It might seem curious to read this article on this website but after recent events during this program and getting to see a range of student capabilities in ways I could not have expected. I thought it might be helpful to share what I recently learned from my students and the program and detail how to seize the moment to create leadership development opportunities.
Followers of this blog know I normally have frameworks and models in mind when I make a teaching move. But this learning has emerged organically through observation in moments of opportunity during the orientation and subsequent experiences in class and in the field. For example, Jessica Jacubowski a public health major contacted me before we began the program to participate in volunteering in a project with an organization who provides support to homeless individuals in Barcelona. Jessica volunteers with homeless in Chicago too. I never thought about it as an option in the context of our program. Jessica has led herself to this opportunity. She met up with me in Chicago to discuss things then she researched, communicated and showed up to connect with the organization’s leadership. She prepared for her field experience, talked it through with me, evaluated her experience in Chicago and looked forward to participating. She went for her first time on Sunday and took a peer with her too. They showed a form of self leadership. At the time of writing she is preparing to interview the organization’s leader. Had I been slavish to my own ideas and programming I might not have gone this way and squelched Jessica’s energy and enthusiasm. These days, I feel it is a stronger choice to find a fit for a student in this program and to help them harness and channel their energy into the learning they have the most desire for. But it starts with them and their self leadership, after all leadership is a choice.
One of the students on this program is a Chicago native who is out of the country for the first time without his family. They have overcome a variety of challenges in their life and goes the extra mile in all he does. They come across as a warm and modest person willing to cooperate and collaborate with their peers, careful to share the spotlight and always ready with a smile and story. A recent excursion to Nuria showed all of us some of the leadership capabilities this student has in them. For example, they led form the front but never without checking for someone else, or ensuring the group around them was tight. At rest stops he checked in and was easy to chat too with light spirits and an easy smile. They went through the day showing the kinds of behaviors we all hope to emulate. Lauren and I talked to them after the hike and brought up the idea of their leadership and they just smiled, listened and said they were happy to show team leadership qualities and were just happy to be part of things. We encouraged them to take on a bit more in the program, but they smiled and took a sip of their beverage. They taught me that leadership comes in all forms and not to push hard for more to come, but allow the person to show it in their own way.
Designated Leadership Opportunities
As a program leader I have opportunities to identify and select students for different forms of leadership opportunities. I use one particular time frequently in our program to create a moment where a student can display their leadership qualities and represent our group and our school. We meet many tour hosts, guides, product manufacturers and personnel who help make our experience so happy and amazing. At the end of every event we gift a gesture of appreciation to our friends. It involves getting everyone together, speaking in public, making the gift and organizing a group photo. It is a moment in the day when everyone’s focus is on this presentation. This can be nerve racking, and difficult but they get through it. Since I led this program I have made sure we do this following every event and I ask students to do it. Some feel awkward, some relish the opportunity, some wish never to be asked, but they all do a great job.
When you think about creating leadership moments for students to develop themselves through it does not have to be by completing grandly designed leadership programs but through small moments where opportunity meets commitment. In that space students can flourish and take a step or two in developing themselves.