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Misk Schools Integrated Leadership Curriculum Q&A with Dr Steffen Sommer, Director General

1. How do you define leadership? Leadership is multifaceted. It is at once a skill, an academic discipline, and a set of behaviours. It involves influencing and inspiring others to work towards a shared objective. We break it down into: Leadership of self; Leadership of others, and Leadership in fields of work and study:

•  Self-leadership is about understanding one’s strengths, and weaknesses and how to address them, along with establishing goals, identifying what support is required, and importantly, how to access it.

•  Leading others involves recognising team strengths and weaknesses, how to optimise behaviours to support a collaborative and effective team dynamic, as well as understanding how others contribute to one’s learning – and vice versa.

•  Leading in work and study requires awareness of the standards and steps needed to reach one’s desired goals, as well as clarity on one's positioning among peers. The ability to track progress and seek help proactively is also essential.

2.  Can leadership be learned? In the debate ‘Leaders are Born vs Leaders are Made’, we sit squarely in the second camp. We believe that leadership can absolutely be learned, but only through deliberate efforts alongside systematic and sustained commitment. To be effective, leadership learning must be taught as an academic subject while simultaneously being integrated into all aspects of school life. For us, teaching and coaching leadership has become our central raison d’être, reflected in our vision, mission, and school motto which is ‘Lead with Purpose’.

3. What exactly does ‘Lead with Purpose’ mean? To become confident and effective, leaders need a sense of purpose and conviction. Leadership guided by purpose cultivates empathy, integrity, and a commitment to positive change. Instilling purpose-driven leadership early on helps students to become focused and confident that they can tackle complex challenges, inspire others, and have an impact.

4.  How have you structured your Leadership Curriculum? A central tenet of our Leadership Curriculum is to ensure leadership is a point of linkage at every possible learning point in a student’s daily life. It is taught through a personalised, experiential programme designed to support students to become leaders, rather than those who just know about leadership.

Working with experts at The Inspirational Development Group (IDG), we have reviewed and deconstructed leadership education, rebuilding it. Hence, it integrates into our High-Performance Learning (HPL) and academic frameworks for Grade 7 to 12 students – applying some aspects in the younger years as well.

The result is a spiral curriculum built around eight pillars:

1)    Communicating Effectively

2)    Applying Emotional Intelligence

3)    Motivating Self and Others

4)    Developing Self and Others

5)    Embodying the Values

6)    Making Effective Decisions

7)    Exercising Mental Agility

8)    Leading a High Performing Team


5.  How do you integrate it into other learning? We have appointed Leadership Facilitators to work closely with teachers, co-creating and delivering lessons in which specific leadership learning outcomes (averaging between 40 and 50 per year – around one to two a week) are achieved alongside academic outcomes.

In addition to daily leadership facilitation and coaching in class, regular experiential projects and assignments during the year allow students to participate in a range of simulated leadership and entrepreneurial leadership activities, where the chance to make mistakes, learn, and try again in a safe space, links theory to practice.

Alongside all the usual school leadership opportunities (Heads of School, House Captains, School Council, leadership within teams and clubs, participation in competitions and Olympiads, etc), students are encouraged to undertake well-recognised leadership development programmes including Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, Model Arab League, Pearson’s Higher and Extended Project Qualifications, and professional diplomas from the Chartered Management Institute. We also run annual Grade 9 and 11 Leadership Bootcamps, and all Grade 9 students undertake bespoke internships with a leadership focus.

6. Where does High-Performance Learning (HPL) fit in? We have introduced formal linkages between academic and leadership activities in the classroom, and HPL’s Values, Attitudes, and Attributes (VAAs) and its Advanced Cognitive Performance characteristics (ACPs). VAAs are the ways of behaving that students need to acquire to perform highly, while ACPs are ways of thinking that students need to develop.

For example, where the Leadership Outcome may seek to achieve learning how to Evaluate a plan, the link to HPL’s Strategy Planning facilitates a discussion on how to plan for examinations/study/a project. Thus, it not only supports students’ understanding of the importance of the VAAs and ACPs but also supports teachers as they strive toward academic achievement.

7. How is the Misk Schools Leadership Curriculum assessed? The assessment focuses on understanding the real-world impact of leadership application. So, rather than measuring students’ ability to retain or regurgitate knowledge, the goal is to understand how the application of leadership theory has impacted their day-to-day experience as a leader, partner, and follower, alongside the impact they have had on others.

Students therefore embrace their leadership evolution not to reach a finishing line, but instead to discover the first of many steps in a lifelong (and iterative) journey. Initially, they are supported to identify their leadership strengths and engage with leadership theories through experiential learning activities. At the same time, across the academic year, both students and staff capture evidence of leadership strengths being applied. Through guided reflection and coaching, students explore the impact of such behaviours on themselves and others. They learn that self-awareness, reflection, and behavioral flexibility are key to leadership success, by the people, place, and priorities of that time.

Alongside the assessment approach, every leadership coaching, teaching, and learning event is recorded, producing a matrix at the end of every term that reflects the hours each student has spent engaged in learning to lead.

8.  What next?

The school’s Leadership Research team, Dr Kay Sanderson, PhD MBA, PGCE, and Dr Hibah Khalid Aladasani, Assistant Professor in the School of Education at King Faisal University, are conducting research into the impact and efficacy of the programme. They aim to critically evaluate its value to students, providing a grounded critique that contributes to its evolution and helps to prepare it for sharing with other educational establishments.


Dr Steffen Sommer has over 25 years of experience in senior roles across Europe and the Middle East. He joined Misk Schools in August 2022 from Doha College, where he was Principal for seven years. Before moving to the Middle East, he led top international schools in The Hague, Paris, and Lausanne. A fluent speaker of six languages, he was also Head of Languages at Rugby School, one of the UK’s top independent boarding schools.

Born in Germany, Dr Sommer gained his first degree in Language and Linguistics at the University of Leipzig. After military service and teacher training, he worked in France with car maker Peugeot, and studied for a PhD in Birmingham, UK, before finding his vocation in teaching. Dr. Sommer is Vice Chair of COBIS, a board member of Outstanding Schools of the Middle East, a co-founder of the international division of HMC, and a Fellow of High-Performance Learning.

Connect with Dr Sommer on LinkedIn.