For the most part professional development has been focused on teachers, as they are most often..
Our kids have great potential to be leaders. Even in younger years, they can take real-world skills and make them relevant to their lives. Their learning becomes something they use to one day make the world and those around them better. They are, more often than not, our leaders.
You might be looking for leadership lessons that will enhance such skills in your young students. Here are 4 powerful ones for you to consider using right now.
1. Leading By Example
One of the best leadership lessons we can give anyone, including our students is to lead by example.
To be sure, one must lead by example in every great thing they wish to teach. It’s not always about thinking whether students are “getting it” or not. Often it’s more about you becoming the best leader yourself as a teacher.
Team building occurs when the group is engaged in a project focusing on others rather than themselves.
It’s exciting when kids discover things on their own. The less talking about something and the more doing, the better. So rather than telling them how to be leaders, set the standard. With that, however, you must consider what kind of leader you want to be.
Clearly this a radical shift from our traditional way of teaching. In truth, we are coming to that shift because we know that it works and that it sticks. But students watching their teacher be a leader is not enough. They need to experience it themselves as well. This will be evident as you introduce team activities.
2. Team-Building the Right Way
Did you ever do that game about trust where everyone falls backwards into someone else’s arms? Or where you all try to sit on each other’s laps in a circle? These are certainly fun games that break the ice, but they don’t teach leadership lessons that stick.
Also, usually in team activities we get one leader who ends up doing most of the work. You may be thinking, “that’s not going to allow everyone to be a leader.”
Here’s one way to do team activities right. Team building occurs when the group is engaged in a project focusing on others rather than themselves. How about asking the kids what they would like to do to help those in need? Look for articles in your local newspaper. See how the kids could either collect things from their home or do a community cleanup. Volunteer opportunities abound if you look for them, and kids working together lends itself to ‘sticky’ learning.
The key to team-building is keeping the following questions in the forefront:
- Why is teamwork important for solving the problem?
- If we weren’t a team, what would we not be able to do?
- How would lack of teamwork prevent us from better helping the community?
3. I Think I Can, I Think I Can …
Another leadership lesson we must think about teaching is perseverance. To do this, you need to know why people give up. There are lots of reasons such as:
- They think their efforts are fruitless.
- They don’t see the importance of finishing.
- They have made up their minds that they are incapable.
In her book Mindset: A New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck reminds us it’s the way we view our failures that determines our success. When we fail, do we inherit a belief that we’re incapable of what we set out to do? Or do we reframe that failure into a not yet scenario? “I can’t climb that wall. Not yet, at least.”
When you consider “not yet,” you know that it’s a matter of time and practice for you to conquer that goal. So this leadership lesson is most effective for kids when we incorporate growth mindset within our daily language as well as our actions.
You can enhance this message by using a “me” awareness confidence-building exercise. This simple exercise for young kids gets them thinking about what gifts they have to offer should a team activity be called upon:
- Get students to cut out images and text from different magazines that say something about themselves and paste them on paper or cardboard.
- Have them talk about themselves and observe each other’s’ work. In doing so, they get to know who their peers are and each other’s’ gifts.
- Remember to keep growth mindset language prevalent throughout the exercise.
As educators we must ensure leadership lessons are presented as rewarding journeys to students early on. If this happens, they are more likely to continue learning to lead with compassion and humility.
4. Let’s Talk About This
Leadership lessons involve teaching how to negotiate well. Unfortunately, this is something that some teachers are scared to do. They fear they will abdicate some of their power by embracing this simple attitude of allowing students to negotiate. So the attitude becomes, “There’s no negotiating in my classroom.” As a result, kids naturally rebel against this.
How we view our failures determines our success. When we fail, do we inherit a belief that we’re incapable of what we set out to do?
On one hand, there needs to be order and some discipline in a classroom. On the other, if our only expectation is blind obedience, then we do our kids a disservice. In reality, we are sending learners off into a world without independence and problem-solving ability. As we dare to give our students a little power to negotiate, we teach them that the world is indeed theirs to inherit.
With negotiating also comes decision making. Who has not had an episode of analysis paralysis? We know as adults that sitting on a decision has disastrous consequences. If we don’t act our life passes us by. By giving students tools like Solution Fluency we know they will be able to move through complex issues methodically and deliberately.
Brainstorming and making lists are the first steps to decision making. Discussing within a team and weighing the pros and cons of a situation are important skills for young kids. Leadership lessons that stick also involve learning by doing, and by acting decisively.
The greatest leaders are those that have had opportunities to practice leadership. The more opportunities for doing, the more successes they rack up, the more confident they become.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jan 21, 2019, updated September 30, 2021