Bryan Nixon, Head of School at TASIS, the American School in England, discusses the importance of focusing on service leadership in a rounded education

Mary Crist Fleming, founder of the TASIS family of schools said: “Education is service, and I believe we are put on this earth to make some contribution, to try to leave it a little better place than we found it“. With the advent of league tables and the ambitions of families to create pathways to select universities, schools quite rightly focus on learning. But what if we challenged the understanding of learning to go beyond academic results? What would be the impact both today and into the future if we incorporated as focused an approach on service as we do on subject content?

Schools can shape not only their own culture but also impact the communities that surround them. By developing service leadership, students can significantly contribute to their schools and build the skills and competencies that will guide their future leadership roles. Service leadership is purposefully focused on fostering empathetic, compassionate, and principled individuals who take responsibility for sustaining healthy relationships with themselves, their families, their communities, and their environment. With these attributes at the very heart of learning within a school, our students, as global citizens, will confidently embrace and challenge the complexities and opportunities of our world.

Service leadership extends the concept of service learning. It not only combines learning objectives with community service, but it also relates to how we meaningfully engage with others, ask questions, find solutions, perceive challenge, seek opportunities, and resolve conflict. It is a reciprocal relationship focused on learning, achievement, and understanding for all. These skills will help our children achieve success beyond academics and serve them well in whatever their futures may hold.

“Learning in schools must involve the heart and promote intrinsic meaning and connection in order for it to be the education we desperately need”

We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. However, if schools purposefully promote service leadership, students will exude a sense of connection to, interest in, and responsibility for the global community. They can also affect positive change to create a better future for us all. Idealistic? Absolutely, but learning in schools must involve the heart and promote intrinsic meaning and connection in order for it to be the education we desperately need in our modern, interconnected, and dynamic world.

The challenging words from our founder that opened this article have been at the very heart of a TASIS education since 1956, and they continue to guide our schools today. At TASIS England, service leadership is one of our defined outcomes for our students. Along with promoting lifelong learning and international-mindedness, service learning underpins our mission to nurture intellectual curiosity and embolden each learner to flourish as principled, open-minded, and compassionate members of a global community. 

For all schools that take such a conscious approach to learning, relationships matter. By recognizing the importance of creating pathways for learning that engage and connect with people and issues that impact us, we can redefine how effective and successful a school is perceived to be. At the end of the day, I wonder how schools would change if we were not only judged on our many academic successes but, more importantly, on how we teach students to handle the situations that challenge us most. I also wonder what positive impact on our future such schools and their students would have.

TASIS England

Further reading: MPW on its fresh thinking for 14+ students