Crafting leaders

Lesson: This week's writing project is introduced within the structure of a writing workshop. Students are assigned a six- or seven-paragraph essay on leadership, with a topic sentence required for each paragraph.

"A leader is not simply born ... . A leader must be crafted on the table of destiny, scorched in the furnace of courage and trained in the arena of knowledge."

— Loden Donahoo

Marcia Ososke's 23 seventh- and eighth-grade writers at John Muir School are spending a week defining leadership in their own terms and writing about leaders whom they admire.

The students share quotes by Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, J. Donald Walters and John Quincy Adams, then discuss the qualities of leadership. They watch slides projected on a large screen in front of the classroom showing the seventh- and eighth-graders leading Friday Earth Teach hikes and helping younger children during the annual river crossing. The students reflect on their roles as leaders within their school community.

Leaning toward the students, Ososke expresses the importance of the moment. "Pretty cool things to think about this week," she says.

You can feel the energy rising. The students' minds are racing with ideas.

Now it's time for independent writing. Each student is given the option of beginning in a way that is comfortable. Some students begin with graphic organizers in the form of a collage, others do Google searches or share ideas with table partners.

Thoughts take form.

"Responsibility, the sense of knowing what is expected of us, is a powerful trait in a leader," Karan Johnson writes.

Students search for just the right words that will express their intention.

When a student says, "I feel like I have finished my essay," Ososke suggests, "Take a walk down the hall and read your essay to yourself. Then ask: Is this my intention?"

One of the key tenets at John Muir's K-8 public school is leadership. How can I help? As an eighth-grader, Gabe Ruiz is ready for leadership. "I've been waiting since second grade for this moment," Gabe says.

— Heidi Monjure

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