By Liz McCulloch, Director of Lion Term and French Faculty
Leadership from All Directions – The Collaborative Effort of Lion Term
Editors’ Note: This piece originally appeared in the gcLi’s Leadership blog on 2 April. You can further seek the Gardner Carney Leadership Institute on Facebook by clicking here.
Last Spring, our entire community experienced the first ever St. Mark’s Lion Term, a two-week experiential education program that ends the school year. During Lion Term, each grade has its own unique focus and all 10th grade students work with local organizations to promote community engagement. We adopted a modified version of the African Leadership Academy’s BUILD model, a form of design-thinking adapted for social entrepreneurship. The ideas were iterated and tested first, and students came away with the confidence that working together, they can play a role in their communities.
One of my favorite stories from last year’s Lion Term involves a group of 10th grade students who worked at Daniel’s Table, an organization committed to ending hunger in Framingham, MA and beyond. After volunteering to serve meals and talking to the founders and clients at Daniel’s Table, our group recognized that it would be helpful to list the ingredients in multiple languages for those who do not speak English or who are not familiar with the local produce. The group decided to make laminated cards with ingredients in English, Spanish, and Portuguese on one side and recipe ideas on the back. In working to understand the needs that the organization was meeting, our students were able to offer a solution that helped the organization to improve its service.
For faculty, Lion Term was a leap of faith. Asking seasoned teachers to think differently about how they facilitate learning was an ongoing and challenging process. The existential questions for teachers that accompany a shift from direct instruction to learning with their students caused good reason to pause, and sometimes to worry. In anticipation, teachers questioned how the workload would differ from our typical school days. They wondered how they would best support learning given a new paradigm. As a faculty, we grappled with how we were using time and with finding the right balance between the content that drives our traditional classes and the opportunities for exploration that Lion Term provides. What were we sacrificing to make space for Lion Term?
Over the past five years, many other questions have driven the development of Lion Term: Which components of intellectual and character development are most critical for our students? How might we think about time differently in our schools? How do we balance the teaching of skills and content? The work leading up to Lion Term last spring was daunting but exciting. This year, it is time to adapt–to learn from what we experienced and to execute necessary changes so that the program continues to grow.
I was fortunate to attend the gcLi Leadership Labin June 2017, shortly after Lion Term’s inaugural session. I was exhausted but primed and curious about how our work at gcLi would inform the ongoing process of running a complex, school-wide program. Lion Term promotes student leadership in a variety of subtle ways, and the development of the program itself was the biggest and most challenging group project I’ve ever been part of. The time to reflect on Lion Term while atgcLi highlighted the potential of our program. How might we identify areas where leadership education is already evident? Where else might we be able to encourage students to take more ownership?
As an end-of-year experience, Lion Term evolved within a school structure that includes a rich core curriculum as well as elective-based programming that takes place on Saturdays. Each grade has a different program designed such that over four years, students practice introspection, empathy, and curiosity, and they move towards intellectual independence as part of a project, research opportunity, or job shadow in 12th grade. Allowing for exploration, our students practice leadership skills of collaboration, teamwork, serial listening, and commitment to serving others.
In 9th grade for example, Lion Terms offers students a time to focus on self-awareness, identity, and community. In addition to workshops centered on the idea of “my footprint,” the 9th grade program employs a method of storytelling designed by the organization Narrative 4whose mission is to teach global citizenship through radical empathy. With New England as their classroom, students seek opportunities to foster their intellectual development.
For me, Lion Term is not about replacing our core curriculum, in which teachers are experts in their fields and have a wealth of knowledge to share with their students, but rather about complementing it. How can collaborative, creative, and metacognitive skills enhance the knowledge base our students gain throughout the year? What roles will leadership, resilience, and empathy play in our students’ futures? Lion Term is one of many initiatives on our campus that aims to offer our students tools with which to navigate an increasingly complex world.
Despite a deep-seated belief that experiential learning should become part of our curriculum, finally putting it in place was terrifying, and the time leading up to Lion Term was one of open anxiety for our faculty. In our end-of-year faculty meetings, we spent almost two full days debriefing the experience both at form levels and as a full faculty. What was previously steady apprehension is now cautious relief. My colleagues were proud of the deep thinking our students had done, but also stunned by the overwhelming workload and quick transition from our Monday-Friday schedule to Lion Term. After having experienced the program, faculty began to see new ways that their strengths and interests could contribute to next year’s work. They loved the time they spent off campus with students but questioned the effectiveness of the on-campus processing days. How might we improve them?
The feedback we collected was complex and invaluable. Having climbed one mountain, gcLiprepared me well to take on the next one. Most importantly, how, as a leader, do I approach the challenges of Lion Term 2.0 and beyond? My first goals are to process faculty and student reactions and to support the team of grade level leaders as they update their plans. We will iterate, and we will continue to think creatively about how best to use this gift of time. We know that the work of improvement is never done, and we are building the feedback mechanisms and structural processes to ensure that we continually improve.
Liz McColloch is the Director of Lion Term and a French teacher. She is also the faculty co-chair of the Haiti Partnership Committee. She utilized the Patterson Grant for participation in the Blended Learning Consortium.