top of page

Developing Student Leadership Through ATL Self-Reflection

July 10th, 2021



At the beginning of the most recent school year, I led a teacher workshop for my school during orientation week, on how and why we should develop leadership skills in our students. To build on this I decided to partake in the Action Research process (Sagor, Guiding school improvement with action research 2000) with the topic of developing leaders with ATL skills.


To build more confident student leaders, and increase their understanding of leadership through explicit discussions and consistent self-reflection on Social (collaborative) and Self-Management (affective) skills.

Success Criteria:

  1. Students demonstrate a greater understanding of the ATL skills in their reflections as the year progresses (qualitative)

  2. Students show greater self-confidence in their leadership skills from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. This will be measured through a leadership skill assessment at beginning of the year vs the same one taken at the end of the year. (quantitative)

  3. Students can connect the Self-Management and Social ATL skills to recent leadership experiences (qualitative)

Summary of Student Experiences:

When I was first developing my vision for this action research process I wanted to include all five ATL skills but realized to get meaningful and concise data was too large of an undertaking. Instead focusing on Social and Self-management skills allowed me to create learning experiences that were easily inserted into lessons without taking up too much time.

In the beginning, middle and/or end of each unit students would choose and reflect on an ATL skill they identified as a goal to use throughout the PHE unit. This ATL skill would be either a Social or Self-Management skill. Along with the self-reflection and self-assessment of their mastery of the chosen ATL skill, students would reflect on how they have experienced the ATL skill in previous leadership experiences.

In this next section, I will break down what my year outline looked like for Grade 7 - 10 students.


To start the year off I had students pick a Social skill they were interested in focusing on as we explored a games unit. Grade 7 and 8 were asked to choose a collaborative skill from a list that would help them succeed in group projects as they explored target games, and Grade 9 and 10 were asked to do the same as they experienced a range of invasion games.

Midway through the unit, each student simply reflected which ATL mastery level they think they are at, whether it was: Learner, Novice, Practitioner, or Expert.

At the end of the six-week unit students once again reflected on which mastery level they were at, but this time had to justify the level with an explanation of why they chose that level. Prompt questions and sentence starters were provided to students who could benefit from that scaffold.


As the MYP students started their second unit, a health-related fitness unit, students were again asked to choose an ATL skill. This time they chose from a list of Self-Management (affective) skills that would allow them to take on and succeed in a group role whether they were learning boxing (G7/8) or coaching a student through a cross-training plan. (G9/10)

The leadership learning experiences related to reflection and self-assessment remained the same but it was notable that students were much more comfortable with the process a second time through. Many were unfamiliar with the four levels of mastery in the first unit.



As we wrapped up the second unit, and schedules were a bit hectic due to the upcoming holidays, the leadership component of this action research goal was brought into greater focus.

First students were asked  “What is leadership?” without any googling or heads-up this provided an authentic understanding of each MYP student’s immediate thoughts with the large, umbrella term. The word cloud below shows which words commonly popped up across the student responses.

Secondly, the student’s completed a leadership quiz. This quiz allowed students to self-assess themselves based on different categories of leadership from self-confidence, developing a vision, to motivating others. I transferred these 18 questions onto a google form so I could collect this data and track the results.

Leadership Pre-assessment.jpeg


Starting the third unit of the year, students chose one affective skill and one collaborative skill from the same lists previously used this year. Student’s justified why these two skills would help them be a great leader in this unit.

For the unit end reflection, students once again self-assessed themselves on the 4 levels of ATL mastery, but also explained how they used their chosen ATL skills in this unit. The last question on this self-reflection was what was their greatest leadership experience in this unit.

At the mid-point of the unit students also reflected on their best personal leadership experience, with the hopes of them understanding why or how they were previously successful when collaborating with others.



In March my school went back online due to the pandemic. I found this to be a great opportunity to gather data and promote leadership reflection through technology. Using padlet, students once again chose a Self-Management and Social ATL skill and explained how this could help them succeed in an aesthetic movement unit. Grade 7 and 8 were exploring yoga/Pilates, while Grade 9 and 10 were creating fusion dances, blending cultural movements together.  They also chose a specific role to take on in their planning group, from Cheerleader, editor, researcher and more. As students worked online and in groups they had one reflection question to answer across the 4 weeks of online planning and routine creation.

Unlike previous experiences related to this action research, these reflection questions were assessed as part of the interpersonal strand of Criterion D.



Each MYP student once again completed the same Leadership Quiz that they did in December. This time they completed the quiz directly on the website so they could see and understand the meaning of their score.

This wrapped up my 8-month action research plan and it was exciting to see students confident when discussing their results, and also agreeing with the assessment. The findings are discussed in more detail in the next section.


From a quantitative perspective, students self-assessed themselves at a higher level of ATL mastery as the year progressed. During the initial reflections in September and October, only 4 MYP students said they were at an expert level for their chosen ATL skills. By the March self-assessment, 60% of students in Grade 9 and 10 had self-assessed themselves as an expert in either a collaborative or affective skill. 40% of Grade 7 and 8 students had also done so. No one in the MYP was assessing themselves at the lowest level by the end of the year.

While high self-assessment is not always accurate, there are plenty of arguments to make that high confidence in abilities can lead to less anxiety and doubt. (TC North, 12 Benefits Increasing Self Confidence, 2020)

Qualitatively, student reflections were completed at a much higher level as the school year went on. From making general comments, or not understanding what a leader is, to students using specific examples from their classroom or extracurricular experiences to reflect I got a better sense students were actively trying to be positive group members.

One unexpected finding was how this focus on leadership lead to students trying new roles in groups so they could better use their chosen ATL skills. For example, a student who chose “help others to succeed” volunteered to take on a research-focused role so they could find movements for each group member. Previously I had witnessed this student just look out for themselves and not get actively involved in planning.

Final Reflection

This was a good first step to bringing explicit leadership experiences to my MYP students. The success criteria were met and the whole plan was able to be done in small sections of class time.

Next year the MYP students would be a lot more comfortable using the four levels of ATL mastery to self-assess themselves as they were used across our MYP program this year.

With students choosing 1 or 2 ATL skills to focus on, of a total of 3-4 each unit, they had more agency over their learning experiences and this is something I would like to continue to do regardless of the leadership goal.

Going forward I would like to include more direct leadership studies, whether it be movie clips, guest speakers, games, or articles. I feel like provocations could be beneficial to gathering more interest from the students in developing their leadership skills.

Follow me on twitter @tannernickel

bottom of page