Victoria College

Teacher-Leaders in Ireland: Lessons on Student Leadership

Recently two of our Fellowship alumnae and our Executive Director from the Greater New Orleans region visited Ireland, touring schools and meeting with members of the N. Ireland DOE to learn about their system and the avenues for teacher-leadership. The trip was a reciprocal visit after several Irish and British teacher-leaders visited New Orleans last year as part of an exchange program facilitated by the British Counsil.

Last week, Alumna Meghan Mekita wrote some of her key observations about adult leadership in the schools she visited. Today, she follows up with this post on student leadership.

by Meghan Mekita, Leading Educators Fellow in New Orleans, Cohort 2012

While the high schools we visited taught us about adult leadership, the primary schools taught us about student leadership. At Victoria College in Belfast, students have taken over many of the jobs that adults do in our schools. Older children apply to be mentors to pre-schoolers and kindergartners. During lunch, the mentors cut food for the younger children and teach them how to sit and use their utensils properly. At recess, the older children organize games and teach younger children how to play nice.

What really made our hearts melt, though, was the idea of the ‘friendship stop’. Somewhere on the blacktop there was a stop sign that designated the location where any student could stand if they needed help finding a playmate. The older mentors would swing by, scoop them up, deliver them to a kind group of their peers, and set everyone up with a new game or activity.

Student leadership didn’t stop on the playground. Students as young as 5 were on the student council, working on environmental initiatives and fundraising for causes that they had chosen as a class. Almost every student was on a committee, allowing them to build public speaking and leadership skills from a very young age. In the older grades, these roles were expanded. A group of seniors in the attached high school applied and were selected to become prefects. As prefects, they handled duties, such as correcting uniform infractions, which teachers are normally tasked with. Our visit to Victoria College made us question our current expectations for student leadership, and start to think creatively about ways to build student leadership programs at our schools.

Shira, Julie and I felt lucky to have had this experience. We have developed relationships with several staff members at the schools we visited, and we hope that the foundation has been laid for us to continue asking questions about how their schools began the programs that we saw as well-oiled machines.