The leaders seventh graders want to follow, the leaders they want to become
Seventh grade humanities has covered a lot of ground already this year.
Lessons have ranged from Christopher Columbus's arrival in America to the current presidential election.
Along the way, there have been many conversations about leadership.
For a master class on leadership, then, they've brought in a specialist: Head of School Noni Thomas López, who has a masters degree and a doctorate in educational leadership, as well as many years of direct experience.
Her goal for was to get them to go beyond admiring heroic leaders, and get each of them to start building their own personal model of leadership, one they could pursue for themselves.
Students began by silently identifying two or three inspirational leaders.
There were thirteen students in the class. Between them, they listed about a dozen different people.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barack Obama. Michelle Obama.
Beyonce. Queen Elizabeth. Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Greta Thunberg. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mom. Dad. Grandpa.
What were the qualities that made these people good leaders?
Consensus came quickly: good leaders bring out the best in people.
They do that in many ways. They are truthful. They manage their anger. They are funny. They are kind. They are intelligent. They are calm. They are persistent. They are authentic. They are confident. They notice how I feel. They are flexible.
As the students talked, Dr. Thomas López assured them that they already knew a great deal about good leadership. She had done the research. Their observations were right on track.
Using a series of grids, students began categorizing these qualities, then thinking about which qualities they possessed themselves. Which were self-awareness skills? Social awareness? Self-management? Relationship management?
Finding themselves in these diagrams was an important first step.
One good leader might be patient. Another might be impatient. What's important is that both of them have enough self-awareness to understand their capacity for patience.
Before they left, Dr. Thomas López spent a few minutes exploring a parallel train of thought.
We all found it easy to identify the qualities of good leaders.
Why, then, do we have so many bad leaders?
How many of you said good leaders love power?
Don't we want good leaders to have power?
What is threatening about kindness? About authenticity?
Power helps you change the world. And change can be threatening.
Can you share the good leaders you wrote down at the beginning of the class?
How many people had the same names on their list?
Why do you think that, out of the thirteen of you, we only have about ten different names?
Why don't we have thirty?
Why don't you know more good leaders?
Can we teach people to be good leaders?
Why don't we?
These questions had become harder. The students became quieter. As the class ended, and these questions hung in the air, each student left with a clipboard full of notes on leadership: the leaders who brought out the best in them, and the leaders they might become someday.
The lesson had ended, but the work had just begun.