Leading the Way at W.G. Murdoch School

Story by Allison Chorney
Photos submitted

While most teachers hope to see smaller class sizes, teachers Shannon Booth and Kim Fox don’t share that sentiment when it comes to the leadership program at W.G. Murdoch School.

“It’s awful to think we might have to not admit students into the program, or there would be a cap on the number of kids in there,” Booth said.

When she began teaching the program seven years ago, it was offered only to students in grades 8 and 10. The following year, it expanded to include a senior program for students in grades 9 to 12 and a middle-school program for grades 6 through 8.

“It’s exploded, which is wonderful,” Booth said. “The Grade 8 group in my first year, I think there were 12 [or] 13 students. Our [Grade] 7/8 group this semester has 33. Our senior group has over 50 students. Our program has gone from [enrolment numbers in] the 20s, to just about 100 or over 100 students in the program.”

Grade 10 student Isabella Sollecito has participated in leadership since she entered the school in sixth grade. She said the program is “the life of the school” and “how everyone comes together.”

“Our school’s leadership program is very inclusive,” Sollecito said. “It not only helps you grow as  a person individually and understand your own identity, but it also allows opportunit[ies] to serve the community and other people in the school.”

Booth said students want to be involved – whether they show it or not.

“When they see these initiatives taking place and they see the activities and they see people having fun, that makes them want to be engaged, and that makes them want to be part of the team,” she said.

One such initiative is the annual Hunger Games. The weeklong activity starts by distributing a clothespin to each student and assigning them a “target.” The objective is simple; seek out your target and “clothespin” them. However, the will to win is strong, with some students even disguising themselves as a peer to trick their target or ambushing them by hiding in a hockey bag. Booth added the activity is “a huge crowd-pleaser,” with school staff getting involved in the fun.

“I’d say that’s probably the event in our building where every person is engaged,” she said. “Because even if they don’t want to participate, they have to go find their opponent and give them the clothespins.”

While Hunger Games is a blast, it also supports the overall theme of leadership.

“We talk so much in our program about the why, what’s the why of this activity?” Booth said. “We don’t care about how you’re going to do it, or what are you doing? That idea of connecting and making people in this building feel like they belong really is highlighted in that activity.”

Another key component of leadership is enabling students to make decisions and lead activities. Booth said the program is “very student-driven” and less about teachers telling them what to do and how to do it.

“A lot of it comes from student’s initiative, and then us just asking them questions to guide them into how they want to accomplish their goal,” she said. “[The students] understand they have the trust, that they have the trust in me and in our program, that they can do what they want to do, but we’re going to hold them accountable to whatever it is they want to do.”

Grade 12 student Bailey Clayton, who has been in leadership throughout her seven years at the school, said accountability is something she will take with her.

“It’s been really important throughout the years of my program to have those check-ins and keep everything on track as we’re planning events and as we’re doing initiatives with our school and community,” she said.

Clayton added time management, communication and organization are other skillsets she’s gained from leadership.

“To this day, [leadership is] something that is really a core part of me that I can’t imagine my life without it," she said.