Teaching Leadership in Public Schools

The Need To Develop Leadership In Our Schools

We are not doing enough to develop leadership skills in our public schools. It is true that some young children show these qualities early on, as other classmates flock around the spontaneous leader to follow his/her “suggestions.” But leadership, the positive kind, can also be taught and learned at a very early age. A good teacher at every level will detect those students who show leadership potential, whether their actions have constructive goals or not. It is up to the instructor to guide such tendencies by giving the students opportunities to demonstrate such skills. It is also the teacher’s role to help develop the underlying foundations of leadership in those children who, for some reason, are afraid or too shy to assume responsibility.

Give Them a Chance

Some aspects of the personality can help or hinder the development of leadership skills: Self-esteem, shyness, fear, optimism, courage, intelligence, brazenness, good humor, confidence, inner strength, and a host of additional factors can contribute negatively or positively to the emergence of leadership qualities. The good elementary teacher will make sure that every child has a chance to participate; too often, we see teachers asking questions from the same students, knowing that they will likely respond quickly and correctly. What about the quiet ones? What if some children require more time to answer after they process the information?

Addressing Inappropriate Behavior

Some students show their leadership skills by interrupting the class, making classmates laugh or by sustaining private conversations while the teacher is explaining the task. The most brazen ones will insult the instructor and challenge his or her authority. It is indeed a difficult situation which many teachers solve by sending the offenders to the principal’s office. There is another way, however, which requires a little more time: Find out all you can about the child; you, as the teacher, have access to all the confidential information in the student’s files. Then ask him or her to talk to you one-on-one after or between classes. It is your unique opportunity to guide the student’s leadership potential into a positive direction.

Avoiding the Hurt

The easiest way to hurt a child is to be judgmental. The teacher or the parent will often lower or destroy the student’s self-esteem by ascribing certain labels to their behavior: You are jealous, envious, too impatient, you don’t belong to that group, you are too aggressive, too rebellious, etc.. The best way to address these social behaviors is to sit down with the kid and calmly listen to their complaints. Then help them analyze the situation and let them suggest what actions would solve the problem. If they are allowed to present solutions, the process will boost their confidence and avoid the usual judgmental labels.

Facets of Leadership

Leadership in children can manifest itself in various ways:

A suggestion which is accepted by other students
An offer to help a shy or picked on student
Frequent thoughtful questions for the teacher
A drawing: some students express themselves much better through drawings related to the class topic. They sometimes have problems explaining things verbally.
Presenting objections to somebody else’s suggestions
Making students and teacher laugh
Staying after class to ask for additional data
By being creative. Some students can surprise you by offering extremely creative solutions to class problems. A bad teacher will reject their work because they didn’t follow the steps as instructed. A good teacher will congratulate them in front of the whole class.


Parents and teacher must of course coordinate their efforts to allow the blossoming of those hidden leadership skills. Frequent conferences with the instructor will allow the parents to confirm that their child needs help in boosting their confidence and self-esteem. Suggestions must be made in both directions for the eventual benefit of the student. Although teachers cannot dedicate all their time to one student, they can certainly focus on those who need their attention the most. These efforts will result in more successful children and a better society.