Spheres of Influence: Citizen Leadership Framework Defines What It Means to Be a Raven
by Karen Lewis Taylor | Back to Table of Contents
Since its implementation in the 2013-14 school year, Lead From Here has integrated citizen leadership education across all disciplines and divisions. From faculty and staff professional development to “launch lessons” in each grade and even parent education sessions, this groundbreaking curriculum conceptualizes leadership as three overlapping spheres — Leading Self, Leading With Others and Changing Your World — and develops in all Ravens the competencies that fuel citizen leadership in the 21st century.
“It seems a bit strange to say of a school with our long history, but I used to wonder what Ravenscroft would look like when it grew up,” Chris Harper, longtime Ravenscroft counselor and Lead From Here coach, said. “I think we’re beginning to know. It’s a parallel track, really, between the school’s coming of age and growing and developing into the future and what we’re trying to do do with our students: ‘Who are you? Who are you now? What do you stand for?’ All of these questions are important as well for our faculty and staff, parents and the school as a whole.”
In the stories that follow, learn how Lead From Here draws the youngest Ravens into our community of learners and leaders, nurtures a culture of collaboration in the performing arts and empowers girls to embrace STEM. Then read reflections from Middle and Upper School students about what it means to be a citizen leader beyond our campus boundaries.
Explore our focus on citizen leadership with A Lead From Here Moment, on the back cover of every issue of Ravenscroft Magazine, and on our website.
The circles of the Lead from Here Framework are reflected in the PreKindergarten curriculum in many ways. In the mirrors students hold up to spark self-awareness. In the bubbles and balloons they test for resilience. In the “dirt cups” they fill, step by motivated step, to make a tasty snack. In the Hula-Hoops they pilot at the family picnic to illustrate the growth-mindedness needed to “steer” with a partner rather than alone.
Most important, teachers reinforce those conceptual circles whenever their students form a real circle together, reflecting on what it means to lead themselves in the classroom and beyond.
“One of the challenges for PreK-aged children,” Lead From Here coach and interim Lower School counselor Chris Harper said, “is not just knowing who you are but also how you work and fit in as part of a community. Leading Self is exactly where we need to start.”
“WE ALL SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAGE”
It’s not a stretch to suggest that citizen leadership begins with the youngest Ravens. In fact, their role in the transformation of Ravenscroft’s approach to teaching and learning was always a critical part of the plan.
In developing the framework with the Center for Creative Leadership, faculty and staff worked to translate the corporate-focused leadership training into a model that would resonate with even our youngest students. As the competencies identified as critical to citizen leadership were mapped out by division and grade, the Lower School team focused on making concepts such as “strategic,” “accountable” and “ethical” accessible to younger students.
Today, PreK teachers draw on a resource-rich curriculum that builds on developmentally appropriate interests and skills to mold their students into good friends, helpers, learners and leaders.
According to Harper, the Ravenscroft team never doubted that four- and five-year-olds could participate fully in citizen leadership development. As a result, she said, “we all speak the same language” — which means the competencies students learn in their earliest years at Ravenscroft are the same ones they’ll reflect on in their senior speeches.
“LEARN AND EXPLORE WHAT IT MEANS TO LEAD”
It starts with assigning responsibilities, establishing routines and communicating expectations.
“We ask them, ‘How can we keep our classroom fun and happy?’” teacher Crystal Garris said. “They start thinking about being helpful and supportive. The language of Lead From Here becomes an easy go-to for giving reminders and praise.”
“They take a lot of pride in doing a particular job for a week and learn to respect others’ positions, too,” teacher Betsy Barnett said. “They also build social skills.”
Emma Hanna, a student in Lana DuBose’s PreK class, said she likes being the line leader and the “squistle squeezer,” who “lets everyone know when it’s time to come in from recess. The squistle makes a funny noise when you squeeze it, and everyone laughs.”
“We provide a setting where they can learn and explore what it means to lead,” DuBose said. “Other Lower School faculty, like the P.E. teachers, reinforce the curriculum, too, so our students hear consistent messages no matter where they are.”
“LOVE THE LEAD FROM HERE FRAMEWORK!”
That includes at home as well. Lead From Here parent education workshops help family members reinforce the important work going on at school.
Chamberlyn Marks, in an email to Barnett, shared an exchange with her son that reflects the curriculum’s far-ranging impact on PreK students: “I asked Wesley to clean up a mess his little brother had made,” she wrote, “and he replied, ‘Of course! I can do anything you ask me to do. Or if I can’t do something yet, I will keep working on it until I can, because I’m growth-minded!’ Love the Lead From Here framework!”
