Hear from Emily Tymus Ihrke, who serves as USM’s director of ethical leadership programming, about preparing students with the capacities to lead in a complex, diverse, and constantly changing world.

Mission in action

University School of Milwaukee’s mission states that our school cultivates leadership (in addition to learning and citizenship) for all students. Leadership is also addressed in our Portrait of a USM Graduate statement, developed in 2017, which focuses on fostering leaders who champion ethics and integrity, communicate effectively, build meaningful relationships, and create innovative solutions. Leadership experiences exist throughout, and beyond, our PK–12 curriculum, and our strategic plan calls on us to add to an already robust offering of experiences for students.

Leadership defined

USM has always had a focus on ensuring that the student learning experience promotes and fosters leadership skills, in age-appropriate ways, for all students. We define leadership as having the courage and integrity to take a stand, the vision and influence to inspire others, and the perseverance to create positive change. Every USM student has the capacity to be a leader and develop leadership skills. The ongoing development of leadership programming is a critical component of the USM academic experience.

New leadership programming offered

One of the many exciting new leadership programming pieces USM has added is a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania and their Social Innovators Program, to provide Upper School students with more opportunities and experience with social entrepreneurship and leadership. USM is UPenn’s first partner school in the Midwest, and seniors in our Class of 2024 are part of this initial pilot year program. Another new program added this year is a Middle School elective, Learn to Lead, which includes roundtable discussions and ethical-dilemma case studies, giving students additional opportunities to gain confidence, develop skills, and strengthen leadership capacities. And in the Preschool and Lower School, the new Random Acts of Kindness, an evidence-based curriculum focuses on social-emotional learning, contributing to individual well-being and positive classroom and community cultures.

Other new leadership initiatives recently added for students of all ages include:

  • A new Middle School leadership club, where students learn ethical leadership principles, deepen relationships with themselves and others, and engage in community-based, hands-on projects.
  • The application-based Leadership Fellows program, offered to 11th grade students with seminar-style sessions and one-on-one coaching, which culminates in leadership action plans aimed at creating meaningful change in the USM community.
  • Wildcats LEAD, emphasizing leadership and the power of sports psychology to all Upper School athletes, and amplifying the importance of setting goals and having strong team cultures.
  • Summer I.D.E.A.S. ethical leadership offerings, piloting innovative approaches in the teaching of leadership, using curriculum from the Harvard University School of Graduate Education’s “The Good Project,” which USM was invited to participate in.

Leaders moving communities forward

The word beyond USM needs individuals with the capacities to lead in a complex, diverse, and constantly changing world. At USM, we strive to add intentionality, shape, and focus to the tremendously important work of creating leaders. This is a recursive, long-term endeavor that requires continual growth and appropriate feedback. During the 2023–24 school year, part of year two of USM’s strategic plan work will focus on creating a new “Portrait of a USM Leader” statement, similar to the “Portrait of a USM Citizen” statement and work completed in year one. Truly effective, ethical leaders are entrepreneurial in their work to move communities forward in positive ways.