Stronger Together: Dynamic Leadership Lab at Severn Upper School
At a time in our political and social history when partisan division seems to be the norm, Severn Upper School students are stepping up, joining in and working together to unify the Upper School. At the end of the summer, over 80 sophomores, juniors and seniors gathered on Teel Campus for a three-day Leadership Lab. The goal of the three days? To choose an adaptive challenge for the entire Upper School to address this year. This year the theme is "Unity," a challenge to promote inclusion and a sense of belonging at Severn.
What is the Leadership Lab?
Just before the school year begins each summer, Upper School students gather for three days of discussions and workshops on effective leadership at Severn. Although students in elected and club leadership positions are expected to attend, the lab is open to all students. It’s a voluntary forum where any interested student can participate.
The event begins with dinner on Thursday evening where students and teachers reconnect after months away from school over the summer. After remarks from Head of School Mr. Doug Lagarde and Upper School Dean of Students Mr. Marc Buckley, the students separate into groups to begin the in-depth process of choosing their adaptive challenge. Over the next two days they will learn practical leadership skills and work together to create a plan for the school year to come.
“The leadership lab was a fantastic way for the returning student population to decide what we want to focus on in the upcoming year as a community. I enjoyed working with students from all different grade levels to decide our adaptive challenge, and I am very excited to start the new school year and work towards bringing the whole community together.” — Everett Cortés ‘18
What is the adaptive challenge?
Each year, our student leaders are tasked with choosing a challenge or theme that will frame student council initiatives and club activities throughout the year. The challenge must be one with no known solutions that can be integrated into all aspects of life in the Upper School. Our teachers encourage the kids to think about their spheres of concern versus their spheres of influence; what do they want to improve and how can they, as students, enact that change. Past challenges include:
Taking the Initiative
Although they choose a new challenge every year, each theme is an extension of the one before with "building community" as a common thread. That’s what’s important to our kids, creating the best experience they can for everyone in the Upper School. This year they want to focus on promoting unity — to draw everyone together and honor every voice.
"The leadership lab was an exceptional experience. It's always nice to have a large part of the community come together for the better good. It was inevitable that, as a group, we would find a suitable adaptive challenge to follow throughout the year, and I'm excited to hear about how it goes for years to come!" — Trevor Marvin ‘18
The process of choosing the adaptive challenge is a lesson in leadership itself. Working in groups, they brainstorm ideas, join together to share, and diverge again to even further develop those initial ideas. They also participate in workshops led by Severn teachers to learn basic leadership techniques. Workshop topics include:
How to effectively communicate as a leader
How to run a club or meeting
How to include all voices in your organization
As students work through these practical workshops, with their brainstorming sessions fresh on their minds, they begin to develop the theme for the adaptive challenge.
Watch a Leadership Lab workshop in action — learning to effectively communicate.
The First of Many Steps
This three-day leadership lab is one step of many toward addressing this year’s adaptive challenge. Our student leaders will share what they’ve learned with their peers and use the experience to shape activities throughout the year. They will meet again in September, including the newly elected 9th-grade student council members, to create strategies for implementing unity throughout the school. And they will gather again in January to check-in, talk about what’s worked, what hasn’t, and develop a game plan for the spring semester.
A Lasting Impression
The leadership lab gives our Upper School students the opportunity to take ownership over their experience at Severn. They learn how to work together toward a common goal and the experience makes a big impression on them. It’s something they can do year after year and reflect on their growth as individuals and as a group.
"The leadership lab is like a walk down memory lane for me. Going as a senior is much different than going as a junior, which was different than going as a sophomore, and much different than if someone went as a freshman! It's like a checkpoint of sorts, to see how we've moved along in our clubs, student organizations, and especially as a school. Every year I'm genuinely amazed at how much Severn students want to contribute to the adaptive challenge, or be part of a bigger cause and the reason why Severn is moving forward." — Jane Huang ‘18
Watch this video for student voices on the Leadership Lab
Learn more about Student Leadership in our Upper School