“… true leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed… Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.”
— Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”
Students are doing a lot of talking this month at the Castle. And I’m doing a lot of listening. The topic of discussion? The perennial process of selecting Prefects. I’m asking a lot of questions – some of them quite weighty – and the girls are formulating thoughtful answers. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to learn what the girls want and need. And that’s important because this is their school and their voices should be heard.
Last week, our current Prefects offered their thoughts on the subject, having gone through the experience most recently. On Wednesday, Ms. Parnsalu and I met with the grade 10s and 11s for an hour-long workshop where they reflected in groups on a number of questions. We’ll be having more conversations and seeking input from other grades and from faculty in a variety of ways.
Why are we opening up the conversation?
Prefects represent the Trafalgar student body, so it’s important that the student body understand and believe in the process of selecting those who represent them. My informal conversations with students over the course of last year revealed that many of them only came to understand the process when they were in the thick of it, namely in their grade 11 year. And when asked whether they could identify the criteria the selection committee used when interviewing potential Prefects, all admitted they weren’t entirely sure. To my mind, we need to do a better job at involving the students. And while we’re at it, why not review the way we’ve done things in the past to ensure it makes sense in the present.
Not all students will aspire to be Prefect. But for those that do, it’s important they understand what the role entails, how the selection process works, and the criteria used to make the final decision. Without such understanding, outcomes can feel arbitrary, the process (albeit unintentionally) appears lacking in transparency, and students won’t be fully engaged. So with that in mind, we decided to review the Prefect selection process in a way that honours the experience of all our girls and lets their ideas and opinions shape the way forward.
We asked the girls to consider a variety of questions. What qualities are important in a Prefect? How many Prefects should there be? If you could create a Prefect selection process, what would it look like? How would you select Head Girl? These and other questions were met with thoughtful and earnest contemplation. And the answers showed a wide range of opinions.
Some answers were to be expected: Prefects should be honest, respected by their peers, and trustworthy. Others were not as expected but made a lot of sense: Prefects need exceptional time management and organizational skills, they must be inclusive and encouraging of others, they need to be team players and collaborators, not leaders who charge up the hill whether you’re with them or not. And most of all, they need to have demonstrated long-standing commitment to the school (as opposed to committing to full attendance at school events only if they become a Prefect). These are some of the traits and attributes the girls identified as important to them. Judging by the list, they have a very good sense of the type of Trafalgar girl they want representing them.
The process for selecting Prefects also generated a great deal of discussion. Some believed open elections would be a good thing, and candidates should deliver a Chapel address explaining why students should vote for them. Others argued that a selection committee was more appropriate, and would prevent the process from becoming a popularity contest. Interestingly, some also asserted that a private process would protect those not selected from the potential embarrassment of not being chosen. This juxtaposition of individual competition within a communal culture of sisterhood was interesting to observe, and speaks to the challenge some girls experience as they try to reconcile strongly vying for a leadership role versus gently raising one’s hand. How does gritty strength as a leader work alongside virtue (virtus) and loveliness (venustas) – longstanding school values? Do these things align with the modern-day reality of our students and the wider world they are about to enter? Good questions for all of us to think through.
Sheryl Sandberg writes: “In the future, there will be no female leaders. Just leaders.” Her point is a good one to consider. I am committed to ensuring that leadership at Trafalgar is not mediated by gender, but does allow for individuality, eschews perfection, and values authenticity. I look forward to working alongside our girls as they complete this process of reflection, assessment, and design. They are remarkable in the vision they have for their school, and I’m privileged to help them make their vision a reality.