The leadership practices at Living Waters provide strong benefits to students, who are encouraged by the fact that they “know that their teachers are fully invested in them.” Living Waters has a student council that teaches student leadership through mentoring—that is, understanding and developing their peers. Students from grades 4 through 12 plan events that build relationships between older and younger students. A program called MUNCH Lunch, for example, encourages upper-year students to spend their lunchtime with younger students. Older students work with younger ones for various activities, such as “reading buddies.” The student council also started “family groups,” in which students from all grade levels pray, work, and play together.
Effective Leadership and Service
At every level of leadership—principal, staff, and students—Living Waters places a strong emphasis on servant leadership. Northouse (2018) identifies seven behaviours at the core of servant leadership: “conceptualizing, emotional healing, putting followers first, helping followers grow and succeed, behaving ethically, empowering, and creating value for the community” (n.p). Conceptualizing and empowering occur as the principal involves teachers in building vision and setting direction: “Our principal does a great job of allowing us to be involved in the decision-making process. He sets the vision and constantly reinforces the vision for the school. A great balance of hands-on and hands-off that allows us to work within our classrooms.” Senior teachers help others to grow and succeed by mentoring new colleagues: “In my first year, teachers new to the school were paired with teachers that had been at the school for a while. The more experienced teachers answered questions and helped them navigate some of the school routines, events, and expectations.” Beyond the walls of the school, service projects train students to put others first and create value for their communities: “We are constantly looking for ways that our students can be involved in serving the school community, the local community, and our global community... We are teaching kids from a very young age to look out for others, that it’s not ‘all about me.’”
The various practices that have fostered effective leadership at Living Waters are inextricably interdependent. Vision-building is impossible without a collaborative culture: Living Waters staff insist that every member of the school community—board members, staff, teachers, parents, and students—must be committed to the school’s vision if it is to be realized successfully. Teachers at Living Waters describe a sense of ownership for the mission and vision, which are then used to guide decisions about curriculum, activities, and collaborations with outside organizations. This empowerment is supported by mission-focused professional development, which is an important component of strengthening organizational resources. The principal’s investment in understanding and developing teachers increases their commitment to the school, which in turn encourages students to develop their own leadership skills: “Teachers who feel alive and involved are able to help students feel alive and involved.”