Jackie Catalahana said her daughter, Madeleine, now a first-grader, has thrived as she’s moved through the curriculum.
“The reinforcement over time has helped her acquire incremental qualities such as empathy, adaptability and resilience, allowing her to overcome the challenges that come with each school year, such as new teachers, classmates and curriculum,” she said. “This impact is also evident in her interactions outside of school.”
Harper concluded, “This initiative is collaborative across all faculty and staff, applicable to all students and adults, and embraced, modeled and messaged by leadership across campus.”
And, as it turns out, by the youngest Ravens, too.
Read about our early work in leadership development in this story from the archives of Ravenscroft Magazine:
Drawing from many cultures and traditions, the performing arts have developed their own vocabulary, from “prompt corner” and “stand partner” to “tonality” and “blocking.” Performing arts students master the terminology as they master their crafts.
When it comes to the language of Lead From Here, they have found the citizen leadership framework speaks to the core values of their discipline: accountability, motivation, cultural inclusivity, adaptability, empathy, self-awareness, collaboration.
As band director Bill Pendergrass put it, “What better place to learn these competencies than in the arts?”
“WE HELP EACH OTHER GROW”
Zach Skubic ’19, who plays trombone in the Upper School band, agreed, noting that the performing arts provide the perfect blend of leading self and leading with others.
“Whether you’re playing a challenging solo by yourself or an easy part with a 72-piece ensemble,” he said, “you have to remain aware of your tone, your place in the music and your dynamics as well as what is happening around you and how others play their instruments.”
Honors Choral Ensemble member Bek Campbell ’19 added,
“I not only have to lead with my experience as a senior choir member but also listen to my fellow members and be open to critique when necessary. We help each other grow as singers.”
Faculty also incorporate student leadership into their class structures. Section leaders like Bek, for example, make notations on scores, provide feedback to polish the group’s sound and even lead rehearsals with director Cameron Bolin. Pendergrass’s Band Council organizes student orientation, decorates for concerts and manages the department’s inventory of instruments.
Strings director Pamela Kelly provides opportunities for leadership in Middle School strings, modifying the traditionally competitive “seating” structure to allow students to rotate through chair positions.
“If I want a strong crop of ninth-graders in the orchestra, it’s in my best interest to give all Middle School students the opportunity to lead,” she explained. “It’s a different feeling when you’re sitting behind somebody than when you’re up front. It’s important to experience both.”
“POSITIVE ENSEMBLE ETHIC”
Mentorship is another role familiar to students in the performing arts, where upperclassmen frequently rehearse and perform with younger students. Both Bolin and Pendergrass team freshmen with seniors who help them acclimate to Upper School. Kelly’s Honors Strings students regularly work with the Lower School orchestra.
In the theater department, “we are always collaborating with younger Ravens so they can learn the ropes and eventually be the student leaders,” lead stage manager Kemmia Ghodrat ’19 said.
In fact, collaboration may be the Lead From Here competency that feels most essential to Ravenscroft’s performing arts programs.
“Both collaboration and competition are always present in the theater,” drama director Jason Sharp said. “We strive to create what I call a positive ensemble ethic — a sense of support for one another’s work, safety and growth.”
That emphasis makes an impression. Last fall, concertmaster Melissa Kong ’19 was sick in the weeks preceding the strings concert. Assistant concertmaster Mia Russo ’19 stepped up and prepared for Melissa’s solo. When Melissa returned in time to perform, the two decided to play together, in what Kelly proudly called “a collaborative solo.”
“It ended up working out much better than if one of us had played the solo individually,” Melissa said. “Mia was very supportive and accepting.”
“THE POWER OF STUDENT LEADERSHIP”
Lead From Here has also empowered Ravens in the performing arts outside the classroom, mentoring young talent or teaching underprivileged children. In January, many performing arts students participated in the school’s SPEAK program, exploring diversity and inclusivity through performances and workshops. Members of an Upper School club, Share the Love and Music, perform regularly at a local nursing home.
“Taking a leadership position in the theater department was a segue to other opportunities outside of school, like the Honors International Thespian Society,” Kemmia said. “I have felt more confident putting myself out there, trying new things and meeting new people.”
For nearly a decade, the Band Council has organized an ambitious fundraiser in support of St. Baldrick’s Foundation. The popular event — at which students, faculty and staff, alumni, families and friends shave off or cut their hair in exchange for pledges — has raised nearly $600,000 for childhood cancer research.
