Boarding schools offer students a wide range of benefits, many of which have been discussed elsewhere. One area that has received relatively little notice is the opportunity for our students to gain valuable skills in leadership. Why is this the case?
The simple explanation lies in the wider range of experiences available to students who are together 24/7. Dorm life offers unique challenges and potential for growth, because it is deeply personal and closely shared. While true at all boarding schools and at college, it is particularly relevant at junior boarding schools, where many young people are just learning how to interact, cooperate, respect, and balance fun and hard work. Dorm life offers tremendous potential for growth and connectedness, but with it comes challenges such as homesickness, deep trust, and, in culturally diverse environments, understanding people who are very different.
Leadership in a boarding environment takes on dimensions that reflect this more complex world. Every school needs academic and artistic leaders and athletic captains, to show their fellow students the way, motivate and inspire, to help them reach a goal. In boarding school, the roles of student leaders with titles such as Prefect and Proctor do all that, and much more. They help the student whose grandmother just died, who’s feeling overwhelmed by adjusting to a new language, who doesn’t get along with his roommate, whose worries are affecting his or her performance – or conversely, who’s not taking responsibility for his or her actions. Being able to listen, be viewed as a trusted friend, make the person laugh or see the bigger picture, or have candid conversations that urge that person to be accountable, are all leadership traits of tremendous value at any age. When that’s combined with the community service that’s part of most boarding schools’ DNA, it creates a powerful mentality blending traditional leadership skills with understanding others.
Hiilside recognizes the importance of exposing our young students to leadership principles and practices, through a class required for Grades Seven to Nine and by offering several proctors and prefects tremendous responsibility in working with their fellow students. The boys do bonding and teamwork exercises like “Trust Falls” (pictured), and perform extensive community service work, with the expectation that these habits and lessons will carry forward from a young age, helping the person understand the many dimensions of leadership