MICDS upper school students study leadership.

Upper School Students Tackle Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Regional Resilience

Learning to Lead

What happens when you combine the Head of School’s desire to get back into the classroom with a history teacher’s training in the science of leadership? An elective for upper school students called Leadership in the 21st Century. Seventeen students took advantage of this new T2 offering and learned that leadership is a legitimate science that combines skill and art. Lisa Lyle and Marshall McCurties taught them that it’s possible to study and learn from good leaders and that there are specific practices they, even as teenagers, can employ that are specific to developing their capabilities in leadership.

In the first couple of weeks, students focused on themselves. They took a variety of tests, including Strengths Finder and Myers Briggs, to learn more about themselves in a formal way. Soon, students were able to easily identify their strengths and personality traits, which helps them maximize their own internal resources and relate to others.

From there, a variety of leadership content areas offered plenty to research and discuss, including ethics and morality, organizational culture, teamwork and highly effective teams and leadership and management styles. The class dove into a variety of resources, including the Harvard Business Review, TED Talks, Jim Collins’ book Good to Great and Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. They discussed a section of Martin Seligman’s Flourish that covers gratitude.

Jordan Rothrock ‘19 enjoyed exploring the science of leadership. He shared that, “the class allowed me to reflect on the environments and situations I have been put in where leadership was working and where it was severely lacking. Having a space to engage in conversations about how to problem solve in leadership is crucial to address these issues and necessary change whether that be in non-profit organizations, companies, government or professional sports teams.”

McCurties said, “Leadership is 100% learned. We typically think of extroverts in positions of power, and we wanted to break away from that stereotypical model of what a leader looks like. Everyone has the potential to be a leader whether they are extroverted or introverted, whether they have high emotional intelligence or a low sense of ethics. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and this course was designed to break peoples’ perspective of what a leader is.”

Students presented their thoughts on leadership to their peers at the end of this engaging course.

Kick-Starting Entrepreneurship

Seniors in Daniel George’s Foundations of Entrepreneurship explored the world of business and business theory in T2. They learned critical professional skills including creative problem solving, public speaking and presentations, project management and collaborative leadership. Entrepreneurs know that greater rewards are achieved after accepting greater risks, so students learned about being creative risk takers and how to develop a comfort level with the occasional failures that may result.

Students were then challenged, individually or in teams, to create new products or services, develop competitive strategies and design marketing strategies for their business. They delivered “Shark Tank-style” elevator pitches midway through the course and received feedback from faculty and staff on their sales pitch techniques, industry research and information presented and the short and long-term vision for the business.

At the end of the trimester-long course, the budding entrepreneurs presented their final business plans, appropriate for a small start-up. One student pitched an Uber-like app for ordering services from a network of high quality, but green, personal chefs that could come to one’s home to prepare a delicious meal. Another student developed a product called Taco Tape to overcome the mess of eating while on the go.

Mr. George shared, “The students have studied a variety of entrepreneurship concepts, such as proof of concept, target customers, angel investors, marketing strategies and franchise business models. They have used this knowledge to build and refine their business plans as the trimester progressed, and I am proud of their progress.”

Shaping Our Communities

Eleventh grade students were challenged to get involved in our community by identifying an issue of resiliency and forming a solution in our Regional Resilience Research Project course, also known as 3RP. They must harness all the skills they’ve learned through reading, writing, public speaking, research and visual and media literacy to create engagement.

During the project, we invite students to provide a thoughtful assessment of all of the factors feeding into and spiralling out of one issue impacting the resilience of the St. Louis community. The goal of the Regional Resilience Research Project is not to solve the problems that the region faces but to assess and reflect upon the strengths and weaknesses of organizations that impact the community’s resilience. Students participate in the Design Thinking Process: to discover, empathize, ideate, iterate and evolve. These skills are a critical learning target as all of us—teenagers and adults alike—could do a better job of assessing and researching and addressing our own biases and understandings before jumping straight into problem-solving. It is this focus on researching, interviewing and unpacking the interplay between a wide-ranging array of factors that proves most difficult for our students who would, understandably, prefer to construct a single argument or solution and simply defend it.

Students tackled a variety of complex and interrelated issues, culminating in final presentations. Asher Clarke ’20 and Lauren Bedell ’20 addressed the housing situation in St. Louis, redefining homelessness for their peers and unpacking the role different kinds of homeless shelters engage in to serve our community. Caroline Latta ’20 and Erin Halligan ’20 explored education, studying the ecosystem created by public, private and charter schools, with a specific focus on Charters. Their multi-layered presentation took on the unique challenges faced by Charter schools, how one specific school is positioned to address those challenges and the role of charter schools, in general, on the types of schools in their communities.

Combining an interest in food security with concern about St. Louis’s economic future, Chris Olsen ’20 and Jack Petersen ’20 produced a wide-ranging presentation on sectors of our community that face food insecurity, how those communities are responding to this threat and why this issue is an US problem and not a THEM problem. They also explored what corporations look for when selecting home cities and how food security impacts their decisions. Riley Oliver ’20 and Edie Tynes ’20 wanted to think deeply about the health issues in our region. The end result was a piece on behavioral health disorders and their misconceptions, and the specific pre-existing environmental factors exacerbating those issues for the people involved.

The wonderful final presentations show that MICDS students are prepared to enter an ever-evolving world and to approach it with questioning, understanding and, most of all, empathy.