Hewitt News

New Middle School Elective Puts Leadership into Practice
Hewitt News

Our middle school electives program is an integral part of centering student voice and choice at Hewitt. Each semester, students in grades 5 through 8 choose from a catalog of elective offerings that invites them to explore their unique and varied interests, including creative writing, robotics, STEAM, and current events. One of Hewitt’s newest middle school electives is Sports Leadership, co-taught and designed by Physical Education (P.E.) Department Chair James Oates and Humanities Teacher Dan White. Sports Leadership focuses on building students’ leadership capacity by asking them to consider, “What are the characteristics of a leader? What are some risks and rewards of leadership?” and “How does a leader handle conflict?” After engaging with these essential questions through class discussions, role play, and written reflections, students put leadership skills such as giving effective feedback, conflict resolution, and collaboration into practice through athletic competitions. 

The Sports Leadership elective grew out of research Dan White conducted as part of his masters degree in independent school leadership at the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. Inspired by Hewitt’s mission to help girls and young women “become game changers and ethical leaders,” Dan investigated how middle school students perceive leadership, and in particular, women's leadership. Part of his research process included interviewing Hewitt middle school students about their definition of leadership, how leadership is practiced, and their understanding of leadership and gender. One of his findings was that “Hewitt students are actively seeking opportunities to learn about leadership, to practice leadership, and take action in their everyday lives at school.” Dan was inspired by Hewitt’s mission to put his research findings into practice by designing a curriculum that gives middle school students increased opportunities to explore, define, and practice their own leadership skills. 

To take a transdisciplinary approach to leadership skill-building for middle school girls, Dan collaborated with his colleague James Oates in Hewitt’s P.E. department. James shares, “The Sports Leadership elective is interwoven with the Sport Education methodology that we use in P.E., where the emphasis is on the students taking ownership of their learning, creating drills, refereeing their own games, and developing their own strategies. I truly believe that this elective is a great way for Hewitt students to continue on their path to becoming game changers and ethical leaders.”

When asked to reflect on what they have learned in Sports Leadership, one sixth grade student noted that “being a leader isn’t always easy, and takes bravery, responsibility, and courage.” Another student shared that they look forward to taking their leadership skills outside of the classroom by “speaking up for what’s right.” Through this elective, middle schoolers are not only developing concrete leadership skills, but learning how to put those skills into action at school and in the world beyond Hewitt. 

two hands, one holding a pencil, drawing on a piece of paper

Students in Sports Leadership write and reflect on skills that leaders need to possess

three students stand in a row, one has arms crossed in front, one holds a volleyball, and one reads from a paper she holds up

Middle schoolers practice an important leadership skill — giving effective feedback — through role-playing scenarios

one student holding a paper, stands in front of a group of seated students, giving a presentation

They also develop their public speaking and presentation skills by sharing reflections on what it takes to be a strong leader

three students staring up at an (unpictured) basketball hoop, mouths open, waiting to see if their ball went in the hoop

Team sports such as knockout, four square, and newcomb ball are valuable opportunities to practice leadership skills

students stand in a circle with one hand in the center, in a team huddle before a game

Team huddles and pep talks before matches help build team morale and set the tone for the game

4 students stand looking up an an (unpictured) basketball hoop, holding basketballs

Students put their leadership learning into practice by taking turns as team captains, giving in-the-moment feedback to teammates, and encouraging good sportswomanship