“The work students put into St. Baldrick’s events speaks to the power of student leadership and the impact Lead From Here has on our local and even national and global communities,” said Zach, who, as president of Band Council, led this year’s event. “It might not have much to do with playing an instrument per se, but it serves as a perfect example of how a leadership framework like Lead From Here can help students change our world.”
Lead From Here’s vision of citizen leadership illuminates the critical work of diversity and inclusivity — of helping all students see in themselves the capacity to be leaders and contributors in an increasingly global society.
This focus is particularly strong in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classrooms. Supported by a cadre of outstanding female teachers and mentors, more girls than ever are digging into electives such as computer science, engineering and robotics.
“Having female teachers in my STEM classes has really helped me believe in myself,” said Lilja Gudmundsson ’23, who has taken Middle School electives including Engineering I and II and Computer Science I. “Their influence will continue to help me throughout my STEM journey.”
“BREAKING THE ICE”
Even as opportunities in STEM-related careers grow, women and girls interested in these traditionally male-dominated fields continue to face challenges. Ravenscroft’s female STEM teachers said they understand how intimidating it can be for girls to enroll in their electives.
Middle School science and engineering teacher Michelle Nunalee noted that, while she was “very fortunate” to have female advisors in graduate school, “in the field and department, there were very few women. I didn’t feel I had an example that helped me see myself as a professor.”
Anna Lawrence, Upper School computer science teacher, recalled there were few women in her programming courses. “Later, working in the industry, I noticed the gender disparity again,” she said. “I felt conspicuous, as though I had to do excellent work so it wouldn’t reflect badly on other women in the field.”
Her student Arden Henley ’21 echoed that sentiment:
“It can be hard to walk into a room where you are different from everyone there and feel like you have to prove yourself every day.”
Sanya Firozvi ’24, who takes Middle School Computer Science I with Emily Roach, compared her experiences to “breaking the ice.”
“I do code with my friend Laurel Caplan ’24 and we help one another. But whenever I ask for help with the computer, the boys in our class fix the problem,” Sanya said. “One of my peers asked for help, and when I fixed the problem she was shocked. That shows our stereotypes.”
“THE BEST WAY TO GET GIRLS INVOLVED”
As Ravenscroft’s STEM offerings expand, faculty are determined to help girls push through those barriers.
“Keeping girls excited about STEM once they’re in these courses is easy. It’s getting them there that’s the challenge,” Upper School physics and robotics teacher Lorre Gifford said. “I infuse my physics curriculum with problem-based learning that gives girls the opportunity to build confidence in themselves and enthusiasm for STEM.”
To encourage girls to give STEM a try, Middle School electives are pass/fail and include some girls-only sections. Lawrence lets students choose projects based on their own interests.
The effort also includes providing positive examples. Middle School STEM teachers donned costumes for a 2018 presentation on “Women in Science History,” which included slides on how they became interested in science themselves. They have brought in Upper School girls to advise their female students on STEM courses. Roach started a chapter of Girls Who Code, whose mission is to teach girls to “be brave, not perfect” through code.
For many members, Girls Who Code is their introduction to computer science — and a meaningful way to flex their leadership skills. Delaney Washington ’22 said the club “shaped my confidence tremendously. Being able to help out the younger girls in the club last year, while furthering my education in computer science, was very empowering.” She has since co-founded a club in the Upper School.
“Research has been very consistent that having female role models is the best way to get girls involved in STEM,” Nunalee said. “And STEM electives are a great way to teach leadership competencies.”
“WILLING TO TACKLE PROBLEMS TOGETHER”
These efforts are paying off. While there are still STEM electives with just a few girls enrolled, female students are finding success in some of the school’s most rigorous STEM-related programs.
Arden and Martina Frederick ’20, for example, were among the Ravenscroft students at the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics tournament in January. Katie Shearin ’19 was one of four students in Ravenscroft’s first cohort of the Lean Six Sigma Junior Green Belt Certification Academy. Dani Rowe ’19 — who has won two National Center for Women & Information Technology “Aspirations in Computing” awards — provides campus IT assistance through Genius Lab. In the new Innovations course (led by Sarah Loyola, director of educational technology), she is exploring even more advanced applications of her skills.
Dani said she knows heading into a predominantly male field “will have its ups and downs, but I really love the work and can’t wait for the future ahead.”
