Throughout school, it’s important to provide students with leadership opportunities. It’s one thing for a student to join a club or a group (which is important as well), but it’s a whole other thing for them to take on a leadership role in those groups and clubs. When children and teenagers take on leadership roles, they learn about real world life skills and develop a sense of confidence that may otherwise be lacking in the younger years. Of course, it’s also important for teachers and coaches to recognize students who take on leadership roles. There are many ways to do this, through the use of things like awards, letter sweaters, and matching jackets. But before we get into that, let’s learn more about leadership roles and the importance of them in the K-12 years.
What is the importance of teaching children/teens leadership?
- Student leadership gives students a voice – It’s not uncommon for students in their younger years to feel like they don’t have a voice. They have to listen to their parents, they have to do their homework, they have to follow the instructions of the teachers – there are so many things that students have no say in. But leadership opportunities provide them with a say that they may otherwise feel they don’t have. Not only do leadership opportunities provide students with a voice, but it provides them with a voice in a constructive way.
- Student leadership builds a sense of self – The teenage years are a time when many people feel lost, and don’t have a strong sense of self. Leadership opportunities can provide students with the confidence that they need to practice skills that can help develop sense of self. Leaders can learn how to plan events, how to raise money, how to budget, how to organize their time, how to motivate others, and how to handle failure. All of these things can help to build a student’s confidence and sense of self.
- Student Leadership looks good on Applications – Whether they are looking to apply to college, university, or their first job, student leadership roles look excellent on an application. Many times admission counsellors favour those who have demonstrated strong leadership roles in their high school years, and such roles can be extremely valuable when grades fall below excellent. Not only that, but many employers look for strong leaders. Those who show strong leadership in high school are often given more consideration when applying for future job positions.
What are the Qualities of a Good Leader?
When K-12 students demonstrate strong leadership roles, it’s important that we award them with things like letter sweaters and matching jackets. But what should we look for when choosing who to award? What are the qualities of a good leader?
- They are humble – Strong leaders are often the reason things get done, but they don’t ever let themselves take full credit. A strong leader is someone who can motivate the team, but who is also willing to share their credit with others. They stay humble despite their successes.
- Trustworthy – In order for someone to be a strong leader, they need to be trusted by others on the team. They are honest, ethical, and respected.
- Authentic – Strong leaders are not only honest with others, but they are honest with themselves. They stick by their core values and are not willing to sway under “peer pressure”
- Enthusiastic – In order for someone to be a strong leader, they need to be enthusiastic about the goal they/their team are trying to reach. By staying positive and enthusiastic they can better motivate others to do the same.
- Flexible/Adaptable – When you’re part of a team, anything can go wrong at any time. A good leader needs to be adaptable when situations arise, and a great leader will be able to help others adapt as well.
Of course, this is far from an extensive list of good leadership traits, but it gives you an idea as to what to start looking for when deciding who deserves a special leadership award. What can you give as a leadership reward? When it comes to student leadership, it’s important to reward students who take on the role. Here are some ideas for leadership rewards:
- Medals – For younger children from K-6, a medal is a great reward for student leadership. Medals can be worn around a student’s neck, or can be taken home and stored away for memory sake.
- Trophies – Trophies are excellent rewards, especially for students who take on leadership rewards in sports. Trophies can be as small or large as you like and can be displayed on a child’s shelf or mantle.
- Letter sweaters and letter jackets – Younger children may be easily excited by medals and trophies, but older students can be more difficult to please. Letter jackets are popular among high school students and are a great idea for leadership rewards. For those who don’t know, letters are small leather patches that are given to students who demonstrate great abilities in a certain area. They are typically given to students who demonstrate excellent sporting abilities, but they are also becoming more and more popular among academic groups and student teams. A letter is sign of accomplishment and is awarded to a student by a teacher or coach. These letters can then be sewn onto different things, like letter sweaters or their matching jackets. These sweaters and jackets can then be worn by students who want to show off their accomplishments.
How Can You Teach Kids Leadership?
Leadership Is Not One-Dimensional
There are many different characteristics that can make up a good leader, and several different types of leaders. For example, some leaders are authoritarian, and are good at enforcing rules and driving the team towards success. Others drive the team towards success in other ways. Emotional leaders, for example, may drive the team forward by providing support and encouragement. Democratic leaders may lead a team by encouraging all team members to participate and share their opinions, while transactional leaders may focus on keeping the group organized and implementing a chain of command. In return, there is no concrete definition of leadership, and many students can fit into the category of a good leader when given the opportunity.
With that being said, here are some skills that you can work on with your students to encourage good leadership:
- Planning skills
- Organizational skills
- Action planning skills
- Strategic thinking skills
- Risk management skills
- Decision making skills
- Communication skills
- Team building skills
- Networking skills
- Role modelling skills
- Communication skills
- Creativity skills
- Self-reflection skills
- Active listening skills
- Presentation and public speaking skills
- Motivational skills
- Delegation skills
- Prioritizing skills
- Interpersonal and social skills
- Mentoring skills
- And the list goes on and on!
How can you help inspire leadership among high school students?
Encourage Children to Participate in Extracurricular Activities and Groups
Extracurriculars are probably the best way to teach children leadership roles, and many times the children will even take them on themselves. Allow a student to take the lead in planning a bake sale, let a child be team captain for the day, let a player on the soccer team develop a plan for the next game. There are so many doors that open for leadership opportunities when children participate in extracurricular activities. It doesn’t have to be a sport, it can be anything – charities, photography groups, chess team, or anything else that the student may be interested in. What if the student is not interested in any of the groups offered by the school? Why not find something they are interested in, and suggest they start their own group or team!? That’s an excellent leadership opportunity all on it’s own!
Host leadership activities within the classroom
Children should always be encouraged to join extracurriculars, but it’s important that we teach leadership skills within the classroom too. Set aside an hour each week to work on different skills, or to plan a group activity where leadership roles are required. Each week, encourage new students to take on the leadership role. You will be surprised by how many children thrive when given the opportunity!
Let children say their piece and make their own decisions
One of the most important roles of a good leader is decision making. But in order to make decisions, leaders must have a strong sense of self, and feel confident in their own abilities. We can teach confidence like this at a young age by allowing children and teenagers to speak their mind, have their own opinions, and make their own decisions (when safe to do so, of course). We can encourage children to do this in the classroom, and cheer on parents who choose to do so at home as well.
There are so many ways that we can teach K-12 students leadership skills and encourage leadership participation. But it’s important that when children build up the courage to take on a leadership role, we reward them for doing so. For K-8 students, awards and medals will do. But why not consider something a little more stylish for 9-12 students? With letter sweaters and matching jackets, students can show off their leadership skills to friends and family, wearing their custom sweaters anywhere they go!