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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

“The teacher and the student create the learning.”

by Joel Wright

How often does this really happen between a parent and a teenager?

I can only guess what you might be thinking? How is this possible? I’m sure we can all remember teenage moments when our parents or an older adult sat you down for a teachable moment. I squirm even at the thought of some of these moments while simultaneously wondering how they could be more comfortable, rewarding and co-developmental for both parent and child.

Contrary to my memory, and in quest of how to enhance early leadership opportunities, this past September I witnessed an inspiring and engaging exchange between many parents and their teenagers. These interactions occurred at the Greensboro YMCA during a Black & Hispanic Achievers program orientation/open house where CCL & YMCA staff designed activities where parents and teens could share with each other where and when they learned various life lessons about leadership.

The inspiration behind creating these interactions came from CCL’s recent initiatives with early leadership development (those from their early teen years to early thirties). What we continue to hear is that the most influential leaders that young people learn from are those who are around them day in and day out. It’s these people they see who are modeling leadership in action. In particular, it’s parents, family members, teachers, and coaches. While this is no surprise in some regard it does pivot the focus from exclusive youth development programs to considering designs that engage young and adult.

With the intent of increasing the connection and intention of leadership development between teens and parents we designed a few short, quick leadership activities. Two new activities we designed for this program were: “Leadership Family Tree” and “Leadership Life-Line”. Both proved profound and engaging.

One early leadership story we heard from a 13 year old was about being on a baseball team. He shared how “my baseball coach would take me out of the game and put someone in that wasn’t as good as me but I gave them tips on how to play that position like I did and at the baseball banquet I was given the award ‘team before self’. That was my leadership role.”

Countless other stories were surfaced by both young and old. In reflecting on and processing all these stories, we kept hearing a couple of key words coming to the surface. The first was responsibility. Young and old referenced early leadership lessons taking place when they were given or assumed responsibility to do something. Examples spanned from sports, to baby-sitting or house-sitting, to various formal and informal roles in school. A few of the other key words pointed to leadership skills, traits and/or lessons that were being enforced early on. They include: respect, listening, truth telling, “think of others before yourself,” or “help those who need it”. Such simple lessons but yet so significant for the stature of a leader. Amazingly, these short, simple activities proved to be immensely profound, comfortable and inspiring for all.

In three ways, many of us at CCL found this day and these activities extraordinary. First it allowed a comfortable shared learning exchange between parent and child. Second, the interactions allowed for a mutual appreciation and respect to occur between the two that added to the depth of the discussion. And third, the exchange often left both parent and child surprised about how much each could learn from the other.

When training, I often quote an Asian proverb, “the teacher and the student create the learning.” I do this as a quick reminder that the person in the front of the classroom, the “leader”, doesn’t always have all the answers. In fact, often the learning, growth, creativity and community are only enhanced when everyone contributes. Certainly, on this Saturday in September parents and teenagers created the learning and it was leadership in action.

1 comment:

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