What is your definition of a leader?
Do you consider yourself a leader? Why or why not?
Now, think if you could answer these questions effectively in high school. What about middle school or even elementary?
Believe it or not, our students are able to articulate what it means to be a leader. Some are as young as 7-years-old! They are beginning to recognize themselves as leaders. They know that age or even a “job title” are not the primary indicators of being a leader.
One of our many goals for our students this unit was to guide them in building their self-awareness and personal responsibility skills, to aid in their own growth as leaders. We intentionally selected our resources and created our curriculum to facilitate this- everything from our reading selection (The Success Principles for Teens), to our use of gardening as the core of our science unit, to our incorporation of yoga during our health portion of the day. Our students discussed and practiced various skills and strategies that responsible leaders utilize. They completed activities to further practice and model these skills. For their long-term inquiry projects, they chose a topic/profession through which they investigated responsibility and leadership further. And of course, they reflect. They took time to reflect, both individually and as a group, to evaluate their progress and understanding.
In addition to practicing responsibility within the walls of our school, our students were also able to learn from numerous experts and leaders in various fields. These fields include architecture, construction, photography, IT, business, science, and yes, even education!
For one of their writing pieces, our students developed their own personal definitions of ‘leader’, after completing the numerous experiences I just described. Below you can read one of them:
My Definition of a Leader
Do you wish that you could step outside of the shadows and become a leader? Well, you can! I feel that there are leadership qualities hiding within you that just need to be brought out. For example, do you feel like you stand in the back and watch, or are you outspoken and not afraid to jump in with both feet? If you answered yes to question number one, that is not a bad thing. This means that you may be a reflector style of learner which allows you to think critically and listen well to others. Oftentimes this is the hardest thing to do and the most important quality of a good leader.
Outspoken doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a natural leader. However, this does show that you are not afraid to respectfully speak your mind and stay true to your beliefs, which may help you to pitch a clear vision to others. I feel that good leaders know when to step back and when to take charge. Leaders need to delegate tasks well, involve their entire team, and step in when needed. Leadership is something that is within all of our capabilities and becomes stronger with time.
If you are struggling with finding ways to demonstrate responsibility and leadership I find it can be helpful if you think of it in terms of a step-by-step action plan.
- Step one is bringing out the natural born leader within you. Create a vision or goal. This is where believing in the possible and not taking no for an answer comes in.
- Create an action plan with clear expectations
- Communicate this plan with your team using different styles of communication like writing, speaking, and visual representation.
- Delegate tasks with a focus on team members strengths while still helping them to grow in the process.
- Be open minded towards new ideas as this can make your team members feel valued and ultimately help you to solve problems when they arise.
- Track your progress even if it is minor, as this is a great way to create a positive atmosphere and motivate yourself and others.
- Don’t lose sight of your core values.
- Be accountable for the mistakes and actions of the team with an open mind towards trying a new approach.
- Be patient (Nothing Happens in a Day).
Finally it is important to reflect back on the situation to see just how far you have really come.
When in a position of leadership it is important to keep responsibility in mind. I feel that responsibility and leadership go hand in hand. When I think of responsibility I think of the personal aspect of it. Responsibility to me means taking time to reflect on what you are doing in order to make changes. Responsibility is about meeting and exceeding expectations. Leaders are people who take initiative. Leaders have a job or task that they lead others to accomplish. Leaders are responsible for the work that is being done by not only themselves, but other people too. This means that they have to be incredibly organized and a role model for others.
I feel that I am a natural leader as when I am put in a group setting. I immediately take action and create a plan. I find that I am both outgoing and have the ability to listen well to others’ ideas. One instance in which I feel I have been a positive leader was when I was a junior counselor at Alegria Montessori’s summer camp. I was able to speak confidently with the students and found patience within me to be persistent when students were refusing to listen. Before I even stepped through the door I created a clear lesson plan. I was creative in coming up with theme specific arts and crafts and quickly learned the importance of having realistic expectations. This summer was when I worked towards overcoming the idea that things need to be done in a specific way. I learned that organization and careful planning, although important, should never compromise a child’s imagination.
If there was one thing I took away from this experience it was that a good leader needs to be open-minded and flexible. I feel that through being responsible and prepared, I was able to be in the moment and make adjustments as needed. I feel that in time I will be able to become a better leader, who involves others, feels confident in not taking over, and lets others step up.