Exploring Education at WIS


Grade 8 Leadership Empowerment Training (LET)

On Wednesday, August 30, the Grade 8 students participated in a new Middle School program called Leadership Empowerment Training (LET). The goal of this program is to help these students build positive leadership skills that will allow them to serve as catalysts for change in their personal lives, in their peer groups, and in the WIS community. The LET program has three specific areas of focus: understanding leadership, exploring group dynamics, and team-building and collaborative problem-solving. To kick-start this new initiative, the entire grade spent the day off campus at Adventure Links in Virginia.

Once the group arrived at Adventure Links, they were broken into groups by advisory; each group was assigned a different Adventure Links instructor. While there were WIS teachers and staff who served as chaperones for the trip, they were asked to take a step back and really let the students take the lead on the various activities in which they would participate.

Each group started out with a few ice-breaker activities, then moved on to some tougher challenges. For example, several groups had to navigate a low ropes course. The students were tasked with getting everyone across a series of low, interconnected ropes without falling off. They needed to work as a group and really help each other, since it was nearly impossible for one student to stay on the ropes without any support. If one team member fell off, that person had to go back to the beginning. It was rough going at first, but eventually the group developed a solid plan and they quickly navigated the course. After this activity, one group shared the following reflections:

  • “You had to risk your spot on the wire to help someone else.”

  • “We developed a kind of routine, between all of us, and we linked arms, and that really helped us.”

  • “We started having a feeling of how to balance on the wire correctly, so instead of wobbling back and forth constantly, it allowed us to stay still, and we wouldn’t cause other people to fall.”

  • “We tried different things, and found what worked for our particular group, and just kept going with that idea until it worked.”

  • “We were focused. We listened to each other well.”

  • “We were boosting morale—good cheerleading. We were persistent.”

And when asked to identify the skills they had to use in order to be successful, they replied: “Cooperation. Connection. Trust. Reliability. Strategy. Endurance. Balance.”

While most of the activities were group-oriented, each student also had the opportunity to try Adventure Links’ 300-foot zip line. To get to the zip line platform, students had to climb a ladder and walk across a thin rope that was about 30 feet off the ground. Both the walk to the platform and the zip line itself were challenging, especially for anyone who is afraid of heights. Many students were understandably anxious about this activity, but became less so when they heard the encouraging cheers and support from their classmates on the ground. It was powerful to see some students overcome their fear to successfully complete this activity, and to also see the joy and excitement on their faces after doing so.

The next day, students spent time participating in follow-up activities and action planning for the year. Initially, Upper School students came to each group to facilitate a discussion about leadership and empowerment with the Grade 8 students. They addressed the following questions:

  • What went well in your group at Adventure Links yesterday?

  • Were there some behaviors, attitudes, or statements that were not helpful at Adventure Links? What wasn’t helpful?

  • Based on your Adventure Links experience, what positive experiences would you like to see continued here at WIS?

  • What changes or improvements from teachers do you need to see happen in order for you to feel empowered and appreciated?

Afterwards, Mr. Althaus, Mr. Beck, and Ms. Wilson Odhiambo debriefed with the groups. Some common responses to the question about positive leadership being continued at WIS were:

  • ”We’d like to see more teamwork and communication, like talking more in class, doing more group work together instead of individual projects. We need to be more open-minded and empathetic. We should give everybody a fresh start, not rely on past judgements or stereotypes.”

  • ”We need more positivity, and to use more encouraging words.”

  • ”We should have more hands-on experiences—it can help support a more positive group dynamic. Yesterday, we really had to listen to each other, and once we were able to get through the activity, the relief and satisfaction was really good.”

After a brief discussion about the positive qualities that good leaders possess, the students were instructed to write a letter to themselves, which would be returned to them at the end of the year. In the letter, the students were asked to reflect on times when they may have acted negatively while at WIS, and to create a plan to turn those actions around and become a more positive leader and role model.

There will also be follow-up discussions and activities in advisories throughout the year. LET is a wonderful new opportunity to build vertical community, and develop the leadership strengths of our students “in the Middle.” The hope is that this training will inspire our Grade 8 class to lead by example and to positively impact our school not only this year, but for many years to come.

Posted by WIS Blogger on Thursday September, 7 at 04:04PM

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