Leadership and Public Speaking
Greenwich Academy’s Leadership and Public Speaking Program spans all divisions of the school. Lessons in leadership and public speaking present themselves both in formal settings and as an integrated component of everyday learning.
From being the "line leader" in PC, to being an assembly representative in Group IV, and everywhere in between, our girls have countless opportunities to learn what it means to be a leader. We often talk about leadership being something that can be demonstrated by hard work and strong citizenship in the classroom. It can be demonstrated by good sportsmanship in PE and on the playground. It can be demonstrated by helping the teacher get ready for an activity or by holding the door for a friend. We formalize our focus on leadership in our Group IV series of leadership classes. These classes are taught by a range of people in the GA community including Head of School Molly King, Head of Lower School Jonathan Ross-Wiley, the classroom teachers, our Lower School counselor, and even a few parents. Group IV girls also begin their experience with school government as they take on roles in our Spirit, Greening, Technology, and Community Service Committees. Another important part of the Group IV experience is becoming a "big sister" to a Group I student. These relationships are very special, giving our Group IV girls a chance to be role models and mentors, and last long after the Lower School years.
Students in the Lower School have many opportunities to develop and hone their public speaking skills. Step into any PC or CC classroom on any given morning and you will find our girls speaking in front of their classmates as they share stories of the weekend, a special event, or a funny thing that happened on the way to school that morning. Though an informal setting, girls become comfortable taking the stage and learn to speak clearly and with purpose when addressing an audience. Our youngest students also delight in sharing their original stories, which are developed in reading and writing groups. Here, expression and inflection are practiced and the risk-taking component of putting your own work out for public consumption is celebrated.
In Groups I-IV, our theatrical productions serve as a fun way for the girls to experience being in front of an audience and delivering lines with clarity, conviction, and pride. There are also numerous opportunities for the girls to hone their public speaking skills in the classroom; book projects are presented, drafts of stories and papers are read aloud, and solutions to math problems and brain teasers are explained—these are just a few examples of moments that have our girls building their public speaking muscles. In Group IV, public speaking is taken on more formally by Head of School Molly King through a series of leadership classes. During these sessions, our girls are asked to write and deliver speeches that are persuasive, at times being challenged to present a viewpoint that differs from their own. Group IV girls also have the responsibility of running the Lower School’s weekly assemblies which include saying the Pledge of Allegiance, reading poetry, and introducing the featured speaker or presentation of the day.
In the Middle School, leadership skills are cultivated by engaging each girl in activities that appropriately challenge her—teaching her how to take risks, build resiliency, and work with her peers. The girls are also taught that being a good leader starts with responsibility. Students must own their actions. We remind the girls that to be an effective leader, they need to be positive role models, and we also help them understand that being a leader is as much about listening to others as it is about being in charge.
Highlights of the Middle School Leadership Program include:
- Our Middle School Student Leadership Council, which plays an important role in our community. Students who hold leadership positions help guide all community service, unity / diversity, and special event activities throughout the Middle School. They also lead weekly meetings and assemblies.
- GA hosts a Middle School Student Leadership Workshop. The workshop, which brings together student leadership councils from area public and independent Middle Schools, offers a venue for student leaders to share ideas and learn from their counterparts at other schools.
- Our Group VIII Ambassadors are student leaders who represent GA as part of the Middle School admission and orientation process.
- Leadership skills and sportsmanship are a focus of our Group VII and VIII interscholastic athletic program.
- Group VIII students are “big sisters” to incoming Group V Middle School students. This special relationship gives the older girls the responsibility of helping younger girls make their way in their first year of Middle School and a better understanding of what it means to be a role model.
From current events class, to math, to history, Middle School girls present their work and ideas to an audience of peers as a regular part of their classroom activities. Group V and VI students share culminating projects in showcases that are open to parents and the GA community at large. They also benefit from a public speaking course taught by faculty members with expertise in this area. Recently, a group of Middle School students were inspired by debates conducted as part of the Group VII curriculum to found a debate club and share a piece of their classroom writing before the entire Middle School.
