21st Century Student Leadership


By Maureen Leming

You may have heard the adage that some children are born leaders while others are born to be followers. While it's true that some people intrinsically possess more assertive leadership qualities than others, it's not true that a childhood wallflower is destined to remain behind the scenes. 

In fact, with the right coaching and opportunities, these one-time followers can often become the strongest leaders. 

Let's explore what a student leader really looks like in today's world — and how to help them unlock their full potential.

The Most Important Leadership Skills for the 21st Century

The toolkit for finding success in the modern world is more complex than just an intelligent mind and a well-meaning heart. Strong leadership is a mixture of skills and abilities — all of which can be learned through a skills-based curriculum. In the 21st century, some of the most important leadership skills include:

  • Communication: In order to lead others, one must be able to communicate their ideas and instructions in a clear and compelling way. Communication skills can be learned in school through a variety of classes, from language and linguistics to public speech and debate. These skills include poised self-expression and the ability to construct and structure complex ideas.
  • Collaboration: Everyone knows that teamwork makes the dream work. The most successful leaders today are not standalone figures but team-driven individuals who are able to harness the strengths of others, navigate complex collaboration structures, and delegate work effectively. Collaboration skills begin in early childhood and can be fostered throughout a child's education through group projects and extracurricular sports, clubs, and activities.
  • Listening: Anyone who has been managed before will understand the truth that good leaders know how to listen. They're open to hearing others' voices and opinions and react accordingly. The ability to listen well is one that can — yet often fails to — be taught in school. Teaching this skill goes beyond communication basics but involves educating students to share their opinions, constructively and kindly disagree, consider other points of view, and deal with conflict in a healthy manner.
  • Positivity: The ability to encourage is one of the greatest strengths a modern leader can possess. Students can learn from experience and the guidance of positive faculty to roll with the punches, learn from their mistakes, and speak light and encouragement into the lives of those around them. In the best school systems, students will see this positive characteristic emulated in their teachers and learn to incorporate it into their own lives.

Four Ways to Encourage Student Leadership

The above list of skills might sound like a tall order for a student who is still learning and growing, but in reality, a school education is the best time to begin actively teaching and encouraging student leadership. 

As they begin to practice the art of listening and communication among their school peers, they'll become comfortable taking initiative, being responsible, and bringing other people together. 

These skills will help them continue to step out as a leader as they emerge into the world as adults.

Student Speaker at Hun

At The Hun School of Princeton, we place an emphasis on student leadership by guiding students through the following activities:

  • Extracurricular participation: We require our students to play a sport, join the theater, or participate in a Hun-sponsored wellness activity. No matter what the student chooses, participation in these activities provides a real-world and fun way to step into a leadership role. Whether they become the team captain or manager, the head of the theater tech crew, or the president of a club, extracurriculars are rife with opportunities to step up and lead.
  • Student government: Many schools provide a student government experience for children desiring to express their voice and have a say in how their school operates. At Hun, our student government has a president and vice president as well as a host of cabinet positions for students to join. Students can also sign up to become their class speaker or homeroom representative.
  • Attend academic conferences: From the Bonacci Women's Leadership Conference to the MLK Leadership Summit, academic conferences throughout the year afford Hun students the opportunity to learn, study, and participate outside of their regular courses. Students can also apply for funding to attend the National Association of Independent Schools' People of Color Conference.
  • Campus opportunities: In addition to formally organized clubs and activities, there are ample opportunities in and out of the classroom to step up. Students are encouraged to contribute to class conversations, create a welcoming space for new students, and speak up on campus. At The Hun School of Princeton, we challenge students to share their voices on issues they care about. From Climate Strikes to international protest, we've created a campus culture that celebrates initiative and rallies around our student leaders.

How Hun Students Become Leaders

Student Giving Graduation Speech

From the classroom to the campus and even the cafeteria, Hun students are encouraged to become leaders in every facet of their lives. What does a Hun student leader look like?

Hun students don't let other students eat lunch alone. From empty dining room tables to a person sitting solo in class, when it looks like someone could use a friend, our students reach out. Whether they look like they fit in or not doesn't matter — after all, thanks to a deeply diverse and international community, there is no "normal" at Hun.

Our Hun student leaders further understand that cultural competency is about more than having a stamp in their passport. Ultimately, it's about understanding other cultures and people who are different from us. Like true leaders, Hun students recognize the common ground and equal worth in all of us.

Finally, Hun students become leaders through active participation. While it's a requirement that all students engage in after-school activities, we also emphasize participation in class discussions and encourage them to ask questions when they don't understand. Peer learning and group projects are other important components of a lifestyle of civic engagement. By the time they graduate, we want each student to know the power of their voice and respect the power of others' voices.

Interested in Seeing Your Child Become a Student Leader?

If you want to help your child unlock their potential and learn how to communicate and use their voice confidently, consider an education with The Hun School of Princeton today. Located in Princeton, New Jersey, Hun guides private day and boarding students through a vigorous high school program that encourages them to thrive inside and out of the classroom. Learn more by requesting more information or scheduling a tour of our beautiful 45-acre campus.

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