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Unlocking Student Potential: A Story of Student Empowerment and Leadership Development at Harare International School

Student leadership – a dream or a reality? Why do we, as teachers, often offer activities that could easily be student-led? These are the questions that we arrived at during our level 1 and level 2 courses facilitated by Compass Education. We, that is, Marie, Ian and Carolina, teachers at Harare International School (HIS), wanted to dive deeper into systems thinking and sustainability as part of our professional goals for the year. 

After starting the first course, we became quickly aware of much deeper challenges rooted in mental models. We pondered a variety of topics for our weekly assignments, but through the Systems Iceberg and the Sustainability Compass tool, we arrived at the final topic that would provide us with our action plan moving forward: student-led activities that are not really student-led but teacher-offered.

Compass Education’s tools were instrumental in helping us see the complexity behind observable behaviours

HIS is quite unique in its approach to offering CAS/SA and ‘after-school’ activities. They dedicate Wednesday for CAS/SA and HL classes as well as well-being sessions instead of ‘regular’ academic classes. This approach allows students to spend Wednesdays in activities that are chosen by them and would normally happen after school and prolong their day. While this idea is fantastic in terms of time dedicated to non-academic activities, the focus has shifted to teachers offering activities instead of students following their passions.

When we started our Level 1 course, we were tasked to find a challenge in our school that we wanted to analyze using the Compass tools from Compass Education. Looking at something that we all had in common, we arrived at our Wednesday activities. We discussed many of our frustrations and challenges while using the first tools of Compass Education. We went from attendance to communication to purpose but ended up with our topic of the lack of engagement and ownership from the sides of the students. Our new director put student learning at the center of our conversations, which facilitated a conversation about our current practices, including and foremost our Wednesday structure.

Connecting the dots – and finding new opportunities to develop student leaders

Throughout our level 1 course, we used the Sustainability Compass, the Systems Iceberg and feedback loops to inform teachers about our learning and demonstrate to them the benefits of applying these tools to our own reality. In a 1h PD, we facilitated discussions on various topics chosen by the teachers using some of the tools. Our second course (level 2) allowed us to go in-depth with introducing more student-led activities into our Wednesdays. We started conversations with leadership to expand our sphere of influence and gain traction for the change process.

In a second PD session with teachers, we focused exclusively on the idea of Wednesdays and student leadership with the more advanced tools of compass education. It created further discussions and offered more solutions moving forward.

Colleagues had many ideas about how to improve our existing model for Wider Wednesdays

Our next steps now are to investigate students’ interests and skill levels in terms of leadership. Once we have this data, we can start looking at upskilling students by offering them specific skill workshops which could range from budgeting to meeting facilitation or how to be more proactive.

Our initial survey to students to help identify potential activities, leaders, and resources they need

We hope that this blog post has inspired you as much as we were by our journey. For any questions or recommendations, please get in touch. We are always happy to share and collaborate.


Ian, Carolina and Marie are teachers at Harare International School in Zimbabwe. All three have found a similar interest in sustainability and systems thinking, which brought them to Compass Education. They have enjoyed thoroughly the diving into mental models, leverage points and possibilities of change over the last year. Exciting times are ahead while they move further with their action plan.

Picture of Marie-Theres Whitehead

Marie-Theres Whitehead

Dr. Marie-Theres Whitehead is a skilled educator with experience in educational leadership and language teaching. She holds a Doctorate in Spanish Literature from the University of Vienna and a MBA in Educational Leadership from TAMK in Finland.
She has worked in various roles such as a Child Protection Officer, MYP/DP French and Spanish Teacher, and Assistant Principal for Well-Being. She has a strong background in curriculum planning, staff coaching, and student well-being initiatives. Marie has also been involved in project management, concept-based curriculum coaching, and advisory program implementation.
Her experience extends to roles at International School Ho Chi Minh City, American International School Johannesburg and public schools in New York City, where she managed student well-being, led academic programs, and taught French, Spanish and German. She is certified in various educational approaches and has presented workshops on topics like systems thinking, concept-based inquiry, and change management.

Picture of Carolina Charsley

Carolina Charsley

Carolina Charsley, an accomplished coordinator and Spanish educator, possesses a robust skill set encompassing data analysis, communication, organizational proficiency, and a curious mindset. Next to teaching Spanish and coordinating Personal Project in Secondary School, she serves as a member of the Strategy Priority Task Force, established under the Board of Governors' authority, tasked with formulating a three-year strategic plan for the Board's approval within the ongoing academic year.
With over three decades of experience in the field of education, Carolina holds a Bachelor's degree in Special Needs in Spanish language and a Master's degree in Educational Administration. Her dedication and interests extend beyond traditional teaching roles, encompassing diverse responsibilities such as teaching Spanish and Individual & Societies, coordinating Personal Projects and Middle School activities, as well as previously serving as the Service as Action Coordinator.
Looking ahead, Carolina's commitment to active and collaborative contributions is evident as she prepares to transition into the role of CAS Coordinator in the upcoming academic year at HIS, aiming to continue her positive and collaborative engagement within the staff community.
Carolina's interests are increasingly focused on advocating for sustainable educational practices.

Picture of Ian Kwasowski

Ian Kwasowski

Ian Kwasowski is a social sciences teacher at Harare International School in Zimbabwe, deeply committed to fostering student ownership and agency in and beyond the classroom. With seven years of experience in international education, Ian has developed a focus on equipping students with the skills to navigate challenges proactively and sustainably through systems thinking.
Ian's passion for student empowerment aligns directly with this year’s theme of collective action and interconnectedness. By presenting practical strategies for using systems thinking tools, he seeks to inspire educators to adopt a proactive approach to problem-solving. Ian’s aim is to foster a culture of resilience and innovation, where community members are equipped with the mindset and skills to address complex issues collaboratively and see the bigger picture and how they fit within it. This approach helps leaders, educators, and students to enact more effective and sustainable solutions to their challenges, no matter the context.
Through hands-on experiences and practical applications of systems thinking, Ian hopes to empower session participants to become agents of change in their own communities.

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