In her New York Times #1 Bestseller, Dare to Lead, Brené Brown writes, Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging.” At St. Francis, we aim to empower young people to become these very kinds of leaders, to know that they all belong in this School community and to have a sense that their ideas and opinions matter. Student leadership is evident in so many spaces in our School — in Morning Meetings, Student Council, and Red and Blue Teams, just to name a few. How did a powerful example of student leadership show up most recently in our Lower School? Students requesting to reintroduce playground balls at recess.

At Lower School Morning Meeting this week, Lower School Director Jennifer Griffith read a letter that a group of Lower School students worked together to write to her regarding an important request: being allowed to use playground balls to play with at recess. Prior to COVID-19, basketballs, soccer balls, footballs, and kickballs would be regularly played with items at every recess. Enter the cleaning and distancing protocols needed to keep everyone safe this school year, balls were a “no-go” outside of more structured (and refereed) games at P.E. or during team sports. 

Fast forward to this spring with beautiful weather and with the students’ increased desire to demonstrate the “Wise Freedom” that we ask them to practice, a group of Lower School students worked together to use the power of the pencil to respectfully request that balls be reintroduced at recess. Jen read their letter to the entire Lower School student body on Tuesday at Lower School Morning Meeting, praising these students for their activism. She announced that a meeting would be held during Snack Recess on Wednesday, encouraging any Lower School students interested in helping co-create guidelines and expectations for playing with balls, safely, at recess show up for the meeting.

As I walked through the Lower School Amp just before the meeting started, nearly every “Sit Here” sticker on the Amp floor was occupied by a Lower School student! The students showed up, knowing their voices would be heard and that they could voice their opinions and share suggestions. In this School community where they all feel an empowered sense of belonging, they could help make changes and by doing so, be leaders. Here was the outcome of their activism — their co-created rules and guidelines — shared in an email that Jen sent to all of the Lower School teachers:

Here are the guidelines that everyone agreed upon (We even all took an oath!):

  • Only two students can use a ball at a time
  • Only passing or kicking allowed with hands or feet
  • No group games or sports
  • Balls MUST be cleaned off at the end of each recess (they can use the spray and paper towels by the ball bin near the 2B room)
  • If someone decides they don’t want to use the ball, they cannot just hand it to someone else — they still need to bring it inside and clean it
  • No balls may be left outside for any reason

The students and Jen also discussed what success would look like as well as what consequences might look like, too, for students who might need too many reminders about the expectations to use balls safely at recess. 

While students working together to request balls at recess seems like a small thing, it is evidence that our students understand how to demonstrate positive leadership and to be changemakers. Students made a request, their voices were respected and heard, and changes were made. Social scientist and researcher Brené Brown writes about daring leadership in schools and the kind of conditions we should continuously create for students. Specifically, she states, “We must be guardians of spaces that allow students to breathe, be curious, and to explore.” In this case, students knew they missed playground balls at recess. They expressed their thoughts and ideas, grew curious about how they might make a change, and explored how to make the change through using the power of their voices, united. What a remarkable example of daring leadership by students, made possible by the conditions created for them here in this remarkable learning environment!