01/24/2014 by Robert Franz |

How Do You Teach Leadership?

Imagine being giving the task to implement a new class that teaches leadership. My first question was: “Where do you begin?”

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My journey in creating a leadership class for students began with my registering to attend the Gardner Carney Leadership Institute in Colorado Springs and convincing my future wife to take a 10-week road trip with me across the United States.  And so June found us packing my 1998 Honda Accord that had over 160,000 miles on it.

We knew that when crossing the Midwest, books on tape would serve as a savior as we drove flatlands that stretch for miles.  And as we drove across Kansas (for the first time), we happened to listen to a collection of NPR’s “This I Believe” essays.  As I listened to these short personal statements of core belief—some funny, some tragic, some deeply reflective—my mind began crafting the essential question to teaching leadership. My thoughts wandered back to my ninth grade Ancient History with Mr. Bond at Princeton Day School, when he taught us about the Oracle of Delphi and the inscription at Delphi: “Know you.“  To be able to express your one core belief in a short essay takes quite a bit of emotional intelligence.

Pondering this connection between “This I Believe” essays and the Oracle of Delphi, I pulled into the Gardner Carney Leadership Institute held at the Fountain Valley School. To my dismay, the institute did not present its participants with a standardized curriculum on how to teach leadership; instead, it challenged each individual to craft their own ideas of leadership that would fit their school’s culture. After six days, I walked away with the idea that teachers who effectively develop the leadership capacities of young people have three essential skills:

  • They understand where young people are coming from, based on developmental psychology and brain science.
  • They understand how groups function.
  • They understand themselves.

Every day is filled with opportunities to teach people to act with conscience and courage to make their world better. In the context of school, these “teachable moments” can occur anywhere. At the core of helping teachers and students identify each teachable moment is learning how to utilize emotional intelligence. Leaders need to understand themselves and how to regulate their impact upon others. Leadership teachers need to possess this understanding, so they can model it and impart it to others.

Eight weeks later and 15,000 miles more added onto the Accord, we returned home to Virginia. With my journal full of thoughts, my mind filled with thoughts from great books, and having the ability to talk to Mia throughout this journey about teaching leadership, I felt that I had a strong outline to create an active class that focuses on teaching emotional intelligence and group dynamics, and inspires intrinsic motivation to take on the core challenge of the enterprise. After my journey, I was able to answer my own question of where to begin in teaching leadership. The answer was simple: it starts with learning how to understand yourself.

This year, eighth grade students at Fredericksburg Academy have the option to take a Leadership class that focuses upon this concept of understanding themselves in order to lead in whatever path they choose. I welcome anyone within our community to stop in and visit the class and see how emotional intelligence, group dynamics and intrinsic motivation are being taught to students to better help them understand their core beliefs and shape themselves as leaders.

Robert Franz is the Middle School Head at Fredericksburg Academy in Virginia.  He is the Director of Social Media at the Gardner Carney Leadership Institute.

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