This website requires JavaScript.
    arrow right
    arrow right

    From Me to We: Leadership Development through Interaction


    11 Oct, 2023

    16 : 06

    If you were asked to choose the image that best represents leadership, what would you pick? A picture of building blocks stacked as a pyramid? A group photo of Tang Sanzang and his three disciples from the Journey to the West? Or perhaps Katsushika Hokusai's famous woodblock print, "The Great Wave"?

    At the "YCYW Senior Student Leadership Retreat" held in mid-September 2023, facilitators Mr John Liu and Mr Steve Hackman presented six images, including the three mentioned above, and asked the 80 participants to choose one. A YCIS Shanghai student chose the picture of Tang Sanzang and his three disciples because it showed people from various backgrounds striving for a common goal. Another student chose the same image, but for a different reason. She emphasised the unifying power of Tang Sanzang as a leader.


    Of course, there is no "correct" answer to the question. "You are here to improve and understand yourself. At the same time, it's not only about you; it's about learning different perspectives," said Mr Liu, Head of Pastoral Care at YCYW, during his introductory remarks at the retreat.

    Sixty-six students and fourteen teachers from seven Yew Chung Yew Wah schools participated in the retreat. They gathered at YWIES Zhejiang Tongxiang on 15th-16th September to share their experiences and insights about leadership. The retreat helped the participants to develop their leadership skills. Both the teachers and the students learned much from each other through candid discussions.


    From Me to We

    The retreat's first exercise explored core personal values. All participants were asked to choose one value (from among 99 values) that they considered to be their core value, and then to explain how their leadership style reflected that value.


    Johnny, a YWIES Shanghai Lingang student, chose "inclusion" as his core value.  Johnny became the Deputy Head Prefect for the academic year 2023-2024 in July. He chose "inclusion" because the concept related to his experiences as a student leader before he had started attending YWIES Shanghai Lingang.

    While communicating with that school's teachers, he found that although the teachers had agreed with the suggestions of the student leaders and had promised to take action, the results often fell through.

    Sixty-six students and fourteen teachers from seven Yew Chung Yew Wah schools participated in the retreat. They gathered at YWIES Zhejiang Tongxiang on 15th-16th September to share their experiences and insights about leadership. The retreat helped the participants to develop their leadership skills. Both the teachers and the students learned much from each other through candid discussions.


    Johnny speaks during the workshop

    "I want to create an environment of equality, to become a bridge between students and the school. I want more voices to be heard," Johnny explained. He and a group of like-minded students founded the New Media Club to turn this ideal into reality. The student club reports school news and events from the students' perspectives and represents their views.

    Because Johnny respects all opinions, he listened carefully to all the speakers at the retreat and responded positively.


    In the workshop, the instructors explained the importance of listening


    Aicheng, a YCIS Beijing student, was in the same group as Johnny during the first day of the retreat. She grew up in Japan and returned to China with her parents four years ago. Because her father's work involves communication with various government organisations from different countries and regions, Aicheng has been exposed to cross-cultural exchanges since childhood. As a result, she is very interested in cultural exchanges, and hopes to work with government organisations.


    Aicheng chose "trust" from the 99 values. Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic, inspired her. Known in Japan as "the god of management", Matsushita emphasised the importance of trust in his management philosophy.


    Aicheng participates in the group discussion

    Aicheng once hesitated as a student leader whether to delegate tasks to younger students during school activities because she feared that they might be incompetent. When one student completed the tasks, however, she realised how important trust is. She explained, "Before you expect to receive an opportunity, you should also expect to give others fair opportunities. So, I just trusted him, and the group project went well."

    After identifying their core values, the participants visualised them through Lego constructions and explained their creations to peers and teachers. They also needed to consider how their core values related to the core characteristics YCYW strives to cultivate in its students, i.e., the 12 Virtues. 




    The discussion about values and virtues, like ripples, spread outwards from individual students, colliding and inspiring each other.


    "The opportunity to explore deep issues such as identity, core values, systems thinking, and conflict resolution alongside like-minded new friends from across YCYW was immeasurable. They will carry this experience for many years," said Mr Hackman, Head of Character and Community Development Division in Hong Kong.


    After the first day of the workshop, students and teachers summarised their "Gem for today" with a word or phrase. Listening, friendship, cooperation, and communication are the frequently mentioned words


    From Concepts to Action

    The discussion about core values allowed the students to understand themselves better and to become more familiar with their peers at the retreat. Building on this background, Mr Liu and Mr Hackman cultivated the students' abilities to think systematically, resolve conflicts, and formulate action plans, thus transforming concepts into compassionate leadership actions.



    Mr Liu and Mr Hackman introduced system thinking tools such as the inference ladder and the iceberg model. They guided students to diagnose problems and to review  biased aspects of their thinking process.


    For example, when discussing personal conflict styles, Mr Liu asked, "You were going out with friends on a Saturday night, but your mother asked you to clean the house. What would you do?" Some students chose accommodation, i.e., cleaning the house instead of hanging out with friends. One student chose to compromise, making a "deposit" for their relationship. The student would hang out with friends this time, but next time, when her mother wanted to go out, she would be willing to stay home and do the cleaning.


    When hearing this answer, Mr Liu asked, "Is the 'deposit' you offered what the other party wanted?" Referring to the inference ladder, he reminded the students to "go down the ladder" before taking actions in order to understand the other party's thoughts fully.

    In the last section of the retreat, students and teachers from each school used system thinking tools to identify a major challenge they saw at school. During the discussion, the students and the teachers either stood or sat; and voiced their opinions loudly or carefully wrote down their team members' ideas. The YCIS Beijing suddenly applauded, and the other schools followed, clapping to cheer for themselves.


    When sharing his feelings about participating in the retreat, Carlton from YCIS Beijing specifically mentioned that moment, "When YCIS Beijing students started to clap, and then all the students from the other schools started to clap. That made me realise that we are all from the same network. And yes, we all have individual problems, but we all had come to the student leadership group."


    Ms Prachi Gupta, a teacher from YCIS Chongqing, realised that the challenges faced at each school are very similar, such as students not communicating within groups and enormous parental pressure to get higher grades. "Maybe we can all get together. We can start the conversation, share different ideas as YCYW cross-campus leaders, and share action plans," she said.

    For Ms Brenda Zhang, a teacher from YWIES Yantai, the major takeaway from the retreat was: "Teaching benefits teachers as well as students" (in Chinese "教学相长").

    "Every student heard different opinions from other students. they shared their confusion and created their leadership strategies together. In just two days, they gained confidence and found resonance," she said. "I learned a lot from the students. Their confidence, innocence, curiosity, and thirst for knowledge will always touch me."

    Mr Liu was impressed by how students from all the YCYW campuses bonded with each other and how the teachers participated as equal participants in the learning activities.

    In the afternoon when the retreat ended, the students and teachers reluctantly said their goodbyes, and promised to meet again at the next cross-campus event. As a student of the host school, Inaya from YWIES Zhejiang Tongxiang stayed at the venue until the end. She warmly hugged and said goodbye to the others. 

    Born in the UK and having lived in Qatar and France, Inaya regards "communication" as her core value and the key to overcoming many cultural shocks. "Communication" enabled her to gain new friends during the two-day retreat.


    "When we were receiving the groups as they arrived, I overheard the YWIES Shanghai Lingnan students and the YCIS Beijing students introducing themselves to each other and saying how happy they were to meet. When I heard that I thought, 'This is going to be a good workshop'," recalled Mr Hackman.