Education pundits and policymakers frequently mention leadership as one of the most important skills that we should develop in our nation’s youth. Yet most so-called leadership development programs try to accomplish this goal through lectures, readings, discussions, case studies, and other passive means.

So, can you teach leadership in a classroom? The truth is that real leadership can only be learned by actually leading something.

Public and private schools can easily institutionalize better leadership development practices by incorporating leadership into mainstream school activities. We should foster leadership skills by giving students 10x more leadership opportunities in class itself.

How to really teach leadership

It's not hard to understand why you want to know if you can teach leadership in a classroom. Teachers could dramatically improve the way they prepare America’s future leaders by making one simple change to their teaching style: appoint clear project managers for group projects.

I don’t mean just designating a “group leader” who acts as the spokesperson during group presentations and classroom discussions. I mean actually telling one student that 80% of the project’s grade weight is on his/her shoulders. Teachers can rotate project management responsibilities for each project throughout the semester, so that each student gains experience as both a group leader and in supporting roles.

This applies to both large, long-term projects as well as 3-day projects. Having clearly designated project management roles will result in:

  1. Greater project artifacts produced by students;
  2. The development of critical skills that will become indispensable as soon as the student finishes school (or college); and
  3. Leadership opportunities for non-alpha students who wouldn’t have otherwise risen into the role.

Group project managers will learn to schedule meetings, lead small discussions, delegate responsibilities, create and manage project plans, set deadlines, solve group problems, and develop status reports for periodic meetings with the facilitator (a.k.a. the teacher). Appointing a project manager for school projects also helps prevent the usual group project power vacuum, and is much better than asking the group itself to awkwardly select a leader on its own.

I strongly encourage teachers to think more carefully about how they assign roles in group projects, and to not be afraid to appoint discrete project managers whenever the situation permits.

A tool to help improve students' learning

And if you’re looking for another classroom tool to help with learning outcomes in general, we recommend Brainscape—an adaptive, modern flashcard system that’s the perfect supplement to help solidify students' knowledge on their own.

In other words, Brainscape helps you "outsource" the "knowledge acquisition" part of your curriculum, so students can study on their OWN time. This helps free up more class time for collaborative activities that can improve students' leadership skills.

We've also put together an in-depth guide on how to optimize your students' knowledge retention after years of primary research from academic sources and educators using our learning platform. Check it out, and best of luck with this semester!

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