Saint Patrick Catholic School June Blog

Lilly Cleary, MA

Servant Leadership in the 8th Grade Classroom

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:25-28)

Although Jesus mandated it over 2,000 years ago, the phrase servant leadership did not begin to attract any serious interest until 1970 when Robert Greenleaf wrote “The Servant as Leader". In this article, Greenleaf, who went on to found the Atlanta-based Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, explained that the true leader was the one who made his main priority to serve rather than to lead.  This was the complete opposite of the traditional view of leadership, which was based on power and control.  Servant leaders serve with others instead of just ordering them, and they are always looking toward the common good.  They prefer to serve with humility instead of imposing authority. Many businesses began to use this model which proved to be highly successful in maintaining productivity and performance.  

The education community took notice and started to implement the idea of servant leadership in its own way.  Mission statements, such as Duke University’s “Knowledge in the Service of Society”, began to emerge.  It was easy to get college students who are eager to go out and change the world on board with the idea.  High schools also realized the importance of service and instituted community service requirements as part of graduation. These, along with the many organizations based on serving others, are an important part of our civilization; however, the original idea of leading through service somehow got lost. This is the idea that we tried to implement in 8th grade this year, and hope to continue as we move forward.  

Eighth Graders are a unique lot.  They are developing physically and emotionally at an alarming rate, all the while having to deal with difficult peer relations and unexpected moodiness.  However, their intellect is expanding quickly, resulting in improved abilities in the areas of problem solving, reasoning, abstract thinking, planning, and self-control.  Frances Jensen, neurology professor at Harvard Medical Center, describes it this way, “These are people with very sharp brains, but they’re not quite sure what to do with them.”  Juggling all of this can distract them from putting others first.  This was the challenge we decided to take on at St. Pat’s this year.  

These students have grown up together over the years, some of them for 11 years, and they have formed a tight bond.  By the time they get to 8th grade, they have moved up to the top of the pecking order and naturally are ready to reap the benefits of doing so.  The term 8th Grade Privileges is happily dancing in their heads, and they have very strong feelings that they deserve them. In fact, they’re quite sure they deserve them.  Needless to say, asking 8th grade students to change their mindset from what they deserve to what they can give is a difficult thing to do at this age.  However, these students pulled it off with the help of St. Teresa of Calcutta, our class patron saint!  It was not an easy thing for them to do; as a matter of fact, it was quite a struggle at first.  Slowly, though, and quite miraculously, it became evident that they were starting to enjoy working for the good of others more so than for themselves.  They started with assigned projects like beautifying the school grounds and mentoring younger students. As the school year progressed, they started to show their own initiative in volunteering to help in small ways, like carrying things for people and setting up the parish hall.  This was a beautiful transformation to see, and it is what I regret the most about having to go to eLearning this year.  I can only imagine what they might have accomplished by the end of the school year! I do have the utmost confidence that they will continue giving of themselves as they move on to high school next year.  I look forward to hearing all about it in the future.

Next year, we will start this journey again with a new group.  Please pray for them, and for us…         

Lilly Cleary, MA
8th Grade homeroom teacher
St. Patrick School