Student Leadership Training

At Taipei European School we are exploring ways to develop our student leaders into people with real leadership skills and not simply a group of students with titles. There are expectations on our student leaders: If they apply for a position with some responsibility in the school they get interviewed, perhaps give speeches to their peers and then, if successful, are appointed. With this appointment comes a responsibility to make positive changes in the experience for all students. We are working towards developing and formalising some of these expectations.

As part of this process I invited an external group called The Spike Lab to run a day’s workshop with 22 of our student leaders on Saturday March 16th in the European Primary Campus. The Spike Lab have worked with a number of international schools in the USA and Asia and I asked them to work with British Secondary and High School students on Leadership innovation with a focus on reimagining student voice and student participation within their areas. The leaders who attended included House Captains, Sports Leaders, Music Leaders as well as the Student Council Executive.

Initial feedback from students indicate that it was a hugely successful day with all of the students giving it a positive rating at the end in their feedback form. All of the students left feeling more knowledgeable and confident in their leadership abilities (which I will explain soon), and many of them left ready and “fired up” to take their role to the next level of innovation, idea development, and action. This is a testimony not only to the success of The Spike Lab’s work but to our students themselves who came with an open mind and a feeling of hope that they can become better leaders and make improvements in their areas of responsibility.

The day was split into 3 main areas of focus: Design Thinking; Action Planning; and Pitching Ideas. The students learned a variety of skills from positive thinking such as: “problems are solvable”; and learning to try (and failing) rather than failing to try; using ‘’yes and’’ (not ‘’yes but’’) to move ideas on; reimagining student voice and reframing problems. Re-imagining student voice included ideas such as understanding that empathy is a skill they need to use to understand the user and looking at a problem they identified from the users’ perspective rather than their own. They were taught not to make assumptions about why there is a problem and think what ‘the user” might feel, say, do and think. This can be illustrated with an example. Imagine there is a house shirt design competition and not many students enter. Assumptions about lack of participation might be that they are happy with the status quo or are not interested in taking part. Looking at it from the users’ perspective (by doing mini market research) might throw up responses such as “only the cool kids win”, “I am not artistic enough”, or “it wasn’t explained well enough”. These can then lead to a reframing of the problem and a re-imagining of student voice leading to more involvement in future events.

One of the most difficult, but I believe, most useful activities, for our students was the ‘feedback’ session.  Despite being taught that when hearing feedback it is important to listen to the feedback to get as much information as possible, students were often stuck on interrupting either to challenge or to agree with the feedback. This is a natural part of daily conversation but not so useful when planning to lead an event or make a change.  It is good for us to find out issues such as this so that we can work on them with students. There were many other skills worked on during the day, but I would like to finish by describing the last part of the day, which was pitching an idea. This included thinking about: low fidelity (early ideas or drafts) versus high fidelity prototyping (almost finished products or designs) can be useful and when each is relevant to use; creating radical ideas initially to generate realistic ideas; and how to plan effectively.

Initial feedback from The Spike Lab report is that students enjoyed and learned most in the planning stages and this has given them more confidence in taking forward their ideas to the next stage.  My big hope for the day was that the planning section would be a success and this has lead me to start rethinking how all students, in the future, will be given new supporting materials when planning. I am also reviewing  the expectations we will place on them when they want to move forward on new ideas. Students currently come to me with ideas of events they wish to introduce to the school. Their ideas are frequently interesting and have merit, but their pitches are often not thought through and so early pitfalls put them off developing them.  

With the skills that students have now learned, and the more formal use of pitches, planning and idea development will be more thorough and should lead to more successful student initiatives introduced into the school with the added improvements to student voice that go with it. We are continuing to develop student leadership skills and opportunities within the school so please look out for more blog posts on these in the future.


Graeme McNaught

Head of Student Leadership

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