Growing Leaders Together in Ojai

As part of our Greatest Good Leadership initiative, Michael Mulligan is working with Thacher and Nordhoff High School to add leadership training to the Ojai public school curriculum.
The Ojai Valley News recently published an op-ed piece by Michael K. Mulligan, Thacher’s recently retired head of school. In it, he describes a joint-venture between Thacher and the Ojai Unified School District to offer leadership training to students at Nordhoff High School.

Growing Leaders Together in Ojai
Public-private school partnership will ultimately strengthen nation and world.

By Michael K. Mulligan
Two years before my retirement from The Thacher School, I met with two former Thacher parents
who were willing to help us establish a leadership training program at the school. I’d long wanted to make leadership training an explicit endeavor there. These visionary and generous parents, however, wanted to see the impact of their gift extend to a public school beyond Thacher.

After discussions with Andy Cantwell, the Ojai superintendent of schools, assistant superintendent Sherrill Knox, Nordhoff High School principal Dave Monson, and the Ojai School Board, Thacher was invited to work in concert with Nordhoff and its staff to help design and offer a course in leadership for the Rangers. Pretty exciting stuff.

This course—called the Greater Good Leadership Program—will be a one-year elective offered to 10th, 11th and 12th-graders. This July, participants will have the option toattend a two-week High Sierra workshop in leadership offered at Thacher’s Golden Trout Wilderness School. Students will partake in a five-day training course in wilderness first aid, backcountry skills, and nature observation prior to a nine-day foray into the surrounding wilderness.

Next fall, leadership training will also be taught at Nordhoff High School and will include a study of the virtues, traits and characteristics of leadership along with targeted inspirational readings, exercises, case studies, role play, peer and mentor review, and workshops with local and nationally renowned leaders.

The idea behind the pedagogy is that virtue and character are learned by practice—Aristotle’s accurate observation.

Students will also come to understand roles, boundaries, power, accountability and thought-leadership. They will learn the importance of and distinctions between good citizenship and leadership. And we will help them internalize the notion that the “world is to them as they are to themselves”—hence, the importance of a healthy diet, sound sleep, vigorous exercise, effective stress management and the development of a meaning-making system that provides purpose and direction that transcends their own specific needs. (Family background and preferences regarding spirituality and religion will be respected here, of course.)

We believe that helping students learn, understand and acquire leadership traits will positively affect their trajectory in life as they also help lift those around them.

Ultimately, we hope that these students will become stronger and more motivated to help others; that their friends and family will witness their growth and be inspired; that their communities (schools, organizations, clubs, etc.) will benefit from their vision and leadership. As educators, we are, after all, not just in the business of schooling our next generation of leaders; we must also build and strengthen our nation to make a better world.

My great thanks go to the thoughtful and clear-headed Ojai superintendents, Andrew Cantwell and Sherrill Knox; Nordhoff High School principal Dave Monson, an inspirational, visionary leader devoted to Nordhoff, its faculty and students and our community; the Ojai School Board, which has thoughtfully endorsed this program; the Thacher trustees and their ever-devoted and hardworking chair, Cabot Brown, who have embraced this public-private partnership; Blossom Beatty Pidduck, Thacher’s dynamic new head of school, and her assistant head, the highly experienced Sabina McMahon, who is overseeing Thacher’s leadership initiatives; Ojai’s wise veteran educator Mary Taylor who will be the lead classroom instructor for the leadership course; Cam Spaulding, a John Muir for our age who designed and leads Thacher’s Golden Trout Wilderness School; Mike Donohue, a Nordhoff High School and Thacher dad who has devoted all his free time in recent months to ensuring the excellence of this leadership program; Retired Col. Keith Nightingale, former Nordhoff Ranger and a distinguished U.S. Army Ranger and leader who has helped us understand leadership qualities and how to train for them; and finally, to our two former Thacher parents who know that the future of our nation and world depends upon the leaders we grow and nurture today. Without their vision and support, none of this would be possible.

This is truly an exciting endeavor and a great opportunity for those Nordhoff Rangers who are willing and able to take on this opportunity.

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