In pursuit of their academic work, our students will also have the chance to develop solid leadership skills that will prepare them for success in both college and career environments. This opportunity is a critical function of our emphasis on student-led learning.
By giving students guidance and flexibility in completing regular projects and independent studies, they will learn critical skills such as time management, effective communication with peer groups and with larger audiences, flexible thinking, and critical analysis.
When students begin a new project, they work in teams to do research, develop solutions, and create a presentation to share with their classmates. A necessary part of this teamwork is the naming of a Project Manager, who will manage the team members, delegate responsibilities, and have final decision-making authority for the group. Students will rotate through the PM role, and will engage throughout in reflective exercises designed to help them recognize and understand successful and unsuccessful leadership techniques as they occur.
For example, a student who is not the PM on a given project may reflect that the leader is having a difficult time in estimating how long the phases of the project will take, or is loath to delegate responsibility to other team members; she may therefore realize what behaviors she should try to avoid when it is her turn as PM. Similarly, a student in the PM role may realize that he is uncomfortable handling differences of opinion among team members, or that he is very good at time management but less strong at delegation.
It is these types of metacognitive and reflective exercises, in combination with teacher mentoring and the experience of working in teams of many different types of students with different strengths and weaknesses, which will allow students to develop their own leadership skills as well as the ability to recognize those skills in others.
Teamwork and leadership are especially important for gifted students to learn, as many of them may have had little prior opportunity to do so in a positive way in a typical classroom environment. Often, teachers in a traditional classroom intentionally “spread out” the gifted students among teams, which can result in those students being frustrated by taking on more of the project work than is their fair share. (To be fair, sometimes their anxiety about working with classmates is partly justifiable, based on their prior negative experiences working in mixed-ability groups.) By contrast, gifted students are able to experience authentic growth when they can work with peers of similar ability, in which circumstances they are more likely to take academic risks, to share the workload, and to truly experience a team environment, perhaps for the first time.