Developing Leadership and Student Voice

May 15, 2019

Listen to the podcast version here.

SUMMARY

Now, whether you’re a classroom teacher, an afterschool professional, sports coach, even a preschool teacher, I’m here to tell you that you most definitely have a role in molding your students’ leadership abilities, and you definitely have a responsibility to help them find their true inner voice.  In doing so, you help the development in your students of a trait that psychologists call agency – that’s the ability to act powerfully in the world using one’s own personal power.

Today, we’re going to talk about ways to do this that don’t require a budget increase, won’t create more papers for you to grade, or require hours and hours of extra planning. 

PART ONE – CHOICES

Your students’ abilities to recognize and make choices is strengthened through repeated exposures and opportunities to practice making choices in a real-world setting.  Not only does the ability to make choices bolster a student’s sense of agency, but it also develops the key leadership skills of analysis and decisiveness.

PART TWO – TEACHER TRAINING

Now, this may seem like a given – but, just like any other subject that you want to teach to children and youth, in order to be successful, the teacher has to have an understanding of the subject beforehand.  And, also, just like any other subject, you as the teacher don’t need to possess a PhD in the material to teach it to your students – but it is important that you have that basic understanding of the principles of leadership. You can google a whole host of “Top Ten” books… but I’ll give you three of my favorites to start with.  Remember… it doesn’t matter where you start… just start!

 PART THREE – ALLOW for EXPERIENCE

In their own way, the school and afterschool settings, it’s like they’re their own “miniature societies” where social learning is taking place all the time. So, by bringing in the leadership aspect, we are being more intentional about social-emotional learning and nurturing the self-esteem and leadership skills of our students.  I’m always surprised when teachers don’t realize this – that the school and afterschool settings are inherently social constructs that are not only effective for their designed purpose but they’re also very useful for a variety of informal learning – most importantly social and emotional growth.

When we apply intention and we set up intentional experiences for the student to encounter and practice not just proactive social skills, but also leadership skills, we are developing key areas of our students’ brains that lead to many of the desired results and behaviors that are associated with leadership: things like decisiveness, cooperation, people-skills, critical thinking, metacognition… the list just goes on and on.

 PART FOUR – CREATE SMALL CHALLENGES for GROWTH

Finally, today I’d like to share with you a quick technique that is an easy and quick way to implement leadership development and youth voice skills in your classroom, school, or center.  This technique can be fitted to whatever topic is happening in your curriculum and it takes very little effort on your part beyond intention.

This technique is called the Weekly Challenge.  It’s super-simple.  You choose a challenge for your class or your center for the week, you call it out, and you keep track of this challenge.  The idea isn’t so much to “rank” the students as it is like a check-box- either the challenge is accomplished or not.

Watch the video above to get the full training.

  

INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES

 
     

 TRANSCRIPT:

DEVELOPING LEADERSHIP SKILLS

Hey everyone – Rick Rood here from Transforming Teachers, Transforming Education!  These days we’ve all heard about the importance of teaching leadership skills to our students – but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what we’re supposed to be teaching.  Have you ever wondered how to incorporate leadership skill development into your classroom or program?  I certainly have, and here’s three basics that I learned that I want to pass on to you to get started.

Developing leadership and student voice, it takes on different forms, depending on the age of the students, the type of classroom we lead, and the amount of time that we choose to devote to this challenging and rewarding topic.

If you think back to your own upbringing, chances are that you can single out in your memory one or more teachers that you had that facilitated the development of your own leadership skills and helped you find your voice.

Now, whether you’re a classroom teacher, an afterschool professional, sports coach, even a preschool teacher, I’m here to tell you that you most definitely have a role in molding your students’ leadership abilities, and you definitely have a responsibility to help them find their true inner voice.  In doing so, you help the development in your students of a trait that psychologists call agency – that’s the ability to act powerfully in the world using one’s own personal power.

Now I can almost hear some of you are thinking – “you know, I don’t have the time for a task this big.” Or maybe “I’m not sure I have the bandwidth, or the training, or the leverage to take this on.”  But like soft skills that you impart to your students… this one happens whether you’re intentionally teaching your students about it or not.  Students are going to make their own assumptions and develop theories around leadership just by watching and listening to you during the regular course of the day.  Now, some of you may already be setting a “gold standard” example… and some of you… well…let’s get into this!

Either way, how much more powerful and influential would you be if you applied intention to what it is you’re role-modeling for your students around the importance of their voice and leadership skills?

