Preparing kids for the future is a topic that never leaves the mind from the moment a child is born. While some families are equipped to offer their children impactful and enriching experiences, society has placed more weight on the experiences provided in the classroom to ensure youth are prepared for what life will bring them. This content-driven approach lacks many components needed to thrive in life.
Academic excellence is important. There’s no doubt about that. And well-rounded youth who grow into well-rounded adults add value to shaping the world we live in. As educators and parents, it’s our responsibility to ensure we equip our future leaders with both academics and life experiences.
Self-Serving Leaders or Servant Leadership?
Leadership guru Ken Blanchard delineates between the two. Our world has plenty of examples of self-serving leaders, who make leading all about themselves. This model is ineffective and often destructive.
Servant leadership, on the other hand, is all about the people being served and what is trying to be accomplished. It begins in the heart and with who that leader is as a human. This is the type of leadership we want to prepare our youth to take on.
What if our graduate profile prioritized our graduates being skilled servant leaders? Perhaps with less emphasis on test scores or college admission stats–both which serve the school’s image more than the students. Any skill we want to attain takes clear intention, teaching and modeling, guided practice, and then independent practice. We could easily apply these four steps to small projects in the early grades and then full courses for older students.
Experience Counts in the Real World
Creating dynamic leaders would not only help young people survive in the real world, but it would help them thrive in the workplace. While ensuring students are academically prepared and successful, a resume focuses on experience and an interview panel is more interested in how one handles life situations than your GPA.
Resiliency is a key factor that determines success of a person, but not every student has the opportunity or is equipped with the skills to confront life challenges that impact their growth. What if curriculum offered students situations where they developed their strengths and improved their weaknesses, where we encourage integrity, tactfulness, and courage?
Reshaping Education and How We Think About Learning
For maximum traction, education would need to value integrating kindness and awareness of others into daily practice. Teachers would need fewer external demands to create these valuable lessons. Students would need help identifying their strengths and passions. (Our Education Evolution podcast episode 11 with Leigh Anne Knight shares an excellent free resource for helping determine strengths and how those apply to the workforce.) Curriculum would need to offer time for reflection, experiences to determine where they can best serve and opportunities and exposure to realms beyond their neighborhoods…and beyond their comfort zone.
How about lessons that immerse students in real-life situations: Experience being homeless for a day in an urban setting with $3 and a bus pass? Help build a trail in a national forest or state park?
Of course, these activities can’t just be one-off experiences. They need to be frontloaded with goals and reflection. And then unpacked afterward with thoughtful questions and more reflection. Again, teachers need time to design full experiences that build upon each other and the students’ growing self-awareness.
The results? Our youth:
- Know themselves and how they most enjoy serving
- Have experience in many different settings to guide their post-secondary decisions
- Understand clearly the difference between self-serving leaders and servant leadership
- Are ready to be the positive leaders of tomorrow!
Moving Toward the Future
It is clear we want more for students. That is a never-ending desire. How we provide more and what that looks like is yet to be defined, but conversations are shifting and becoming more open. Young people are capable of exceeding all expectations and becoming more than we can fathom; we simply need to present them with the opportunity to shine. To move forward with these ideas, it is important to stay abreast with the needs of our educators, the students they serve, and the shifting dynamics of the society we live in.
There is still much work to get done to create an education system that values leadership development; we all play a crucial role in this reshaping of the education system.