Since the beginning of the 21st century, employers have increasingly reported dissatisfaction with the leadership skills of new college graduates. Though adult leadership training can help ease the problem, teaching the concepts as early as middle school might help turn those skills into habits. Types of middle school leadership can take different forms.
Middle-schoolers typically equate personal power with leadership. A teacher is a leader because she is in charge, a parent is a leader because he's the adult. This can lead to heavy-handed attempts at leading classmates that create resentment and even lead to bullying. A meeting to teach students to use their influence -- the natural leadership that comes from classmates wanting to follow their lead -- introduces students to a new leadership paradigm that works better with classmates and will make them more effective leaders as adults.
Leading by Example
"Do as I say, not as I do" is a far-too-common experience in a tween's life, whether it's said outright or simply demonstrated by adult choices. When learning their own leadership skills, any activity or lesson that stresses the importance of "walking the talk" builds a better model. Examples might include practicing healthy habits, treating special needs students with respect or simply participating actively in regular classes.
This concept borrows its framework from the practice of "sitting in" from the Civil Rights era. It teaches students to respond when they see a bullying incident begin to develop by stepping between the bully and the victim. A student who already demonstrates leadership in the school can step in with enough supporters to stop the bullying. With bullying such a high-profile topic, a leadership class practicing stepping in can be popular with students and parents alike.
Project Based Leadership Training
Project Based Leadership Training will take more than one meeting to complete, but can be among the most powerful leadership experiences you can offer to students. It begins with picking a problem to solve in the school or the community, then setting a measurable goal for the leadership group. Solving a litter problem might lead to a goal of gathering 1 ton of trash from the school grounds in a year. Solving a bullying problem could mean a goal of conducting 100 mediation sessions in a semester. Once the goal is set, the students develop the project with minimal adult assistance. This hands-on, results-oriented training is directly applicable to real life and can be effective and engaging for youth.
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