by Tim Middleton
Prefects have a significant and major role in our schools — a huge amount of responsibility is given to this group of youngsters as they are called to lead the whole pupil body. In some schools, an elite band of prefects is selected over a period of time and given on-going training in the role. In other schools, every final year pupil is given leadership opportunities, for them to discover if they are indeed leadership material, though if a pupil is deemed not to have such qualities then their leadership is taken away. In a few schools, senior pupils are given leadership opportunities for a term before another group of senior pupils is given the opportunity the following term.
Some educationists have proffered some interesting ideas on the matter of prefects. Why do we not appoint prefects at any stage of their schooling (not just in their final year) — after all, we have CEOs in their 30s overseeing employees in their 60s? Why do we not allow anyone who wants to be a prefect to have that responsibility? Why do we have to select prefects (or their equivalents)? Such suggestions will no doubt be met with a huge amount of spluttering, disbelief and disgust!
The strange, and maybe sad, thing is that those very examples are precisely how people take on the incredibly important responsibility of becoming a parent! People become parents at any age, not necessarily when they are mature; people become parents if they want to; people are not appointed (and often not trained) as parents; people are not given a trial run as a parent, to see if they are suitably responsible, and then have it taken away from them. The fact is, not everybody is suited to be a prefect or a parent. Yet parenting, with the greatest of respect, is a far more challenging role of leading our youngsters forward than that of prefects. Parents are given leadership responsibilities, even when they are not leadership material. So what sort of leaders are our parents?
John Maxwell is recognised by many as the guru of leadership and he delineated leadership into five levels and it may be interesting to apply such levels to the role of parents as leaders. Level 1 is the level of position where parents are seen as bosses, children as subordinates. Such parents rely on rules and regulations to control their children. Children follow because they have to. Maxwell’s second level is that of permission — where people do more than merely comply with orders; they do so because they really want to. The parent here influences his children through relationship — when people feel liked, cared for, included, valued, and trusted, they will work with their leader.
The third level is defined as that of production. Good leaders, so good parents, always make things happen. They can make a significant impact on a child. Not only are the children productive individually, but they also are able to help the family produce. That leads on to the fourth level, that of people development. Parents move from being producers to developers. Good parents on this level would invest their time, energy, money, and thinking into growing their children as responsible adults. Children would follow because of what parents have done for them as a person.
The ultimate level is that of the pinnacle. With gratitude and humility, parents would lift up as many other parents as they can, tackle as many great challenges as possible, and extend their influence to make a positive difference beyond their own family and school. Children would follow because of who the parent is and what the parent represents.
Many parents were never made a prefect at school and had no position of responsibility then. Indeed, many have never been given positions of responsibility since then, at work, in church, in sport or in society, yet by very virtue of being a parent they take on immense responsibility for young people’s lives and futures. Should we be making parents more like our prefects or should we be changing our leadership systems to be more like parenting? What if we were to say that someone could only become a parent if they were a prefect at school? That is quite a thought! Should we be selecting who can and who cannot be a parent, as with prefects at school? Ditto! Should we give everyone a chance to be a parent but if they fail, then take away such a responsibility? The answer to all of these questions is obviously, “No!”, but we should take serious note — being a parent is a serious position of responsibility. A parent need not be a prefect, but should aim to be perfect.
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.