Teaching Values and Servant Leadership with youth | Center For Sharing
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Teaching Values and Servant Leadership with youth

14 May Teaching Values and Servant Leadership with youth

Teaching Servant Leadership to Youth

Ines Arenas works at Vista Hermosa Elementary School. It was there that she decided that the most important things she was called upon to teach weren’t just the basic academic principles that every student is expected to learn during those years. Ines decided she wanted to use this as an opportunity to teach young people to develop into servant leaders. The following is the story about how that journey began:

By Ines Arenas

When I started writing this article, and I began with the recount of how I came up with the idea of teaching Servant Leadership to children. About a year ago, I was working on preparing a group of fifth and sixth grade students from Vista Hermosa Elementary that would be participating in a Summer Program sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth.

We were having some challenges with the students’ behavior, and I wanted those students clearly understand JHU expectations for Student Conduct  and their youth honor code(see an excerpt from that document below).


Expectations for Student Conduct (from Center for Talented Youth at JHU)

We expect our students to meet the highest standards of behavior, both in personal deportment and in dedication to academic pursuits. At each site, students learn about our standards for behavior. While specific rules vary somewhat from site to site, community standards throughout our summer programs are basic and consistent. They apply both in and out of the classroom. They include a commitment to academic and personal integrity, respect for all members of the community, regard for the basic rules of physical safety, and cooperation with adult supervision. To this end, students must adhere to our Honor Code. We cannot accommodate students who are unwilling or unable to live up to these expectations.


Center for Talented Youth Honor Code

CTY’s summer programs provide a unique opportunity for intellectually curious people from diverse backgrounds to come together in pursuit of academic challenge and growth, within a supportive community built on respect, responsibility, and trust. In order to create and sustain such a community:

I promise to uphold academic and personal integrity, to respect the ideas and property of others, and to ensure that those around me do the same; and

I promise to follow the Expectations for Student Conduct:

• Strive to do the best academic work possible.

• Respect individuals of different races, cultures, religions, genders, sexual orientations, ages, disabilities, and national origins.

• Behave in a friendly, cooperative, safe, and responsible manner toward all persons in the CTY community and in the larger campus and local communities.

• Take responsibility for my own work and actions.

Cooperate with adult supervision.

• Observe rules for physical safety and all other rules for student conduct.

I understand that my actions will shape our site community, and that my membership in the community depends on my honoring this code.


As a result, I found myself explaining to those students what it means to create and sustain a supportive community. We discussed briefly the meaning of respect, responsibility, trust, cooperation, integrity and other topics.

The most challenging idea the students encountered was the idea that they were not only responsible for their own behavior and personal integrity, but that they also were responsible to ensure that those around them will uphold academic and personal integrity.  This was a completely new concept for them.  In their minds their own academic success was a personal victory.  It was a paradigm shift, not easy for them to comprehend, especially in our current world that emphasizes personal achievement.

I remembered the time several years ago when I took a Servant Leadership class from the Center for Sharing, and wondered what it would be like if our students would learn the SL concepts from an early age. Would they be more compassionate, more willing to become Servant Leaders?  I contacted The Center for Sharing, asking for resources to teach SL to children, and a journey began…

Answering my inquiry, Center for Sharing provided me with some resources, although they warned me that all of them missed the spiritual emphasis.  After doing some research and reading some books about Servant Leadership I concluded to the following:

Servant Leadership has a deep and profound meaning, and could also be called values-based leadership.  Servant Leadership brings personal and collective growth.  Servant Leadership is first about deep identity.  SL begins from within.  CHARACTER is central to SL. Everything a person does flows from the inner world (the spiritual life).  Our motives stem from our character, which dictates what we do and how we lead.  Mastering SL is a lifelong learning process.  The SL attributes are the result of developing a highly moral and spiritual character. Character affects everything a person does.  From it flows inner qualities such as values, faith, vision, respect for human dignity, relationship with God, the servant’s attitude and the strategies needed to carry out the work of servant-leadership.

A servant leader may be defined as a leader whose primary purpose for leading is to serve others. A servant-leader displays a genuine desire to serve others for the common good. In servant leadership, self-interest gives way to collective human development.  Though being just a service-oriented person does not qualify one as a servant leader. While serving is essential, SL requires more than serving.  Serving God through serving others reveals the part of a Christian life seen by others.  But we also must consider the part of the life that can’t be seen by others, the inner self, the spiritual life.

Servant leadership is not just an interesting idea, but something fundamental and vital for the world. It moves from being a body of work to being a movement… how we are going to move this into the world. My hope is that our students see life as a mission, not as a career.