Today, we’re going to talk about ways to do this that don’t require a budget increase, won’t create more papers for you to grade, or require hours and hours of extra planning. 

The beautiful part of developing leadership skills and student voice in your classroom is that it shows up in your way of being, and, for the most part, it only requires a commitment and a shift in your thinking.  I’ve got four main avenues to help you develop leadership skills and student voice in your kids… so… grab your journal, and let’s jump right in!

 

PART ONE – CHOICES

Choice is the smallest-unit building block to agency – the ability to consciously and independently act in life – and choice is the necessary component of all leadership skills.  The ability to see choices and choose is a basic ability that is learned and refined all throughout childhood, from the earliest throes of consciousness as a toddler all the way up through the experimentation and growth of adolescence.

Your students’ abilities to recognize and make choices is strengthened through repeated exposures and opportunities to practice making choices in a real-world setting.  Not only does the ability to make choices bolster a student’s sense of agency, but it also develops the key leadership skills of analysis and decisiveness.

Now this is where you, the teacher, comes in.  While, as teachers, we all like to be “in control” … it’s important to make plenty of room during the day for the student to “be in control” in situations where you can encourage them to make choices.  Of course, you always want to make sure that the choices that the students make, they’re age-appropriate – you know, but it’s like a muscle, repetition of choice, repetition of choice-making, it yields a “stronger choice making muscle” over time.  Age appropriateness considers the student’s level of critical thinking as well as the relevance of the outcome of the choice to the experiential world of the student.  So, that’s a lot of words, so for instance, you may have a choice between using a red pen and a green one.  Choosing which color to use for a drawing project would be a useful for a six-year-old, maybe not relevant for a teenager.  However, if the choice was between say a permanent or a non-permanent marker, the younger student may not be able to see the consequences of permanent ink while an older student probably would.

The rule of thumb is to let your students make as many choices during the day as possible.  Because they are still building their choice “muscle”, choices … they probably won’t come as quickly to the student as they would if you, as a teacher, were deciding for them. So, this is something to remember, time becomes a factor, and giving choices about EVERYTHING, well that’s going to slow down the day in ways that might not be practical.  So, just remember the goal is to allow for as much student choice as possible.  There are so many things throughout the day that would be easy for YOU to decide – but remember, when you let your students decide, they are developing that bedrock skill that they need to be high-functioning adults.

 

PART TWO – TEACHER TRAINING

Now, this may seem like a given – but, just like any other subject that you want to teach to children and youth, in order to be successful, the teacher has to have an understanding of the subject beforehand.  And, also, just like any other subject, you as the teacher don’t need to possess a PhD in the material to teach it to your students – but it is important that you have that basic understanding of the principles of leadership.

Now, the beauty is that, as teachers, we’re always learning, continually growing, and we’re sharpening our skills in our profession and as leadership skills have risen in importance and desirability, I recommend that if you haven’t taken a class, or a workshop, or even read a book about the subject of leadership, the time to do that is right now.

With the increase of technology – and not just that – the increase in the speed at which technology is advancing, one of the few things that we know today is that when today’s kindergartners reach the age they are ready to jump into the workforce – more than 50% of the jobs that they’re going to be looking at … they haven’t even been invented today!  As that happens, the focus of being able to be functional within society will be largely rested on their leadership skills and their sense of personal agency.

So that’s why it is so key that today’s teachers become fluent in the language of these skills – and they make a priority of teaching and developing these skills in our youth.

There are literally thousands of models and frameworks available today through books, courses, and workshops that can immerse you, the teacher in the concepts, and the principles and the laws of leadership.  The point is, you’ve gotta get out there and start somewhere – it can start from a free library book or internet research, a $20 hardback from the bookstore or you can go take a $2000 university course.  The level of it is up to you… the important thing though is that you take action and move toward, at the least, a basic understanding of the principles of leadership so that you can pass them on to your students.

Now, here’s a huge bonus in seeking out leadership training for yourself and your staff – while you’re learning the concepts – guess what, if you apply them, YOU become a better teacher and leader within the education field.  And as you develop and hone your own skills, you not only pass on those skills on to your students through FORMAL LEARNING, but you also become a de facto role-model for the leadership principles involved!

Now, if you’ve never studied the principles of leadership, the easiest way to start really is just by reading a book.  You can google a whole host of “Top Ten” books… but I’ll give you three of my favorites to start with.  Remember… it doesn’t matter where you start… just start!

The first one I recommend is Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.  This book has stood the test of time and has inspired many generations of leaders.  It was written years ago, so the style of writing is a little stiff to our modern ears, but the message is deep and profound.

