Kids today need to learn leadership skills. After all, they will be our next generations of leaders — in business, and government and service organizations. Learning these essential skills while still in school will allow students to take on those future roles with confidence, and build a more successful life for themselves and their communities.
With an eye toward these benefits — both present and future — here are six simple ways to teach leadership skills:
- Start with independence. No one can successfully lead others if they cannot lead themselves. This makes independence a key component of leadership. You can encourage independence in your classroom by creating opportunities for self-monitoring, encouraging students to explore answers to their questions, and making collaborative projects part of your curriculum.
- Define leadership. Some children may be natural leaders, quick to volunteer for classroom duties or to decide which games are played during recess. Other students in your classroom may seem more content to follow. However, in all likelihood, none of them have put conscious thought into what leadership means. Bring the topic up in classroom discussion. Have your class create a list of the “leaders” in their lives: their teachers, their parents, their mayor. Then, define leadership by creating a list of leadership characteristics. Now ask: Do they have any of those characteristics themselves? Could they develop them?
- Offer examples. When choosing reading materials for your class, keep your eye out for stories about ordinary people who acted as leaders. Rosa Parks. John Muir. Bill Gates. You can even use discussion of the reading material as an exercise in leadership by having your students break into small groups to analyze the roles of the people in the stories they’ve just read.
- Put them in charge. You can let your students practice their budding leadership skills by putting them in leadership positions. Let them lead the class on an outing, for example, or be the moderator during a roundtable discussion. Other leadership opportunities include monitoring cleanup at the end of the day, taking care of a classroom pet, or being responsible for roll call.
- Involve your students in lesson planning. Of course, you have a curriculum you need to follow throughout the school year, but whenever there is a little wiggle room, involve your students. Ask them, for example, to choose what books to read during reading practice, or to decide what kinds of year-end projects most interest them. You could even ask whether they’d like to do math before reading, or vice versa. Involving them in their learning process teaches leadership by breaking the dependency some children develop at school, doing only what they’re told to do by their teacher and nothing more.
- Let them know it’s OK to fail. Successful leaders are often perceived as people who are naturally good at all they do. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most leaders tried and failed, then tried again. Encourage positive failure in your classroom. When a child makes a mistake say, “Now you know that doesn’t work. What else can you try?” Let your students see you fail, as well. When something doesn’t go quite the way you planned, fess up to it. Then, let your students hear you use a little positive self-talk: “Hmmm? That didn’t work, but I learned something. Next time I’ll do it differently.”
Fostering the next generation of leaders can start with your students. When implementing the above tips, there’s an even more immediate reward: Your students will be able to apply key leadership skills — effective communication, conflict resolution, problem solving — right in your classroom!