By Mariam G. MacGregor, author of Building Everyday Leadership in All Teens
Movies are engaging tools for introducing and discussing leadership concepts. Dozens of movies—both classic and contemporary—portray strong leadership themes. Classic movies with older release dates may require a bit of background and context for your audience in order for their timeless relevance and application for teaching and discussing leadership to rise above the groans about terrible special effects, cheesy outfits, and sometimes awkward dialogue.
Younger grades often use films to fill recess time during inclement weather. Honestly, movies are not my first choice for how to use that time—I advocate for offering free time in the gym or setting up classroom stations with quick leadership initiatives. But if your school uses films in this way, select films with leadership themes. And rather than showing the most current releases, which many kids have seen multiple times (think Frozen), choose from the many G- and gentle PG-rated films that introduce leadership themes and lessons such as Dreamer and A Bug’s Life. Even if time limits kids from seeing the entire film during that recess period, classroom teachers can take 5–10 minutes to comment on the leadership ideas in the film prior to launching into their next lesson.
When seeking to facilitate in-depth discussion with tweens and teens, encourage students to keep track of leadership issues throughout the movie. Here are some general questions you might want students to reflect upon when you process and discuss movies:
- What leadership lessons did I learn from this movie?
- Which character’s leadership style do I relate most to in this movie?
- In what ways does the plot of this movie connect to real-life situations?
- What leadership characteristics or behaviors play a central role in this movie?
- Have I ever faced any dilemmas similar to those of the characters? If so, what and when and how did I deal with it?
- Were the characters aware of their roles as leaders in this movie? If so, how do they demonstrate this awareness? If not, why didn’t they see it in themselves?
- Are there any scenes that would be more effective if executed differently? Why? How would I do those scenes differently?
If time doesn’t allow you to discuss all of the leadership questions, or you show only small clips of any movie, select the questions that best represent the lesson you want teens to take away from what they’ve watched.
Here’s a short list of my current favorites for using movies to teach leadership:
- All the King’s Men (NR, 1949)
- Batkid Begins (PG, 2015)
- Because of Winn-Dixie (PG, 2005)
- Big Hero 6 (PG, 2014)
- A Bug’s Life (G, 1998)
- The Boxtrolls (PG, 2014)
- The Greatest Game Ever Played (PG, 2005)
- Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (G, 2008)
- My Neighbor Totoro (G, 2010)
- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (PG, 2013)
- Sneakers (PG-13, 1992)
- To Kill a Mockingbird (NR, 1962)
I regularly peruse the Internet Movie Database and Common Sense Media for new ideas, and I watch each movie before using it with kids and teens.
Remember, every audience is different. With this in mind, choose movies that are appropriate for your group and always review movies or video clips prior to using them in your program. What are some of your favorite films and how have you used them to teach leadership?
Mariam G. MacGregor, M.S., served as the school counselor and coordinator of leadership programs at an alternative high school in Colorado. While there, she received honorable mention for Counselor of the Year. Now, she’s a nationally recognized leadership consultant who works with schools (K–12 and higher education), nonprofit agencies, faith groups, and communities interested in developing meaningful, sustainable leadership efforts for kids, teens, and young adults. She founded Youthleadership.com (now mariammacgregor.com) to provide support to youth leaders and individuals working with them.
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