Performance is also a means by which GA girls develop and exercise their public speaking skills. In each grade the girls have the opportunity to take part in a play or musical performed before student and parent audiences. Group VIII girls also have the opportunity to take electives in improvisation and acting, and film production where they write, perform and produce their own film. The confidence and oratory skills the girls develop on stage carry over to their interactions in the classroom and beyond. As the Middle School’s leadership grade, the Group VIII girls run the weekly Monday morning meetings, and when the Middle School hosts a guest speaker or special event at an assembly, it is the girls who take responsibility for welcoming and introducing these guests to the Middle School community.
As an all-girls school, GA stands apart in its ability to create leadership opportunities for young women.
We expect our girls to lead—in the classroom, at assemblies, and on the playing field—and they never disappoint, creating a culture of teamwork and high character that serves as perhaps the most enduring lesson at GA.
Charter Day, GA’s birthday, is celebrated each year with school-wide elections. And dozens of GA girls run for office—nearly 40% last year—which speaks to the culture of support and positive risk-taking in the Upper School.
Listed below are some of the many opportunities in the Upper School—but it’s vital to note that leadership does not always come from the captain or the president or the editor-in-chief. What we look for most in our students is not a title, but rather thoughtful action. Who steps up when the homework is piled high? Who's willing to solicit the thoughts of the less outspoken? Who will do the behind-the-scenes work? Leadership often emerges from unexpected places, and our advisors encourage each girl to find her moment.
- Forum, GA’s student government. Each grade has its own president, vice president, and additional leadership in arts, athletics, community service, and Honor Board. The Forum leadership meets weekly with the Head of School.
- Honor Board. Students are elected by classmates to confer on matters of school discipline and the clear communication of expectations and support.
- Peer Leadership. Seniors from GA and Brunswick pair up to lead freshmen through orientation and a semester’s worth of activities. Through a mix of discussions and games, Peer Leaders prepare each coed freshman group (called a Peer Advisory) for the challenges and opportunities of high school.
- Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives (CSBGL). This UPenn program offers a different kind of leadership in which juniors and seniors meet during a shared free period to identify, discuss, and research an aspect of “the hidden curriculum” of school culture. Students present their findings (and suggestions for improvement) to the faculty, the student body, and at an annual conference at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Sports, the arts, and clubs. Coaches and advisors give a great deal of responsibility to captains, editors, and other elected leaders—just ask a Daedalus editor or a field hockey captain.
So many graduates say, “I found my voice at GA.”
Such a statement goes well beyond public speaking, but it says something about our culture: that we give each student meaningful opportunities to speak up and discover a part of herself by sharing it with others.
The topics and causes may vary—a student election, an in-class report, an admission panel, a Senior Voice—but the emphasis is always the same. We want our girls to give voice to their truest and best selves. The only script worth following is honesty and hard work.
In the classroom. Upper School classrooms are built around the premise that students learn the most when they’re engaged in the conversation. Whether it’s asking a question, voicing a reaction to the reading, or presenting lab results before the class, GA students lead the discussion.
In the community. At any public moment—a morning assembly, a student election, or even a Board of Trustees meeting—student voices are always the highlight. Our students lead with clarity, spirit, and intelligence.
Two particularly powerful opportunities for public speaking include:
- Class Elections. GA girls run for office in impressive numbers; nearly 40% give it a try every spring. It's not easy to offer up oneself for a speech followed by a vote, but that speaks to a culture of aiming high and taking risks.
- Senior Voices. Each year approximately half the seniors volunteer to share a Senior Voice before the entire Upper School. Senior Voices are a talk from the heart, and they set an example for the whole Upper School. They can be hilarious or heartbreaking or humble—sometimes all three at once. Quite often the most powerful talks come from unexpected students, a girl who hasn't stepped to the microphone before and wants to prove to herself that she can.
Our emphasis is one of opportunity and support.