Upper School Leadership Retreat

by Paul Wieman, Upper School Principal

Emerging from the latest strategic plan, a Character Education, Leadership, and Ethics Committee, under the guidance of Associate Head Ann Sullivan, met throughout the 2014-15 academic year and discussed ways for Rye Country Day School to address these important topics.

Out of these discussions, which will continue throughout the coming year, there emerged a plan to teach leadership skills to those students who were to hold leadership positions, and as a result, the first Leadership Retreat was held on August 21 and 22 on campus.

Members of student government, peer leaders, team captains, club presidents, and leaders of various student organizations (both curricular and co-curricular) were invited to attend the Friday evening and all-day, Saturday event. To guide these students, a dozen faculty members volunteered their time, energy, and talents to make this event both energizing and informative.

On Friday afternoon, the students enjoyed a superb keynote address delivered by Dr. Michael Thompson, a renowned clinical psychologist, school consultant, author, and speaker.  This was followed by dinner and a movie, Whale Rider, and then the evening concluded with a discussion about leadership as seen in the movie and as it pertained to the participants.

The following day, Dr. Thompson worked through a series of case studies with the 80 students and 12 faculty members.  Students then broke into small groups, read a short piece on differing leadership styles, took a fun, online quiz that helped them articulate their own leadership style, and the faculty then led group discussions based on this work.  After lunch, there was some thinking and writing, and the day concluded with each student’s developing a specific leadership plan, vetting it through a peer group overseen by a faculty member, then revising the plan.

The student then forwarded the plan to the adult in charge of the activity that the student was leading.

That is what we did, but the energy and joy and passion that happened during Friday and Saturday go beyond this plan.  Students from all grades arrived eager and excited.  They listened intently to Dr. Thompson, participated with focus and concentration in the small, group sessions, and dug deeper with thought and introspection to create their own leadership plans. 

We all talk about student leaders, and we all appoint and elect and select students for leadership roles, but we need to teach leadership more purposefully, educating students on how best to lead in different situations, how best to lead in a manner that suits one's own style, and how best to lead with character and ethical decisions.

The retreat was an invigorating two days.  We could not have asked more from our student leaders, and the time spent discussing leadership, learning about leadership, and developing ideas for the various organizations was time well spent and time that will reap rewards as the year progresses.