A more modern book I recommend is “High Performance Habits” by Brendon Burchard.  Simple, concise, and backed by a massive research study, this will give you leadership basics in a hurry.

And a classic that I’m sure you’ve heard of is Steven Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.  Broken down into seven easy habits, this is a great cultural primer on the basics of leadership in the modern world.

Like I said, there’s many, many, more books out there.  Don’t get bogged down in the choices… just find one that you resonate with and dive in!

Once you are on your own leadership principles path, then you’ll be able to guide your students.

 

PART THREE – ALLOW for EXPERIENCE

We all know that there is no better teacher of any subject than experience.  And the school or the after-school setting is the perfect place to allow for a safe “trying on” of leadership roles.

By allowing students to take on leadership roles in a safe space, with adult guidance and feedback, we’re nurturing and growing the traits of leadership, while we’re allowing a real-world testing ground for the principles, concepts, and laws that the students are learning.

In their own way, the school and afterschool settings, it’s like they’re their own “miniature societies” where social learning is taking place all the time. So, by bringing in the leadership aspect, we are being more intentional about social-emotional learning and nurturing the self-esteem and leadership skills of our students.  I’m always surprised when teachers don’t realize this – that the school and afterschool settings are inherently social constructs that are not only effective for their designed purpose but they’re also very useful for a variety of informal learning – most importantly social and emotional growth.

When we apply intention and we set up intentional experiences for the student to encounter and practice not just proactive social skills, but also leadership skills, we are developing key areas of our students’ brains that lead to many of the desired results and behaviors that are associated with leadership: things like decisiveness, cooperation, people-skills, critical thinking, metacognition… the list just goes on and on.

So, how do you set up these leadership opportunities?  It’s as simple as allowing for student control over various parts of the classroom.  Take a look at your classroom, think about its functions, and then decide what are some parts of the environment and curriculum that you could hand off to students?  It can be as simple as having a student being in charge of making sure all the pencils are sharpened, for an old example – or it can blossom into a larger living organism such as a student council or a junior staff.

The key thing here is that when you’re handing off areas and tasks for the students to lead, you’ve got to make sure that it is more than just a “chore”.  This is where it gets hard for some teachers… you have to relinquish your control – and even harder, you have to relinquish your attachment – to that task or activity. Yet, you still have to coach it.

Once, in an afterschool center where I worked, one of the activities that we “gave away” for the sake of developing student leadership was the organization and stocking of the art supply center.  We had a self-serve art center which was stocked with the basic materials, you know things like: pencils, pens, paper, scissors, glue, glitter, foam shapes… lots of stuff for the kids to self-select for their own art projects.

So, we gave up the organization and the stocking of this area to two of our fifth graders, letting them know that they would be now responsible to make sure that it was stocked and cleaned and ready for the day’s play.

Now, what happened after was what one would expect to happen – the fifth graders, at first, took to the task with gusto and excitement … but that excitement and attention started to wane after a week or two.  The bins weren’t being regularly stocked with paper, the markers had most of the lids missing, and the pencils weren’t sharp.  In short, it suffered from neglect.

Now, one of my fellow teachers decided that that as it! They’d had enough and it was time for the adults to take back the art supply center and get it cleaned up properly.  However, that’s just the exact opposite of what really needed to happen.

Because, it’s through adversity that leadership principles are learned.  What happened is we actually pulled the two fifth graders aside and we talked it. We talked about the art center, how it looked.  Now, it’s important, we didn’t TELL them what to do at that point.  As the teachers, we just asked what I like to call “guiding” questions.  Questions that helped these two see what had happened with the art center and we helped them come up with their own ideas on how to solve some of what was happening.  Turns out that they had felt excited about it, but after a week or so had seen that they were doing a lot of work to keep everything together with the art center.  We talked about how leaders sometimes have to take on extra work – and we also talked about delegation and enrollment – getting other students to take responsibility for things like the marker caps and better cleanup.  They learned more about how to be a leader than simply “having a job”.

But keep in mind, all the learning, it came through discussions and open-ended questions and coaching after everything happened – AFTER there was a breakdown.  So many times, as teachers when a student fails at a task, we swoop in and “save” them or the task – when it really is at that exact moment that our student really needs guidance coaching and wisdom to solve the problem on their own.

Obviously, this speaks to the kind of tasks that you’re willing to give the kids and youth.  I could live with the art center being messy and unstocked for a week.  Only give away things to student leadership that you’re OK with a little chaos for awhile until the student has mastered it, because it will take time to master it.

