Leadership in the Classroom

Many teachers face a huge dilemma when it comes to incorporating leadership training into a classroom. On one hand, there is an increasing realization that leadership skills are critical for a student’s long term success (both academic, and afterwards in the workplace). On the other hand, leadership skills are rarely measured and don’t show up on standardized tests. They aren’t included in school reports and aren’t used as a criteria to measure academic success. Given the enormous pressure on teachers to improve academic performance, it is often unreasonable to expect teachers to drop existing content to incorporate leadership training.
So what’s a teacher to do?
The answer is not so much to add leadership training, as to incorporate it into existing curriculum and teaching techniques.
Let’s start out by considering those classroom methodologies that do a poor job teaching leadership skills:

  • Lectures. Even lectures about leadership are not very effective unless in the context of leadership activities.
  • Videos.
  • Reading, taking tests, and most other passive activities.

Leadership is a skill-set, and to practice leadership you must be doing something. So what kinds of classroom activities are best at teaching those skills?

  • Presentations – any time a student is standing in front of the class and presenting information (whether it is a speech, leading a discussion, or putting on a skit), they are gaining valuable leadership practice.
  • Helping other students – When one student helps another, it is a form of leadership.
  • Working in a group – Any type of group project in or out of class, has the potential to develop leadership skills.

With these ideas as a basis, it becomes clear how any teacher can incorporate leadership training into virtually any classroom environment without compromising on academics:

  • Role modeling – teachers can follow the guiding principles in part one of “Developing Teen Leadership” to model good leadership.
  • Given the choice between passive and active learning, strive to incorporate more active learning in the form of presentations, group projects and other methodologies that allow students to interact.  Then add a leadership component to each activity. For example: after a student presents, don’t just discuss the content, but discuss how he or she could have improved the presentation (and why that is important). When a group delivers a project, include a review or discussion on how well they worked together. Have the group report on who was the group leader? How was the leader chosen? Was the work divided fairly or based on the group member’s skills? The idea is to get them to start thinking not just about the task at hand, but about the process as well. This will give you the context for teaching the leadership techniques described in “Developing Teen Leadership” – because they relate to an actual experience, students will find them relevant and easy to understand. More important, it will give them the skills to help them be more effective the next time. You should see the quality of presentations and the quality or results produced by project groups improve over time as they apply these skills.
  • Look for leadership examples in passive activities. When watching a video, look beyond the content of the video to ask if the character demonstrated leadership and how? Discuss the leadership skills of characters in books. You can apply this approach to virtually any subject.

As it turns out, it is possible to add a significant leadership training component to the classroom without a major commitment of time and energy. All it takes is a modest change in approach – making leadership training a small but consistent aspect of as many activities as possible.