Leadership is often seen as a role reserved for elected officials and experts on TV. At Derryfield, the Leading for the Common Good program ensures that 100% of students have access to opportunities that build their capacity to be leaders. A community of 400 leaders? Yes, exactly! “The school’s view and definition of leadership is not one that isolates the people who we often in society think of as leaders” says Mr. Dougherty. Rather, “about four years ago we really began to define the leadership program . . . we wanted to create a program that impacted all students in grades 6-12.”
The growing emphasis that Derryfield has put on leadership emerged out of the strategic planning process and increased student access began in earnest with the inaugural student leadership summit in 2015. The intent of the three-day summit was to equip and empower students to positively impact our community by leading in big and small ways everyday. The activities at the Summit were designed to help students increase their self awareness, explore their leadership styles, and develop a broad range of communication, active followership, and leadership skills. Thirty-two students participated in the inaugural program, which has become a yearly tradition. Over 50% of the class of 2019 attended, and the goal is for this to be true of all grades by the time they are seniors. The creation of a Director of Student Leadership and Service position in 2015, and the procurement of a $50,000 grant from the E.E. Ford Foundation in June 2016 allowed for cultivation of programs, opportunities, and financial sustainability of the initiatives.
Bolstered by the success of the leadership summit and the E.E. Ford Grant, Mr. Dougherty and Ms. Llewelyn have been leading efforts to expand access to leadership programs and “create opportunities for students to have voice and choice.” Mr. Dougherty highlights the Independent Senior Projects (ISPs) and the numerous service activities that Derryfield supports as two important facets of the school’s commitment to leadership. In addition, students have worked with administration to implement an online gradebook and an updated dress code. The PACTeam and Student Council lead initiatives to strengthen the connection between the middle and upper schools. “The greatest outcome has nothing to do so much with Derryfield,” Mr. Dougherty says, “but it has to do with the broader impact as everyone leaves and has both the ability and a sense of responsibility to be a positive presence in their community.”
The ISPs certainly cultivate responsibility as seniors organize and execute their own out-of-school experiences, gaining practical expertise. Many of these projects involve service and social activism aspects, which increases students’ awareness and compassion for others. Beyond these examples, the school also provides numerous opportunities for students to attend (and even host) conferences on topics such as social justice and identity. This past April, student leaders of the gender equity club, the racial awareness club, and the LGBTQ+ alliance club collaborated on hosting the second “GQual” conference in which over 200 members of the Derryfield community participated in workshops and lectures on issues related to equity over the course of 2 days. The conference was largely student-run and was an overwhelming success.
Leading for the Common Good stresses the importance of developing the capacity for personal and peer leadership in everyday life. Mr. Dougherty points out “taking risks, seeking feedback, and willingness to try new things” as the most important ways in which students can grow their leadership skills. He also notes that leadership can be practiced in everyday interactions with peers, whether that be helping in the classroom or encouraging each other to make better choices. At the Leadership Summit, students engaged in activities on different leadership styles, spheres of influence, and how students can utilize their personal strengths to positively impact the world around them. Coupled with the numerous ways in which students can take on leadership roles, there is a vast array of ways in which students can participate in leadership at Derryfield. After all, “The reason we want an entire community of leaders is that we want all our students to have the ability to step into a void and help the community move forward, whether that means being a good, active follower or being the person who’s vocal and in charge.”