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Leaders in Literature: Life- Skills and Academics

Geoffrey J. Peate- Asociación Escuelas Lincoln

“Not all those who wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

With the hope of further developing a student’s connection between personal life-skills and academics, the Lincoln High School English Department was fortunate to have had the opportunity to design and implement Leaders in Literature. The intent of the course is to help adolescents discover their own leadership potential by focusing on the ‘path of struggle’ of famous literary characters and understand how this concept can be best used to promote character development. The semester based course is offered each year to all juniors and seniors.

Course Overview As shown in Diagram 1, five key leadership themes are promoted throughout this course: Know -Thyself, Voyage and Journey, Morals and Values, Struggle and Perseverance and Introspection and Reflection. Diagram 1.


Five leadership themes in Leaders in Literature The reading list is international in scale and includes novels and plays from classic and ‘pop’ literature. Selections include Henry V, Shakespeare; The Fellowship of the Ring , Tolkien; Death of Salesman, Miller, A Doll’s House, Ibsen, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Rowling , Know-Thyself Voyage and Journey Morals and Values Struggle and Perseverance Reflection and Introspection Watership Down,  Adams and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Carroll.

Themes are discussed in class using a Socratic model, Students follow the ‘path of struggle’ of characters and reflected on their own struggles involved with adolescence. The course allows for interdisciplinary education and promotes an exploratory and holistic approach to education: when people are exposed to new ideas they take their own interests to a new level. Leaders in Literature culminates with alternative assessments and focuses on students investigating an area of their own leadership potential in relation to texts read and discussed in class. Towards the end of the semester, students are assigned with a ‘Verbal Visual Essay’ as a summative assessment of the semester. In this project, students are asked to reflect on their past experiences and create a ‘visual’ that links a life experience(s) with reflective literary quotes and course leadership themes. These open ended ‘visuals’ are accompanied with an oral presentation of their ideas and a written essay to accompany their project. Projects created by these students include posters, 3-D projects, digital presentations and live displays.

Findings As shown in their Verbal-Visual Essay, student projects clearly demonstrated a well – grounded understanding between key leadership themes, text character sand text. At first glance, viewers are exposed to themes from the text, as well as life experiences. Upon further exploration of the project, connections can be seen between the text and leadership theory, in the form of quotes from the text and student analysis of their meaning. This is further exemplified in the discussion section.

The picture demonstrates an example of a student connecting themes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the personal struggles of moving to many countries in her childhood. In this case the student explored the connections between the character Alice and her own personal experiences- Voyage and Journey. This visual demonstrates how students connected literature ( Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ) to their own life experience (Moving and Relocation), and leadership themes (Voyage and Journey).


In picture 2 , this quote on the same student project showing a commentary on hermoving experience as a curious ‘journey’ down the rabbit hole. She illustrates her moving experience with Alice’s reflection stating that,” I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit hole – and yet –and yet–it’s rather curious…” Inspired by the quote, the student reflected on what the thought was a vice: moving a lot. In fact, the quote helped her explore and identify her own leadership potential: the path to overcoming obstacles is a journey that involves curiosity and educated risk. Through reflection and introspection (a leadership theme), this particular student had a stronger sense of her role in her life journey: seeing a vice as a virtue.

Other student projects outlined connections between texts such as, Henry V , A Doll’s House , and The Fellowship of the Ring. Students further reflected on their life experiences during the oral presentation, and it was evident through their expressions that these personal reflections were emotional.

Leaders in Literature continue to develop to find ways to apply theory and practice to a larger education base. Specific future interests include how digital – literacy might unleash leadership potential in adolescents. The unique thing about this course in relation to others is that, the course works to promote life- skills and academics. In an international school, learning is a ‘journey’ that involves travel and curiosity. At Lincoln, it is wonderful to have the opportunity to explore the larger world with students through the lens of fiction. It is our hope in the English Department that as students continue their journeys beyond Lincoln, they have learned to explore their leadership potential to the fullest. ______________________________________________________________________________ Geoff Peate: Geoff currently teaches the Leaders in Literature course at Asociación Escuelas Lincoln in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Student examples are from the Leaders in Literature class ,2013.


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