Teaching Leadership to Pre-Kindergarten Students
Author: Carissa Logan
May 6, 2015
Teaching leadership to pre-kindergarten students seems like an overwhelming idea, but it isn’t.
At Nash Elementary, a Leader in Me School in Nash, Texas, the pre-K students are not only learning about leadership skills but also living them.
Principal Patti O’Bannon and the pre-K teaching team at Nash Elementary shared some of their thoughts on successful ways to use The Leader in Me and the 7 Habits with pre-K students and why teaching leadership to pre-kindergarten students matters.
Teaching Leadership to Pre-Kindergarten Students
So, why is teaching leadership to pre-kindergarten students a good thing? “When you think about the age group that we work with, we’re within this small window of opportunity that we can actually make positive changes to a child’s IQ,” said Dianne Cherry, a pre-K teacher. “That’s a huge responsibility on our part. What a better time to introduce something like the 7 Habits that they’ll take with them and use their whole lives.”
“We’ve already had some students talk about how much the 7 Habits have really helped them stay organized and helped them keep first things first, as far as their academic life and personal life,” O’Bannon said. “I feel like The Leader in Me promotes a school environment that reinforces the leadership model that will carry them throughout the rest of their lives.”
Simplify the Content
The first approach to take when teaching leadership to pre-kindergarten students is to simplify the content for the students. The material being used to teach leadership can vary as long as the lesson remains simple. Cherry shared how she and her colleagues have used the stories in The 7 Habits of Happy Kids and other books to teach their students about leadership.
“We use the stories in The 7 Habits of Happy Kids, and then there is a list of other children’s literature that backs up that,” Cherry said. “It’s amazing how quickly they can tell me, ‘That’s being proactive. I’m in charge of me.’ We are still in the concrete stage of development in Pre-K and these ideas are very abstract. But I think it helps to introduce them to the 7 Habits through stories.”
Provide Opportunities to Practice
When teaching leadership to pre-kindergarten students, it is also important to provide opportunities for the student to practice what they have learned. Cherry said this year they decided as a pre-K team to implement student-leadership roles for all pre-K students. Each student has a specific job, such as answering the phone, setting up the calendar, or passing out supplies.
“The idea of giving four- and five-year-olds each a job for a whole week was kind of unnerving to me, but they have done such a good job of taking those roles on,” Cherry said. “When we started The Leader in Me, it made me realize that my job isn’t to be just the only leader in the classroom. By letting them be leaders, they find out things about themselves that they didn’t even know. I’m not teaching students who are like little blank slates. They all have leadership capabilities, and my job is to try to help them learn what their strengths are and to bring those out.”
To those who may be nervous in giving more control to the students, Angela Taylor explained how turning responsibility to the students has helped her classroom run more smoothly.
“I feel like the kids respond better when I’m in front of them, rather than taking care of some issue over here or passing out paper,” Taylor said. “Anything I can do to make my job a little bit easier helps me and gives me more teaching time. The kids are so proud to be able to take that role on and to be able to handle it, and it makes them feel like ‘I’m part of this classroom community.’”
Martha Sanchez, the bilingual pre-K teacher, shared how the leadership roles have helped her students who are leading and learning in English and Spanish.
“It helps my students that have a second language. They know they have to speak Spanish and do their job in English as well,” Sanchez said. “English is harder because most of them are non-English speakers, but now they’re getting used to the English and the environment, so they are more confident speaking and even being the leader in English.”
Use Positive Reinforcement
Lastly, when teaching leadership to pre-kindergarten students remember to use positive reinforcement with your students. Taylor shared how recognizing when her students have been leaders has helped her students remember and internalize the leadership skills they are learning.
“One of the best things I’ve seen this year is how proud they feel when I tell them what a good job they’ve done or when somebody else says, ‘What a great job your student did,’ and I let them know,” Taylor said. “You can see their faces light up, knowing that they are being a leader.”
While teaching leadership to pre-kindergarten students may seem overwhelming at first, it is teachable. Through positive reinforcement, opportunities to practice, and simplified content, the youngest students can soak up the knowledge and traits of a leader.