And, no, I’m not going to tell you the ideas that they came up with to keep the lids on the markers – the point is that the kids come up with these solutions themselves – with the guidance of the teacher – and in that conversation and experience is where the learning took place.

When students gain hands-on experience of being in charge of events, tasks, and activities, they learn and internalize the concepts, principles, and laws of leadership, and you become more than an ordinary teacher… you become a leadership development expert!

 

PART FOUR – CREATE SMALL CHALLENGES for GROWTH

Finally, today I’d like to share with you a quick technique that is an easy and quick way to implement leadership development and youth voice skills in your classroom, school, or center.  This technique can be fitted to whatever topic is happening in your curriculum and it takes very little effort on your part beyond intention.

This technique is called the Weekly Challenge.  It’s super-simple.  You choose a challenge for your class or your center for the week, you call it out, and you keep track of this challenge.  The idea isn’t so much to “rank” the students as it is like a check-box- either the challenge is accomplished or not.

So… what do I exactly mean by challenges?  Well, that’s up to you and what part of leadership you’re talking about at that point.  So, for instance, if you’re talking about maybe the principle of taking responsibility, the challenge might be “go through the week without making any excuses”.  Each day that one of your student self-reports that they didn’t make any excuses during the day, then mark that off with a checkmark!  Maybe you’re looking at a principle of role-modeling, so maybe you give the students ten minutes at the end of the day to write a simple paragraph of one example of how they were a good role-model to someone else that day.  Another idea is to challenge your students to find the five best quotes by other people on the topic of leadership – and bring them to class and explain them to the others.  Get kids interested in participating and get them interested in participating in challenges!

I know some of you may be asking – does it have to be a weekly challenge?  Of course not… whatever your class structure is and whatever your topic is, you might want to issue a daily challenge… or a monthly challenge.  The idea is to keep the challenge top of mind in the culture of your class.  Use visual aids – posters and quotes to remind the students.  And the best way to do it is, make it a game – make it fun, and make it easy to participate. Make it easy to succeed.  You can even let your students come up with their own challenges!

These weekly challenges, they’re not only good for leadership principles, but also for ushering in any social-emotional growth topic you’d like to see more of in your classroom.

Using weekly challenges is an easy way to keep a soft-skill topic active in your students’ imaginations while going on with the business of the day.  It also creates a camaraderie and a playful sense of learning in your class.  Remember, people – especially kids – LOVE games, so the more like a game you can make it (and the easier you can make it to win at the game) – the more your kids will naturally just immerse themselves in the challenge, and they’ll be growing and learning all throughout.

 

CONCLUSION

I hope you’ve found something useful in our discussion of fostering leadership skills today.  Remember the most basic building block for leadership skills and critical thinking is the act of making a choice.  Be sure to give your students as MANY opportunities as you can to make choices in their daily routine – not just any choices, but meaningful choices…. Choices that have a direct effect on their experience and the experience of their fellow students.

It’s also really important for us, as teachers, to have a basic understanding of one or more leadership frameworks.  The principles, laws, and concepts of leadership, they’re readily available in everything from books to the internet, to professional development workshops, online classes to university courses.  You can learn simple frameworks around the principles of leadership from a simple trip to the library from authors as varied as Anthony Robbins to Victor Frankl to Earl Nightingale.

We also have to understand that for our students to really internalize leadership concepts and principles, they have to have hands-on experience – and the classroom, whether it’s a school classroom or an afterschool classroom, or any other social construct where children and youth gather with an adult leading them – these are the perfect places to allow for the daily social learning that goes hand-in-hand with leadership experience.  Remember, your classroom is really a “miniature society” perfect for the absorption of leadership and other social-emotional skills.

And lastly, we talked about creating a game out of learning the soft skill of leadership.  Creating daily leadership challenges keeps the principles alive and in working memory while allowing your students to apply them hands-on in a safe setting.  Use the challenges and see the mastery of your students grow!

Remember, leadership skills are prime skills that today’s students need to study and master as we head into an uncertain, but exciting and promising future.  By teaching these skills, you’re giving your students a huge boost and a head start on their future.

Did you enjoy this video?  Did you come away with some ideas to use in your class?  If you did, please do me a favor, go out into the social media world and share this video with a teacher you know who could benefit from it.

Thanks so much for spending time with me today – I’m Rick Rood, and I want you to remember that:

What you do is important;

How you show up for your students matters;

And together, we’re transforming education.

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