Unscripted Moments The role of excursions in leadership development

By Leslie Anne Dexter, Head of Junior School, and Michael Simmonds, Head of Upper School

A sk any Havergal alumna about her favourite memories from school and, inevitably, she will mention something about the trips she took. Excursions are an exciting part of a Havergal education because there is nothing quite like opening a door to the unknown and experiencing a new adventure with your peers and teachers. But what can be overshadowed by the thrill of exploring new worlds off campus is the role that excursions play in developing leadership capacity. Excursions at Havergal are deliberately planned along a continuum from simpler, fairly structured experiences in the Junior School to more complex and open-ended international adventures in the Upper School. When we develop the slate of excursions we provide, we work with the faculty to address a question that lies at the heart of our leadership program: what is the relationship between the self-efficacy and global capability we develop in our students and leadership qualities? Helping students to make a difference and shape the world in which they want to live requires a clear definition of leadership, something that is notoriously difficult to achieve. There are as many different views on leadership as there are leaders, which make conceptions of leadership highly value-laden. Add in that just about anyone can be a leader in some way, and you run the risk of settling on a definition of leadership that is everything and nothing at the same time. To resolve this ambiguity, we often focus on a simple reality about leadership: it takes place within or on behalf of a group. The student practising her bassoon every night until she earns a place in the orchestra is not a leader during her individual pursuit of excellence,

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

—Eleanor Roosevelt

but she may become one if she leads by example and inspires others around her to become better. When two or more people come together with a shared purpose, there is a need for individuals to play leadership roles, whether to exert influence, direct the group’s decisions or accomplish a goal. There are hundreds of ways that any girl can lead by influencing, guiding or performing within a group. She might share an idea, change someone’s mind or support a peer’s initiative. It would be false to think that a supporting role is never a leading role: sometimes it’s that second or third voice that tips the balance toward a new enterprise. And sometimes that second or third voice resounds because it belongs to a quiet girl who rarely speaks up and who, therefore, commands attention when she does. Any voice can become the voice of a leader. To be effective, our leadership program has to offer diverse experiences that foster diverse approaches—from the up-front leader on the vanguard to the student who guides a group by expressing her values clearly and consistently. We know that leadership develops rapidly in situations where students take mitigated risks, head into the unknown and forge new ground. Any time our girls are pushing boundaries and testing their ability to cope with new circumstances—whether on a day trip in Grade 3 or during weeks away on an Upper School student exchange to another country—they are given the opportunity to expand and practise new languages.


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