Monday, April 26, 2010

Shoulder-Tap Leadership

One of the lessons I've learned in teaching is that I have a responsibility, as a teacher, to tell kids what gifts I recognize in them, whether or not they do themselves. In fact, it is even more important if they are unaware of it. Hence, I've intentionally started telling kids what I think they'd be good at, in terms of a career, or the types of roles they might occupy down the line. When I told a current student that she should consider a career as a writer or journalist, she was embarrassed, but clearly excited to consider such a thing. In middle school, being given a word of direction or encouragement is sometimes all that is needed to get them to start seriously considering their futures.

I have been doing this a lot in the recent past, as opportunities have arisen. When a middle school leadership conference opportunity came up, I picked as many kids as I as allowed (3). When I asked specific kids if they were interested, they all said yes (yay for my judgement :-)) and one fairly beamed when I asked her. Upon returning from the conference today, they all said they had a wonderful time and were thrilled at being given the opportunity to attend. One even said, "Mrs. Shetler, will you please tell my 8th grade teacher that I would like to be selected to attend this event next year as well?"

Then, several weeks ago, I selected 8 or 10 students to be recognized via People to People as students with potential leadership. (You know, the type of organization that invites you to attend a "reception gala" in DC--on your own dime, of course--and then asks you to buy the book with your name in it for $29.99 or something. I didn't really care about the rest, just wanted kids to know they were thought of in that way.) On Thursday, the selected students received letters explaining this. Right away, I had kids come up to me saying things like, "Thank you for nominating me, Mrs. Shetler!" and "My mom was so proud of me!" and "My mom is going to frame that letter!" and "I get the window and John gets the aisle when we go to Washington!" I wasn't sure how to explain to them how the trip actually works, though I tried. (But today, I still had students talking about having car washes to raise money to go!) So, I was thrilled at how excited those kids were.

Unintended consequence though: all the kids that didn't get nominated wanted to know why! I felt so bad when one of my gifted kids who I've had for two years now asked why I didn't nominate him... So, I had to explain to them that no matter how smart they may be, leadership is just one of many desirable traits a person can have.

Despite this philosophy putting me in the occasional tough position, I still firmly believe that it is essential to recognize skills in students, especially leadership skills, since it is clear that we are in desperate need of future leaders in this state!

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