Updated: Jan 22
Leadership is Hard
When things get tough, what do you do? What does a leader do? What do high school students do? Many people turn to others for guidance and support. For high school students, this usually includes their teachers, administrators, or parents. As leaders, we must be willing to try new leadership strategies and take risks when we face difficult challenges in order to provide a good example for young people to see themselves as leaders. It is important that they know that it's okay to make mistakes - as long as we show that, as leaders, we can learn from those mistakes.
I Don't Like Chemistry
In order to ensure that my students understood and enjoyed chemistry, I made sure not to pretend it would be easy. I found that most parents of my students didn't enjoy chemistry when they were in high school. Furthermore, I frequently asked the parents if they liked chemistry during their high school years - almost always, more than half would not raise their hands. This tells me two things: First, many of these parents had difficulty enjoying high school-level science classes. Second - this dislike could easily be passed on to their children when we started college-level courses. By being honest about how difficult the material will be from the very beginning, I was able to build trust with my students so that they knew they could count on me during challenging times.
Where is the Fear Coming From?
Why do we often avoid difficult tasks? We know that they are hard, and as a result, we may shy away from them. However, if we have the right tools at our disposal - which include knowledge and skills - then the difficulty is not an insurmountable obstacle. I became a teacher because I enjoy building relationships with students; teaching chemistry was simply another way to help them learn about themselves and their capabilities. With the proper resources in place, nothing is impossible.
Leadership Tools are everywhere
When working with others, we are exercising our leadership abilities. Whether asking someone to do something or directing them, we are using our skills in this area. I often have students in my chemistry class approach challenging topics. However, instead of telling them what to do and leaving it at that, I allow them to challenge each other and make mistakes. This teaches them how to work effectively with others while also developing their leadership skills. We may not realize it, but each of the following actions is developing leadership skills.
Celebrating the small accomplishments
Listening to others
Showing each other
Knowing and using your resources
Leadership is all about recognizing opportunities for growth and learning from failures. I have found that this philosophy resonates with students in my chemistry class. When they know that the struggle is part of the process, it helps to build their confidence. This was especially evident during assessment moments, where students could see how successful they could be, even when dealing with difficult topics. It was amazing to see so many students admit to me how scared they were at first when starting out, but now seeing themselves taking on challenges head-on because they knew it would help them improve as learners.
Chemistry is not my superpower
I felt that my role as a teacher wasn't really about teaching chemistry. It was more about letting my students know they could take on anything, even if they didn't understand it at the time. This helped them develop confidence and skills – regardless of the outcome. They learned that success is built upon facing challenges head-on, no matter how difficult they may seem. I always thought I had the power to help students learn and understand chemistry. In retrospect, it's clear that what made a difference was empowering them and helping them see collaboration as an effective way of solving problems. Chemistry isn't just about understanding formulas- it's also about working together in groups to come up with solutions.
Did I Learn Leadership in Chemistry?
I would say unequivocally - YES! In my experience as a chemistry teacher, I have seen the importance of leadership in difficult situations. I have also seen the growth that students can experience when they are given the opportunity to face challenges and learn from them. I think that the skills that we learned in chemistry have helped each of my students become better leaders. When my students faced difficult challenges, I learned that it was important not to solve the problem for them. By providing direct instruction and answers, I shut down their ability to learn from their experiences and pass on knowledge to others. Instead, if they were able to figure out how to address the challenge themselves then they would be in a better position both individually and as part of a team. This is an invaluable lesson that has helped me become a stronger leader throughout my career.
What if you don't love it?
Not everyone will love chemistry, just like not everyone will love being a leader. In order to be a successful leader, you will have to make tough decisions. This can sometimes feel uncomfortable and difficult, but it is something that you need to push through in order to achieve your goals. You should review the list of methods and resources that are available to you as a leader and then apply those same principles when approaching new and challenging opportunities. By having these options at the forefront of your mind, you'll be better equipped both physically and mentally for any challenges that come up on your journey toward success.