Let’s Go to the Movies! Using Film to Teach Leadership

By Mariam G. MacGregor, author of Building Everyday Leadership in All Teens. This post was originally published August 3, 2015.

Let’s Go to the Movies! Using Film to Teach LeadershipMovies 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 to 10 minutes to comment on the leadership ideas in the film prior to launching into the 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 on when you process and discuss movies:

  • What leadership lessons did I learn from this movie?
  • Which character’s leadership style do I relate to most 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? When and how did I deal with them?
  • 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 students to take away from what they’ve watched.

Discussion Questions for Jakob the Liar from Free Spirit PublishingBonus! Download discussion questions from Building Everyday Leadership in All Teens for use with the film Jakob the Liar.

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?

Author Mariam MacGregorMariam G. MacGregor, M.S., is director of Employee Engagement and Organizational Strategy at TCU and 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. Mariam lived in Colorado for many years, where she served as the school counselor and coordinator of leadership programs at an alternative high school and received honorable mention for Counselor of the Year. She currently lives in Texas with her husband and three kind kids. Learn more about Mariam at mariammacgregor.com.

Free Spirit books by Mariam MacGregor:

Building Everyday Leadership in All Kids Building Everyday Leadership in All Teens Teambuilding with Teens

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