Our kids have great potential to be leaders. Are we tapping into this with compelling leadership lessons from the heart? Or are we simply creating school-smart “highly educated useless people?*

The book Literacy is Not Enough describes school-smart kids as ones who know how to take tests and play ‘the game of school.’ They do it well but don’t retain what they’ve learned well after school.

On the other hand, street-smart kids can take real-world skills and make them relevant to their lives. Their learning is something they use. 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.

4 Leadership Lessons That Matter

To be sure one must lead by example. 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.

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, we must be the standard. And with that you must consider what kind of leader you want to be.


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This is a great graphic to post on your board. By posting it, you pledge to longer be that boss who drives your workers from the chariot. You’ll be that leader who goes out with your team and gets dirty with them.

Isn’t this a radical shift from our traditional way of teaching? It’s hard, but 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 themelves as well. This will be evident as you introduce team activities. 

You may be thinking, “that’s not going to allow everyone to be a leader.” For the most part, you’re absolutely right. Usually in team activities, we get one leader who does most of the work.

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 in the end they don’t teach leadership lessons that stick.

Team-Building the Right Way

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 the “building” of the team is done by keeping the following questions in the forefront:

  1. If we weren’t a team, what would we not be able to do?
  2. Why is teamwork important for solving the problem?
  3. How would lack of teamwork prevent us from better helping the community?

Really getting to the heart of the matter and trusting our kids to really discuss these issues takes a big risk. But that’s part of being a leader, anyway.

I Think I Can, I Think I Can …

Another leadership lesson we must think about teaching is perseverence. 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 SuccessCarol Dweck reminds us it’s the way we view our failures that determines our success. When we fail, do we inherit a label of ourselves that we are 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 so they can get to know who their peers are and each other’s’ gifts.
  • Remember to keep growth mindset language prevalent throughout the exercise.

Let’s Talk About This

Leadership lessons involve teaching how to negotiate well. How do we build this in our young ones?

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 your students to negotiate. So the attitude becomes, “There’s no negotiating in my classroom. That just makes kids into self-entitled and self-centered people.It’s my way or the highway.”

An argument against this is that our students will be the ones to bear the standard when their teachers are long gone. If our only expectation is blind obedience, then we are truly sending these kids off into a world without of real solutions.

There’s a lot of debate about who actually said this, but we know the saying well: The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. As we dare to give our students a little power to negotiate, we teach them that the world is indeed theirs to inherit.

So Many Choices

With negotiating comes decision makingWho has not had an episode of analysis paralysis? We know as adults that sitting on a decision has disastrous consequences. We don’t act and our life passes us by.

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.

Practice Makes Perfect

Leadership lessons that stick involve learning by doing. 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.





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