As explained in a previous post, we are using Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap in many ways, including taking his inspiration to recast our own classrooms as places where we using academic content as a means to teach students how to communicate and collaborate, reason and analyze critically, and solve problems using creativity and innovation.  The narrative below comes from our outstanding 12th grade Leadership class, taught and written by Fred Roberts, and edited by Stefanie Teller.

Applied and Theoretical Leadership

This lesson occurs near the end of the first academic quarter.  At this point the students have studied several theoretical aspects of leadership and five distinct leadership styles. They have seen these styles in action as the course instructors have role modeled each style on more than one occasion.  The class has also discussed different local and national leaders who rely on one or more leadership styles.

For this particular class the teachers have set up five different team-building challenges.  When class begins, five students are asked to draw pieces of paper from a hat.  On each paper is written an activity and a particular leadership style.  The student who selected the paper presents the activity to his or her group and guides them through the activity while role modeling the designated leadership style (which is unknown to the rest of the group).

Two students from each group are assigned to be observers.  These students will scrutinize and assess the behavior of the leader.  Based on the leader’s actions, they will try to determine which leadership style the leader is employing and why.  In their analysis they must use specific examples and relate these behaviors back to the leadership style theory.

It is not only the leader who role models specific leadership behaviors, but the followers as well.  They must assess the behavior of the leader and quickly fall into the follower role associated with that particular leadership style. The students assigned to the observation role are asked to write a document about the leader, the followers, and the situation related to the activity.

How does this class reflect the use of Wagner’s seven survival skills?  During the activity the observers must use their critical thinking and problem solving skills to recall the different styles studied thus far and apply one to what has been demonstrated. This process requires that they identify evidence to support their final choice and apply concepts learned in class to an actual situation.  Effective oral communication is essential during the activity, and written communication skills are strengthened in the essay assignment that follows.

The observers also utilize their collaboration skills to assess and analyze what they are seeing in the leader and followers, while the leader uses his or her influence to attempt to alter the behaviors of the followers to achieve the desired results.  The leader must adapt his or her behaviors to the situation and to the followers, which requires knowledge of the different leadership styles and the parameters of each style.

The class often elicits great curiosity and imagination from the students.  Sometimes leading a group through a team-building activity requires tremendous creativity to convince the followers that they really are crossing a river of hot chocolate using floating marshmallows, for example.  Initiative is another important skill that is used and strengthened during the class. In order for the lesson to be successful, the student in the leadership role must show initiative to capture the attention of the followers and maintain a leadership role throughout the activity.