Truths of Leadership Learned From 10-Year-Olds

— Written By Luke Shealy
en Español / em Português

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Effective leadership, like effective activism, requires being intentional about one’s action so that a group can achieve a greater goal. This submission comes from an NC State University student reflecting on his learning while serving as a mentor and educational-summer camp leader in rural North Carolina. In reflecting on our own actions and lessons learned, we can become more effective activists and understand how to apply our past experiences to future challenges.

Truths of Leadership Learned From 10-Year-Olds

By Jeremy Lowe

Two years have passed since I wrote this article, but the lessons learned from this
experience still deeply resonate. Reading back on it brings many amazing memories and gratitude for my team, the students, and educators at Siler City Elementary.

Recently, I had the privilege of being part of a new Caldwell Fellows initiative: Service NC. We often aim to obtain a global perspective of the world around us with our time and privilege at a university like NC State University, but that leaves more local issues tossed aside and forgotten, though they sit right in front of our faces. Service NC gave me the opportunity to learn more about an issue facing the state of North Carolina: the rights and well-being of migrant farm-workers and the overall need for immigration reform. Alongside this learning aspect came the service part. Our team ran a three-week-long summer enrichment camp for the rising 4th and 5th graders of Siler City Elementary School, with much help from the A.J. Fletcher Foundation.

This school is entirely unique in the fact that its population is mostly composed of Latinx students, and the school is certified by the Embassy of Spain to be a bilingual learning center. This means students are both taught English and Spanish within the school.

My time in Siler City has been one of my most worthwhile experiences. Siler City is a second home to me now. I could go on for pages upon pages of everything I gained, but I want to take a special focus on the truths of leaderships the students taught me personally. Some days were challenging, most needed naps, but they changed me for the better.

Students learning

From 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., I taught, stressed, and laughed with my small group of 4th and 5th graders. These days were spent exploring the magic of energy, forces, weather, virtual reality, and their inventive spirits. Oh, and of course, there was a little recess time thrown in for my own sake. I lead these students, but in ways they lead me too, and from this I learned. For one, they taught me the value of endurance. Like I stated above, most days needed naps, and I can thank my students for that. Constantly when you’re leading you must be on the top of your game. There was never a motionless moment; I was always walking around, listening to the needs of my students, responding to their questions, or giving them the attention they deserve. A leader needs to endure whatever is thrown their way, for the sake of their followers.

Coinciding with endurance is patience. Often, I would have to repeat yourself multiple times for one idea to stick or endure question after question that seemed to have no end. From patience though, there is an understanding that they are truly not at fault. I saw myself often taking the more patient route with students when they would disobey, because while there were times they were conscious of their actions, often they just made little, unimportant mistakes. A leader needs to
recognize the pure intentions of others and listen to their concerns, which all requires steady patience.NC State University student counselors. all are wearing matching red shirts.

Along the lines of a more concrete idea to practice in leadership, I realized the students were often lost without proper guidance. I quickly realized that as their leader, I needed to explain each portion of what we were doing in excruciating detail so they would have more confidence in themselves. It is always important to fully explain a task, and be responsive to any questions they may have, no matter how many times they ask it. It all comes from a place of wanting to do things right and well. A leader should instill confidence in others, and ensuring the group has all the knowledge needed is an effective way to approach this.

Endurance, patience, and explanation are by no means the only qualities of an effective leader, but they are ones that were especially highlighted for me in my time at Siler City Elementary. Again, I could go on forever about everything I learned, ranging from self-discovery to the issues of migrant farm-workers, and I hope to do so one day. I am thankful to have had the chance to be a part of Service NC, and I look forward to my chance to return to Siler City and my students.

Lastly, educators are compassionate powerhouses. Educators deserve all the love,
support, and respect we can give them. Consider how they have led you throughout your life.

Questions for Extended Dialogue

  • The author’s reflection on leadership focuses on how he learned about the importance of ‘endurance, patience, and explanation’. What do these traits mean to you?
  • How do you reflect on your own work in either activism or other areas of your life?
  • What truth have you learned through either personal reflection or discussing past experiences with someone else?