Twin Valley schools picked to pilot new leadership program
by Lauren Harkawik
Sep 03, 2017 | 3305 views | 0 0 comments | 133 133 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gunnar Nilsen speaks during a Twin Valley Middle  High School eighth-grade science fair presentation in 2015. The school is one of a handful in Vermont chosen to develop a new leadership program.
Gunnar Nilsen speaks during a Twin Valley Middle High School eighth-grade science fair presentation in 2015. The school is one of a handful in Vermont chosen to develop a new leadership program.
WILMINGTON- Twin Valley schools, along with three other Vermont school systems, will be piloting a new approach to learning that fosters leadership skills in students. The program is being developed by the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina. Through an endowment from deceased Vermont resident Dr. Margaret Waddington, CCL has a strong connection to Vermont, and it is on a mission to grow leaders here.

Twin Valley Elementary School Principal Rebecca Fillion says she first heard about leadership training through CCL while serving on the executive council of the Vermont Principals Association.

“When I became principal of the year (in 2016), I got the amazing privilege to serve on the executive council for the VPA,” says Fillion. “One of the first things that I got to do on the council was hear a pitch from the Center for Creative Leadership.”

The Center for Creative Leadership is a company focused on global leadership training. Dr. Waddington, a neurologist from Rutland, first attended a leadership program at CCL in 1985 and continued to attend training at the center for the rest of her life. When she died in 2015, Waddington left her multimillion dollar estate to CCL, stipulating that she wanted her gift to benefit Vermont residents and organizations.

CCL initially came to pitch giving leadership training to Vermont’s principals using Waddington’s gift. Twin Valley Middle High School Principal Tom Fitzgerald was one of the first principals to experience the training. “Their leadership program is ranked number three in the world,” says Fitzgerald. “For Vermont principals to have that opportunity is so great. There aren’t a lot of principals in the country that are getting that type of leadership training, let alone a whole state’s principals getting it.”

Fillion says that about 100 Vermont principals have already gone through the training, which will continue until all principals in the state have been reached. Meanwhile, Fillion says, CCL’s innovation team was coming up with another dream.

“They have this itty-bitty goal of growing students in the world to be leaders,” says Fillion. CCL started student leadership training in North Carolina, but in light of Waddington’s gift, they wondered if they might be able to incorporate such training statewide in Vermont.

“They said Margaret is affording this state an opportunity to grow leaders. What if we grew students? Wouldn’t this be totally symbiotic? Doesn’t this make sense? So they pitched to us this idea of growing Vermont students to be leaders,” says Fillion. “And we were like yes, this is so cool. But we wanted to make sure it fit in with some of the work we’re already doing in Vermont so it would be sustainable and meaningful.”

With a closer look, Fillion was excited to see how much CCL’s leadership goals aligned closely with the goals of both Twin Valley and Vermont at large. Fillion says that after CCL did some brainstorming and research about what a technology interface for student leadership training could look like, they proposed a system with three main sections: lead self, lead with others, and change the world.

“Those fit the Twin Valley mission perfectly,” says Fillion. “We say we’re growing innovators to change the world. Tom (Fitzgerald) and I said, oh my gosh, this is perfect for us.” Fitzgerald says he is excited to find ways to foster leadership in all students. “We very much want to make leadership something for all kids,” says Fitzgerald. “I don’t want to take all my National Honor Society kids and the captains of sports teams and say there, there’s leadership. We want to cultivate leadership in everybody.”

“CCL’s idea is that leadership is equal access,” says Fillion. She notes that in CCL’s surveys, it’s evident that in elementary schools, students often think of leadership as something communal, but by middle school, the perception is that leadership is reserved for the most social or outspoken students.

“Kids don’t think leadership is for everyone,” says Fillion. “That comes from social stigma and walls that we build. CCL talks a lot about blocks that can be in our way that make us hold ourselves back. Mental models that we have to break down and move through.”

Four schools, Twin Valley, Leland & Gray, St. Albans, and Rutland, are going to work with CCL initially to gather information and start to think about what this type of leadership training could look like. “Our vision is still in the formation stages,” says Fitzgerald.

Fillion says that teaching leadership skills won’t happen in an additional class or be something that adds too much to the initiatives already in play at the schools. “It’s just that the ways we think about and talk to kids might tweak a little,” says Fillion. “It’s a lens, it’s the way we look at everything.”

Fitzgerald says he’s excited to see what types of programming and techniques CCL will come up with. “We’re eager to see what activities and approaches they’ll come up with and how we can integrate it into what we do everywhere in the building.”

Fillion says she believes that a shift in how to think of learning requires a school culture that can foster conversations about how things are done and how they can change. “A lot of the work that this builds on is about a growth mindset,” says Fillion. “We feel like the culture here is ready to engage in this level of thinking.”

In October, CCL is going to conduct a survey of students and teachers at both Twin Valley schools to get a snapshot of where the school’s current leadership initiatives are reaching students and where there might be opportunity for growth. “Right now we aren’t exactly sure where to start, but our teachers and our kids are going to tell us,” says Fillion.

Eventually, the dream is to weave leadership techniques into learning for all students at Twin Valley, from pre-K all the way to grade 12.

“I would love for my kids to grow up in a school that offered that to them from day one,” says Fillion. “The jobs that will exist for our kids may not even exist yet, but we know they’re going to have to communicate, be responsible, and self-direct. All of these skills are what they will take with them in anything they do.”
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