Teaching Leadership: Direct and Indirect Approaches

Author: Jennibelle Williams
June 11, 2014

A Leader in Me instructor teaches a group of students using blocks and hand gestures.

Did you know a Google search of teaching leadership yields nearly 529 million results? The importance of teaching leadership as a part of holistic education is hardly lost on today’s educators, but knowing how to implement effective leadership curriculum and instruction can be a challenge.

With so many books, magazine articles, and wikiHow posts at our disposal, where do we begin?

Teaching Leadership

Quality teaching is dependent upon solidly rooted research and practice. Beginning with time-tested resources is a great starting place, as is determining your reason for teaching leadership. Will you teach about leadership as a topic? Will you teach your students how to lead? Or will you do both?

Whatever your objective, a process for teaching leadership that is both direct and indirect is widely accepted as a best practice.


Direct Instruction

With direct instruction, students are given clear learning goals and explanations of the skills and information needed for the learning.

An illustration of direct instruction is a teacher introducing a historical figure and describing the leadership demonstrated by that person. Other examples include choosing a particular work of literature and initiating a discussion on the protagonist’s qualities of leadership, or teaching from a widely recognized leadership resource.

The poster below is an example of direct instruction where students learned about synergy through a history lesson.

teaching leadership

Indirect Instruction

When indirect instruction is used, the teacher presents information to students so that they may construct their own conclusions and assimilate the information in a way that makes sense to them. For example, when a student is given the opportunity to participate in a leadership role, that student is able to put leadership knowledge into practice in a way that is relevant and experiential for him or her.

The use of leadership tools such as Brainstormers, Fishbone Diagrams, and Plus/Delta Charts aids a student in constructing the meaning of new information by engaging more than one learning modality and enabling him or her to develop the skills necessary for self-directed learning.

Leadership Roles provide opportunities for the application of indirect leadership instruction.

teaching leadership

By combining both direct and indirect instruction, every student—regardless of learning preference—is provided with an opportunity for learning about and developing leadership skills.

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