Building leadership qualities in teens: part 2

“A leader is someone who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”

Remember the difference between a boss and a leader; a boss says “Go!”, a leader says “Let’s Go!”

Welcome to part two of our blog post on developing leadership qualities in teens. In part 1 we looked at what in means to be a good leader and how our understanding of a good leader has changed over time. We considered how to examine the concept with our students such as by discussing, categorising or ranking desirable characteristics for leaders or by reading texts by people discussing their leadership experiences.

To this we could add a quick google of leadership quotes with our students: what do they mean, what qualities do they allude to and do we agree with them? The quotes at the start of this blog could be: has domain knowledge, leads by example, provides the tools to get the job done, gets involved / gets their hands dirty, doesn’t just sit back and order.

But of course teaching about a skill isn’t enough to develop it, and in our first post we moved onto practical ways to develop leadership, namely monitoring debates and giving and receiving feedback. In part 2, let’s continue with measures, strategies and activities we can use at both a school and class level to develop our students’ leadership.


Peer teaching and support

This is a great way to give students responsibility and leadership experience. Within a class we can have students teaching a page from a coursebook or taking responsibility for a teaching part of a revision section before an exam (the activity I used the most). This will involve some ‘teacher training’ from us, from how to present information (not too much at once, use examples) to the types of questions students can ask (true/ false, fill in the gap, multiple choice, open questions) to how to give (encouraging) feedback! If we have an end of unit test or similar with different areas of content / skills we can assign those to different groups students who prepare their revision lesson (of 10/15 mins): afterwards the students can comment on which group they learned the most from and why.

You can also get your students working with learners in lower years. I had mine writing and telling stories in English, but the possibilities are much wider: if the year below are taking an external exam that your class did this year, what could your students teach them? What are these younger learners most worried about? How can we allay their fears and help them?

Giving our students leadership positions

Can we create leadership positions in our schools to give students a taste of leading? In the traditional school I went to, students aged 14-16 could become junior prefects, students 16-18 could become prefects, senior prefects, house captain (the school was organised into six houses to create a sense of belonging and these houses competed in, for example, sports events) , deputy house captain, head boy (it was a boys’ school: a discussion on single-sex / co-ed schools is one for another day!), deputy head boy. The responsibilities for these positions varied and included mentoring students who’d just arrived at the school, looking out for students in trouble, helping enforce school rules, reading notices and delivering speeches in assemblies, speaking at school events (there was a fair bit of public speaking) and generally setting an example. Of course there are lots of other positions of leadership we can create in a school such as captains of sports teams, leaders of clubs (drama, chess, dance etc), being in charge of a school newsletter or radio. All of these positions involve responsibility, but also communication skills given the liason between teachers/ the school and other students.

Get them listening to one another

If leaders are to be open-minded to new ideas and respectful of all contributions then it’s useful for a leader to be an attentive listener. Moving from school-level to classroom level ideas and wearing our ELT hat, what sort activities or twists on activities can we propose to develop good listeners?

  • Get them to ask follow-up questions to each other. To do this, they need to have listened to the answer to the first question!
  • In the same vein of getting students to do something with the answers to questions they ask each other to ensure that they are listening, we can change questions like ‘What did you do at the weekend?’ to ‘Get into groups of three and decide who had the best weekend’ – listening is required with this small twist.
  • Get students to make notes on each other’s answers and to report back on content / what they agreed / disagreed with.
  • Guess the question from the answer. Instead of asking each other a list of questions, students answer their own questions: can their partner work out the question from the answer?
  • Grade your partner’s answers (eg: Have they provided two supporting details?).
  • In a debate (see post 1!), you have to reformulate what the speaker on the other team said to their satisfaction before responding to their argument.

All of these activities encourage our students to listen to one another. And not only can we use them, we can explain why we are using them and talk about the importance of listening in the context of leadership and in a broader context.

That concludes our two-part series on leadership. I hope the posts have been useful in delving into the concept of leadership and proposing strategies and activities to develop the skill. How do you develop your teens’ leadership qualities in your centre?

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