By NadiaRose El-Erian, AmeriCorps member serving on the McDonough Elementary School Team
As a City Year, I am a leader, meeting with future leaders. I value my purpose as a near-peer mentor and strive to establish and maintain meaningful relationships with my students. When successfully established and consistently maintained, these relationships have the capacity to steer students in the right direction, both academically and beyond the four walls of the classroom. One of City Year’s strategies to transform behavior and support growth is to meet with a group of students during lunch to focus on leadership development, referred to as Leadership Lunch.
Leadership Lunches (LL) are casual conversations that revolve around the core principles of character, competence, commitment, and compassion. These City Year-led groups have become a staple in the effective development of social skills and student empowerment within the schools that our organization serve in. In the short two months I have led Leadership Lunch, I have observed tremendous growth among my group of six students. That growth commenced with the simple act of goal setting.
Growing up, I seldom enjoyed a meal without using a placemat. I vividly remember studying my multiplication fact placemat whilst munching on a bowl of Cheerios before departing for school. I used this enduring childhood memory as inspiration for my Leadership Lunch. On the first day of Leadership Lunch, I gave my students a piece of paper. On this paper was the student’s name at the top and the words “My Goal” at the bottom. With minimal directions, I told my students to decorate the paper, jot down a meaningful quote or phrase, and write down a goal. I told my students that this goal should be something that can be achieved within the classroom, whether that be grades, relationships, behaviors, habits etc. For example, one of my students wrote that his goal is to become a role model in his classroom so that he would be prepared to be a better role model for his baby sister at home. Needless to say, my heart melted a little bit.
Luckily for me, my partner teacher owns her very own laminator! She was kind enough to laminate the papers for me and... ta da, placemats! The next time we met for LL, my students walked in to find their placemats strategically arranged on the desks. I use this as an opportunity to mix it up, meaning rather than first come first serve, I instead choose the seating arrangements and students never know who they will be sitting next to.
These laminated placemats serve several purposes. First and foremost, they keep the desk surfaces clean! Secondly, they function as assigned seating, as I previously mentioned. Thirdly, students can refer to their placemats and remind themselves of their goal. Additionally, we use the blank backside of the placemats as a whiteboard dry erase surface, such as during silent games or brainstorming new goals. My students are so proud of their masterpieces, and I'm even more proud of their commitment to their own leadership development.
I can see how my students are exhibiting positive leadership in the classroom. Research supports that students who lead tend to grow into independent, self-assured, and confident people. They are more apt to take appropriate risks, seek out challenges, and self-advocate. Leadership Lunch truly provides students with a chance for a deeper understanding of leadership and the important qualities, responsibilities, and expectations that come with it. Becoming a leader does not happen overnight. By forming and executing individual goals, students take responsibility for their own personal development. I am eager to see the progress my students achieve in the final two weeks of school, as they prepare for the transition to fifth grade.
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