Tuesday night over forty people gathered in a Community College classroom focused on how the FIRST series of robotics competitions can empower our children to develop 21st century skills. Co-presenting with me were five area young people experienced with FIRST robotics, Katrina, a 7th grader who had been competing with the FIRST Lego League (FLL) since 4th grade, talked about strategy and time management skills she’s learned. Three members, Ian C, Ruthann, and Ian M. of the FLL Cybercats talked about engineering, programming, and collaboration skills. Calista, petite and feminine, yet dressed in her Girls of Steel uniform, talked about soldering, welding, wiring, and programming a 100 lb. robot and mini-bot for the FIRST Robotics competition (FRC). What they didn’t explicitly talk about yet demonstrated in spades was their emergence as leaders among peers and community.
21st century skills include innovation, critical thinking, collaboration, emotional intelligence, resilience, leadership and vision. Past blogs have fleshed out the skill of innovation and I’d like to spend a few weeks exploring leadership.
A 21st century leader abilifies the gifts of others with confidence wielding power in ways that share and multiply it. Leadership requires a humble and empowering acknowledgement that all our actions leave a wake or footprint upon a fragile planet, a tenuous economy, and most importantly vulnerable human beings.
How do we begin to instill and awaken this skill in our young people? First and foremost, they need opportunities! Where are the communities or individuals whose gifts can be abilified by them. I admire the teachers, coaches and mentors who provide these: a martial arts teacher that trains a child in motivation techniques and assistant teaching, a scout leader who demands a boy led troop, a youth minister who gives my daughter chances to speak and inspire peers and younger students. I like my kids surrounded by adults who view them as gifted and capable and raise the bar high (but not too high).
I recently had the privilege of co-authoring a workbook with my son and another young man, Caleb Markovitz. Together, with Caleb’s mother Beth, we developed a new Grow a Generation resource “Help, I’m in Charge: Leadership Skills for Teens.” Caleb was serving as a Senior Patrol Leader in a scout troop and Ian was a patrol leader, an assistant instructor at River Valley Tang Soo Do, and a co-leader on his FIRST Lego League team. We touched briefly on some of the major thinkers in leadership (Covey, Greenleaf, Carnegie, Iacocca, Guiliani, Churchill and Roosevelt, Gates and Jobs). We looked at the curriculum in some of the popular graduate degrees in leadership (thank you Gary Slifkey!). We examined resources from business management specialists and workshop leaders (thank you Chris Rishack!).
The boys kept us focused on a hands on resource, not a lot of reading but filled with practical questions and resources to allow a parent to work alongside any teen or young adult trying to grow stronger in the skill of leadership while actually getting to practice it. The two boys added incredible insights to the thoughts of the hundreds of teen leaders who Beth and I have worked with and we found ourselves going in directions we didn’t expect – what core values are deeper than simple leadership qualities? how do you begin to understand the difference between your self-perception and how others you are working with perceive you? what are actual leadership behaviors that can be evaluated and improved? what is the source of a leader’s vision and mission and how do they communicate it. This is a great resource for any parent whose teen has begun a leadership role.
The boy’s will be holding a celebration and book signing on Sunday, November 6 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Sewickley Library (RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org). The resource What do Mean I’m In Charge? Leadership Skills for Teens is available in hardcopy or as an pdf download through a Grow a Generation website.
This week’s hero: Kiran Bir Sethi (watch the free resource!)
This week’s question: What opportunities do you have to be a leader?
This week’s free resource: Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to say “I can”