Teaching Leadership Skills Using Digital Platforms

By Mariam G. MacGregor, author of Building Everyday Leadership in All Teens

Teaching Leadership Skills Using Digital PlatformsLike most things, the best way to learn a skill is to apply it immediately. Truth is, we all feel more comfortable having opportunities to learn a bit about the skill, practice the skill, and if all goes as planned, receive some kind of feedback about our success in applying that skill.

Teaching leadership skills is no different.

My experience has shown that interactive initiatives are effective in teaching leadership to teens for a few reasons. Most importantly, teens eschew learning theory and thrive on getting things done through relationships and peer connections. They generally enjoy working with peers to solve problems and plan, which is overwhelmingly how leadership skills are best developed.

With digital platforms for collaborative learning in grades K–12 on the rise, students are increasingly completing class projects using Google Docs, PowerPoint, and Prezi. Teens interact and build relationships in their free time using Instagram, GroupMe, Twitter, and Facebook, not to mention YouTube, gaming, films, and everyday face-to-face social activities.

A recently released decade-long study of the digital lives of teens conducted by the Pew Research Center indicates that teenagers’ social lives are thriving online. Yet, teen leaders repeatedly tell me they feel unprepared to lead in ways that a) they want to, and b) adults expect them to in real-life circumstances.

Therefore, when it comes to building teen leadership skills, educators are tasked with balancing the use of cool digital methods and “best of” aspects of social media with relevant real-life leadership skill building.

Group Projects Redesigned
I have yet to meet a teacher (including ELA teachers) who says, “I love reading every single word of every essay I assign to my students.” With digital platforms, there are many methods for measuring knowledge and growth without assigning an essay.

When students (in groups or individually) prepare videos using iMovie (free), Animoto (free), or YouTube (free), or comic strips using Toontastic (free) or Pixton ($8.99/month or district subscription), they engage skills in creative storyboarding or script writing. The end products are creative and entertaining, and students have also developed leadership skills through working together, setting goals and schedules, negotiating roles, and implementing various communication skills including writing.

Another great tool is Storybird (free), a visual storytelling platform that was started by an editor previously with HarperCollins. Students and educators can use Storybird to write and read stories, access artwork from Storybird’s incredible archive, and connect to a safe creative community. When student groups use Storybird to create a book together, their leadership skills are put to work—from developing content, negotiating design, and coordinating artwork with words to launching an end product into a viewing space.

If you need a quick, easy tool for creating puzzles or word games, consider having students use Wordle (free) or Tagzedo (free). To focus activities using these platforms on leadership, ask student groups to brainstorm words associated with leadership followed by creating a Tagzedo using their word list.

Tracking Accomplishments
Competency-based learning lends itself to guiding students to create online portfolios where they can take control and archive their learning journey. This can be accomplished by having students design their own website using Wix (free), WordPress (free), or Blogger (free) or integrating a campus- or district-wide portfolio management tool like Digication (district subscription) or Evernote (free).

If you really enjoy learning about digital platforms that accomplish academic goals while integrating leadership development, there is an increasing Twitter base focused on these topics. To get started, follow @edutopia, @edtechtimes, and @edtech_k12 or search for hashtags such as #edchat and #edtech.

Digital platforms and software are an engaging method to involve students of all ages in their personal growth as leaders. How are you integrating digital platforms to continue to build a culture of leadership in your setting?

Mariam MacGregorMariam 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.

Free Spirit books by Mariam MacGregor:

Building Everyday Leadership in All TeensBuilding Everyday Leadership in All KidsEveryday LeadershipTeambuilding with Teens

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