The Strategic Plan, which outlines Marlborough School’s development plans over the next ten years, lists the School’s four broad goals for the future. One of the objectives of the third strategic goal, Leading Marlborough Today; Leading Marlborough Tomorrow, is to “establish leadership development as a hallmark of Marlborough School.”
To this end, Marlborough offers many opportunities for “student leadership”; girls can hold positions as council members, club leaders, or as members of other organizations such as the Student Academic Advisory Committee, which advises administrators on topics such as student workload and course planning. Positions such as these supposedly provide girls with valuable skill sets and help fulfill the School’s broad goal of developing student leaders in the Marlborough community.
We at the UltraViolet, however, believe that Marlborough has not provided a precise definition of what qualifies as a leadership experience, causing many girls to view certain undertakings as experiences that do not, in fact, provide or require any leadership skills. The UltraViolet therefore thinks that the School should decide upon a specific definition of leadership as it pertains to the Marlborough community. If this were accomplished, activities designated as “leadership opportunities” would have to meet certain standards and would thus remain consistent.
The School promotes certain activities on campus, such as the School’s annual phone-a-thon, as good leadership experiences. During the phone-a-thon this year, students called alumnae to thank them for their donations to the School. However, the students making these calls did not need any special qualifications or skills, and the experience did not seem to encourage the development of any impressive leadership skills. In contrast, organizing a conference for an organization such as Model United Nations, in which girls must arrange for transportation, sign-ups, and coordination of teams, requires much more “leadership” ability and develops many more useful skills than making a phone call.
We believe that this inconsistency in what is defined as a leadership opportunity encourages girls to have an inaccurate understanding of what it takes to be a real leader, causing some students to hold positions that they are either not really equipped for or that should not count as leadership experiences. Running an interest group dedicated to watching political documentaries, for example, should not be something to boast about as a leadership opportunity, since it requires nothing more than the ability to send a few emails and find an available room. However, many girls seem to think this would qualify as such an opportunity.
As one of the components of providing a more precise definition of leadership, the UltraViolet believes that students would benefit if the School more carefully regulated the process of club leader selection, ensuring the club’s successful transition to new leadership. Club leaders have to provide a mid-year evaluation in which they discuss their plans for the next year, including their preparations for passing on leadership of the club.
The evaluation attempts to ensure that the process of succession flows smoothly and that competent leaders are selected. Sometimes, however, successors are chosen because of their friendship with the current head, meaning that the new leaders are not necessarily the most qualified for the job. The UltraViolet suggests that the School install a more uniform system of electing successors, whereby prospective leaders must provide a list of qualifications and goals for the next year, much as council members are required to do. Current club members could then vote for their preferred candidates.
In the process of preparing an action plan for the recent California Association of Independent Schools/Western Association of Schools and Colleges (CAIS/WASC) review, Marlborough has attempted to broaden its definition of leadership. As stated in the Student section of the Action Plan, the School’s goal is to ensure that every student will acquire a specific set of leadership skills before she graduates, regardless of whether she held a particular position or not.
We applaud the School’s endeavors to instill these skills in all students. If girls have the opportunity to learn and practice leadership skills before they are actually in a position of power, they will be better equipped to understand what leadership entails and how to handle the demands of the job. However, the UltraViolet urges the School to provide a more detailed and uniform definition of leadership so that girls who have learned these core skills will be able to apply them to true leadership positions and will be thus more effectively prepared for life beyond Marlborough.