A Journey in Personal Growth: Student Reflections
A key principle for Round Square is to directly involve students in our work wherever possible.
The Cross-cultural Study of Student Leadership in Round Square Schools was led by a team from the Education University of Hong Kong and provided the perfect opportunity to invite 26 Student Research Ambassadors from 12 Round Square schools to work alongside the University Research Team.
This research project offered student ambassadors from each of the Round Square schools the opportunity for authentic hands-on learning, and an insight into the perceptions of leadership held by teachers and students in their schools.
It was an exciting collaborative opportunity for many of the students. The chance to work with university professors and connect with like-minded students around the world. “It was amazing to talk to people” reflected Jamie, “to have similar minds about something that we were trying to achieve and how we were going to get there.”
From the first meeting, the Student Ambassadors were engaged. They learned that they would be working together to build questions that would dive into perceptions of leadership, and they would be giving voice to their communities.
There exists a substantial amount of literature on adult leadership, but this was something new. A focus on student voice. And to be at the forefront of the data collection meant that they would witness honest accounts of student and teacher experiences in their schools.
The first step in their role as researchers was to question, listen and feed the data forward to Dr Ewan Wright and Dr Kanwal Hassan at EdUHK. It appeared to be a clear process, but the students were surprised at how much they learned about themselves. They had not expected to engage in a self-reflective experience, but many shared learning moments in their feedback to Round Square.
Maite shared that her favourite part was connecting. Connecting with students around the world, “We got to talk with people that we had never been personally connected with, and we would never encounter them in our lives.” And connecting with students and teachers at her school at a deeper level helped her understand herself more, “I got to talk with people in my school and with teachers. About deep things that they appreciate in a leader, which actually made me grow as a person and as a leader.”
Jared and Sharon spoke about their astonishment at how reflective and honest their conversations were, “It was just amazing how many of the interviews went into extreme depths, just with the first question.”
For Nefertiti, the experience was more of a personal challenge. She shared that she was “not a person who does a lot of talking” but that she was surprised at “how comfortable and confident” she became as she worked to encourage her interviewees to “open up and answer questions on more than a surface level.” She shares that by creating a relaxed and trusting environment, it helped her interviewees calm down and share their thoughts openly.
Being an active listener was a challenge for a few of the Student Ambassadors, while listening to a variety of viewpoints made them aware of other perceptions, it was hard to remain impartial when faced with an idea that conflicted with their own. Remaining impartial is key research skill and the students felt that they developed this skill, but it took practice! Emmanuel explained how it felt. “It challenged me. Having to understand and accept that people may have opposing opinions than me…. It was a very big challenge for me.”
Mishka and Azzam talked about they developed a sensitivity towards their interviewees, “We had to change our approach with each person, each student, in order for them to open up and be honest and share their views.” Their takeaway was about the importance of setting the scene and developing the emotional connection with their interviewees. Their reflections for next time were to “ask a few more icebreaker questions so that you could understand the perspective and personality before going into the most serious questions.”
The research interview data was building an honest picture of perceptions of leadership, but through the process, the Student Ambassadors were learning about their own values and beliefs.
Engaging in research such as this, while managing the demands of a high school curriculum is commendable. But what is particularly exemplary is the degree of creativity, tenacity and professionalism displayed by the 26 Student Research Ambassadors. The added complication of continuing the research process during the pandemic did not faze these Student Ambassadors. They might have struggled a little to find their feet as they adapted to their new virtual environments and the new restrictions, but like true leaders, they demonstrated confidence, communication, honesty, responsibility and listening skills – the top 5 leadership skills valued by students in this study.
If you would like to listen to the reflections of the students’ learning journey click HERE.
A huge thank you to all of the Student Ambassadors (listed below), who took part in this project and to those who shared their reflections on leadership in Round Square Schools. here.