Whatever path students choose, Nunalee said, “our students are challenged to be growth-minded and collaborative, and by the end of the course they are more willing to tackle really challenging problems together. Sometimes the leadership lessons are more important than the subject knowledge.”
MENTORING GIRLS IN STEM
In this video, female Upper School students planning to major in STEM fields in college discuss their challenges and successes in a panel for Middle School girls.
Learn more about our strong STEM+ programs in these stories from the archives of Ravenscroft Magazine:
Lead From Here is much more than a set of skills, lesson plans or activities. Amplified by authentic student leadership experiences, powerful mentoring and robust service-learning opportunities, the framework is tied to real-world action and advocacy.
For many Ravens, the work they do at school is just the beginning. Whether they’ve been spurred by Lead From Here or simply bolstered by it, the competencies they develop and exercise shape the community even as they transform students’ perceptions of themselves and their world.
Wes Brown, who serves as coordinator of student leadership and programming in the Middle School, said, “We seek opportunities for students to integrate their learning in an authentic way, make connections and see beyond themselves. More importantly, we embrace the challenge of students honing their leadership skills in order to impact not only our community but the world around them.”
“Our students explore citizen leadership across many avenues, with many making a tremendous impact on the community through work with local nonprofits, service organizations and even start-ups and businesses,” Aaron Sundstrom, associate head of Upper School, added. “We’re proud of the many ways they contribute to the greater community using the competencies emphasized by Lead From Here.”
Here’s what some of our Ravens had to say about what their experiences as citizen leaders have taught them.
“I believe that through volunteering people can gain new perspectives. I know through my work I have a deeper gratitude for everything I have,” said Caitlyn Hankins ’21, who serves on the Teen Board at A Note in the Pocket, a local nonprofit dedicated to clothing impoverished children with dignity and love. “I think the most essential part of being a citizen leader is knowing you do not need to have a title or position to lead others.”
Dash Black ’24 volunteers weekly with his family through Oak City Outreach, which serves meals to scores of vulnerable Raleigh residents every Sunday. “I started doing this because it seemed important to my family, even though I didn’t enjoy it at first,” he said. “But now I feel satisfaction when I’m done because I know I’ve done a good thing, and I’ve made some friends there.”
Christian Lee ’19 emphasized the growth he has experienced as a result of Boy Scouts. “The same determination and grit that I needed along the way to Eagle rank causes me to wipe the sweat from my brow and keep fighting in a tough wrestling match. It keeps me grinding when my studies keep me up well past midnight,” he said. “The confidence and leadership have made me a better person.”
“SERVICE BEFORE SELF”
For Charles Hayworth ’24, service is a family tradition. “After Hurricane Florence, I helped my dad with Operation Airdrop, packing pallets, loading planes and filling boxes with storm relief,” he said. “After Hurricane Michael, my father started a nonprofit to help underserved communities in North and South Carolina. On weekends I helped him distribute food, water and other donations to storm victims. These activities have taught me the true meaning of service before self.”
Chloe Fox ’24 volunteers with her family at the local food bank and the Women’s Center of Raleigh — “My mum and dad have instilled in us that we should never take our comfortable life for granted,” she said — but they were still (pleasantly) surprised when she decided to cut six inches of her hair for the St. Baldrick’s event last year. “I knew my hair would make a lovely wig for a child going through chemotherapy. I felt it was a small sacrifice on my part.”
Jackson Davis ’19 earned Eagle Scout rank by building a shade canopy over a playground. “I’ve developed a great deal of respect for people who are helping to improve their communities in a tangible way, as I now realize the amount of work involved,” he said. “I learned a lot about my leadership capabilities and accountability.”
“THE VALUE OF VARIED PERSPECTIVES”
Kendall Jones ’19 participated in a leadership development program called District C, which challenges teams of high school students to use design thinking to help a local business or nonprofit solve a problem. He said, “The experience was a further illustration for me of the value of working with people with varied perspectives and backgrounds. Individually, we would not have produced the creative and easily implementable solutions we eventually came up with.”
Xena Gray ’19, who has been involved in Girl Scouts and Venture Crew as well as frequent volunteer work with her family, said her leadership experiences “have allowed me to have a more open perspective and molded me into a better listener. Leading isn’t always about being the loudest voice in a room and getting things done. Often, it means taking time to listen to others.”
Mia Russo ’19, who also participated in District C, summed up her perspective on leadership this way: “A leader who does not try to understand and react to the feelings of others is not a good leader, and a leader who does not work with others is not a leader at all. District C taught me the importance of collaboration and empathy.”