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September 25, 2013

This week, my chosen topic to write about is leadership. The last couple of posts have focused on authentic learning and excellence in teaching. I thought maybe it was time to look at the skills, knowledge and experiences which will help our students become leaders. In doing research for this post something unexpected happened – I found myself in a number of discussions about failure and dealing with failure well as an aspect of leadership. I’ve decided to split the post up a bit and write two posts this week. Today’s is about leadership and tomorrow I will write about failure.

As I have done with all my posts so far, I appealed to my digital PLN via Twitter and to my non teaching friends via Facebook. I asked on Twitter: What leadership qualities do you hope to foster in your students? On Facebook I asked: What leadership qualities do you hope schools/teachers foster in students?

While I received a wide array of responses, as per usual, a few themes emerged from my questions. The themes that emerged were those of compassion, confidence, empathy and service to others. I thought this list was interesting given my own personal philosophy about teaching and working with kids. I believe that students who feel connected, capable, contributing and cared for will be resilient and will be able to take educational risks. However, I never thought of these qualities in terms of leadership. But, upon reflection, that is what they are. If we think of leaders who we admire I am willing to bet they help make people they work with feel capable, connected, contributing, and cared for. Therefore, it would make sense that those who educate should spend time creating authentic opportunities for students to feel capable, to encourage a multitude of connections, to provide a voice and audience for students to contribute and to demonstrate their care for the kids they work with.

The question I am now wrestling with is this: if we believe that good leaders encourage people they work with to be capable, connected, contributing team members and to demonstrate they care for the people they work with, how do we foster these qualities in students? I am uncertain of the exact answer to this question.

In my research for this post I received a paper from David Truss, written as a component of his Masters Degree. David writes: “I think that leadership pertains to getting students to be of service to others, while teaching them to effectively influence and motivate others.” He goes on to suggest that “this can be successfully accomplished when students work in inclusionary groups or teams that create and take advantage of opportunities to act as servant leaders.” I interpret this to mean that fostering student leadership should be an intentional process that compliments what we do in the classroom. Carrying on with this idea then, we should focus our activities with our students to encourage authentic learning opportunities which also foster interconnectedness, student capability, student contributions, and opportunities for students to act as “servant leaders.”

One of my friends sent me their thoughts on how schools should foster student leadership. She works as a nurse in northern Saskatchewan and also is a nursing instructor. She sent me a list of what a boss is and what a leader is. I really liked the list and did a bit more research. I found the list that has been modified somewhat by Umair Haque in what he calls the Builders Manifesto. While it is directed at business leaders, I think it has particular applicability to education contexts and the concept of creation vs. consumption and authentic learning. I will leave it with you all to read and ponder. As always, feedback, suggestions, and comments are greatly appreciated. Be well everyone!


A Builders Manifesto

  1. The boss drives group members; the leader coaches them. The Builder learns from them.
  2. The boss depends upon authority; the leader on good will. The Builder depends on good.
  3. The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm. The Builder is inspired — by changing the world.
  4. The boss says “I”; the leader says “we”. The Builder says “all” — people, communities, and society.
  5. The boss assigns the task, the leader sets the pace. The Builder sees the outcome.
  6. The boss says, “Get there on time;” the leader gets there ahead of time. The Builder makes sure “getting there” matters.
  7. The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown. The Builder prevents the breakdown.
  8. The boss knows how; the leader shows how. The Builder shows why.
  9. The boss makes work a drudgery; the leader makes work a game. The Builder organizes love, not work.
  10. The boss says, “Go;” the leader says, “Let’s go.” The Builder says: “come.”


David Truss Student Leadership Paper:

  1. Carrie M permalink

    Hi Sean,
    I appreciated the altruism in the themes that emerged: compassion, confidence, empathy, and service to others. I might suggest, however, that you could ask the same groups for key qualities we want to foster in our students to help them become good people and good citizens of the world, and the list would be remarkably similar. As an educator and a parent, I value all these qualities, and I work to instill this kind of development in students and in my own kiddos.

    We want foster these qualities in all our young, regardless of the positions (as leaders or otherwise) they hold in the future. Should they find themselves as formal leaders, we can trust that they will be ethical decision makers who prioritize people before dollars and cents. They have a keen sense of the world and consider the impact of their choices beyond their own context. In the future, this will become increasingly important. If they do not become CEOs, we want them to be confident and feel empowered and responsible for contributing to meaningful work.

    In closing, I just wanted to thank you for sharing this version of the Builder’s Manifesto. #6 resonated with me, because it relates directly to a current project I’m working on. We can get so caught up in the task at hand, we don’t often stop and ask the question, “Does this matter?” or “Is this the right path to follow?”

    Grateful for the opportunity to stop and think for a few moments – a great way to end the week. Thanks for sharing!

    • Carrie,

      Thank you for taking the time to respond. I realize how busy you are!!

      You raise an interesting point that I thought a lot about when I wrote the post. I used the term “leader” when the phrase “good citizen” may have been more appropriate. Regardless of the position or role our students take on in the future, I’m sure we can all agree that we would hope they possess the qualities I wrote about. I agree, the idea of ethical leadership or ethical citizenship is significant. Good things to consider.

      Knowing some of what you are working on, I’m glad the builder’s manifesto resonated with you.

      Have a great day!

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