Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers


August 14, 2023

school aged girl standing in front of a black board with her left arm lifted in the air with a red fabric cape flowing to the rightTeaching your students important leadership skills now is essential for building confidence and a positive sense of control for the rest of their lives. Let students know that being a leader can be exciting and low-pressure, and watch them lead lives of success, strength, and self-discipline.

Little Leaders of Tomorrow

I remember a time in my early schooling when my teachers would assign various leadership roles to my classmates and me. Someone would always be the “line leader” when walking single file to the library, another would oversee passing out handouts for group activities, someone else would be the “show-and-tell facilitator,” and so forth. The joy I felt when I was the lucky duck chosen for one of the special leadership roles — you may as well have told me I’d won the Heisman Trophy. Though our roles were generally low-stakes, my teachers knew what they were doing! Instilling a sense of leadership within children starting at a young age (and fostering it as they grow older) is a surefire way to set them up with skills for success later in life:

  • Communication: Leadership experiences at a young age provides practice in communicating one-on-one and in group settings.
  • Responsibility: Young leadership encourages students not only to take responsibility for their own actions, but also to positively influence the actions of others.
  • Self-awareness and conflict resolution: In leading others, students learn wonderful things about themselves. In interacting with the many different personalities of their peers, students learn how to deal with conflict and situations that may be outside their comfort zone.
  • Self-sufficiency and advocacy: Through leadership opportunities, children learn to become self-sufficient and proactive, which allows them to advocate for themselves and their peers, both academically and in their personal lives.

Follow the Leader

So, we all know the value of providing leadership opportunities to students, but some students might feel a sense of panic or uncertainty when taking on a new role. Don’t worry — the key is to initiate leadership roles and behaviors in a free and easy way while letting students know that your program is a safe space! Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:

  • Start small. Help students see that they lead every day, often without even realizing it. Did they help get a younger sibling ready for school that day? Perhaps they did something as simple as reminding their friends, “We only have three more minutes till we need to be in second period.”
  • Expand students’ understanding of leadership. Model for your students what being a good citizen looks like. Did you use the last of the paper towel roll in your classroom? Take the time to visit the supply closet and replace it — trust me, your students will notice! Share with them that the initiative and action required for good citizenship is also a form of leadership.
  • Find opportunities to teach and practice skills. When there’s the inevitable argument between students, teaching them how to diffuse situations and address problems will go a long way in making students feel capable of leading. As the saying goes, “You can’t lead others until you learn to lead yourself.”
  • Guide students toward meaningful opportunities. Give students a chance to lead in their own school or classroom, and then in their own community. Assign small leadership roles, like my amazing teachers did, and as their confidence grows, guide them toward leadership opportunities in their own community, like volunteering at a local animal shelter or planning a service-learning activity.

Being a leader doesn’t mean you’re confident 100% of the time. Rather, leading takes self-awareness, humility, and ongoing communication. It’s something that must be earned every single day, and you’re never too young to start earning (and learning about) leadership! So go ahead and lead your students on to great horizons — both now and in the future.


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