The Importance of Building Young Leaders—Part 1

When people ask what I do for a living and I reply I am a middle school social studies teacher, nine times out of 10 they gasp and say, “I don’t know how you do it!” In all honesty, there are days when I don’t know how I do it either. But most days I leave work happier than when I first came in.

Unlike many others, my middle and high school careers were fairly painless. I had an extremely supportive immediate and extended family, a great group of friends, top-notch educators and was involved in a few extracurricular activities that I truly loved. I knew that wherever my path ultimately took me, I would have the support, experience and education that I needed to succeed.

It was early in my high school career when I knew that the field of education was the profession I wished to pursue. I had so many wonderful educators who truly opened up my mind to so many new and different perspectives and experiences. I wanted to be that person for my students; I wanted to help cultivate future leaders.

What makes teaching so great is that no two days are exactly the same. What also makes teaching so great is that no student is exactly the same as the next. However, in my teaching one thing does stay the same: I treat every student as though he or she matters and teach every student that any one of them could be a leader.

Building young leaders doesn’t take a magic formula, it just takes one (or more!) person in that young person’s life who truly cares. That guiding light should not only be a positive example of leadership him- or herself, but should also be someone who truly takes the time to get to know the individual child and build on his or her strengths.

Within my classroom, through our study of individuals and groups, we are able to identify what makes a good leader. There is a specific activity we do during our study of Jamestown, Virginia, in which we brainstorm a list of characteristics the students believe a good leader should possess. Inevitably, they believe the person should be smart, honest and hard-working.

But, as we dig deeper and see the impact John Smith had on the colony of Jamestown, the students realize strong leadership isn’t just about being smart. Rather, it is about taking into account other people’s perspectives, being a good listener and being able to persevere in the face of adversity. It is about being confident in yourself and your decisions as well as being a good team player. John Smith was all of these things and was able to get his people out of the “Starving Time” and help to create the first permanent and successful settlement in the New World.

The qualities that my students listed during our Jamestown unit are just the tip of the iceberg. But how can we help our children and other young people develop into leaders?

Stay tuned for part 2 of my blog in which I will dive into how to help today’s youth develop into tomorrow’s leaders.

Teresa Florindi is a full time Social Studies teacher in Port Chester, NY. When she is not instilling her passion about American History to her 7th graders, she enjoys traveling with her fiancé. She also spends her spare time teaching group exercise and indoor cycling at her local YMCA.