This week at Southwest Regional Library, we had some new students come to participate in our club. We are always happy to have new and returning students in our club and watch students conduct our activities while getting to know other members of our club. This week, students did the activity The Newest App, but did a website instead. Our former student was also there, but when she did the activity, she did it by herself, so it would be interesting to see how the dynamic was different as she redid the activity with other people.
An interesting thing happened in this session, which reinforced the mission and goals of Leaders UNITE. The first was as follows. While the students conducted the activity and worked together to create their own app, it was clear that all of the students were leaders in different ways, and contributed different things to the group. While going through our post-activity reflection, I spoke with the students about this aspect. One of the students took initiative, she was the one who came up with the app idea, and the person who quickly moved the discussion in a specific direction. It was clear that this student was creative and was serving as a leader, as she created the idea, wrote down everything for the group, and continued to pitch good ideas and reasoning to the group.
One of the other students began to speak up more as the activity continued. And while she was not the person who came up with the ideas, she was just as much of a leader in her own unique way. This student did not come up with the original app idea, but was continuously keeping ideas in check. She would ask, “What is the purpose of that?”, “Couldn’t we do it this was?”, and more questions that steered the website idea into something more concrete, practical, and useful. The dialogue that she added to the conversation was just as important, as it made sure the website the students create was sound, had necessary features, and that everything added to the idea made sense and was feasible. Without this person creating these questions and stopping points for the group, the website might not have ever become as specific or as practical as needed.
The other student, the student who had done this activity a few weeks ago by herself, also took on a very important role in the group in her own unique way. The students’ website idea was similar to Quizlet, but for a broader variety of subjects and with more features, such as a study break feature, combining words to make sentences feature, and more features for learning Language Arts. However, this student loved Khan Academy, and the features that that program had to offer. While the other two students didn’t know what Khan Academy was, this student took initiative to bring in ideas from that program to give the rest of her team ideas of how to broaden their website and include even more features. Again, although this might not have seemed like a stereotypical leadership role, this student was also serving as a leader by integrating other information to fill in holes in the website idea. It was also great to see this student work with others on this new website idea, which was very different than the one she had created when she did this activity on her own.
This day was a perfect example of what Leaders UNITE stands for and why I created the club in the first place. Everyone leads in different ways, and no one needs to be exactly one type of mold to be a leader. People can take on different roles in a group that are all equally important and contribute different things to the overall idea and group dynamic. And while these may manifest themselves differently in different people, the goal of the club is for students to discover how they lead, and then to become comfortable leading in their own unique way. I was proud to be able to reiterate this idea with students during our group reflection, and I was thrilled to be able to witness this taking place from an observer perspective. It is not bad to be the one who doesn’t come up with the idea. It is also not bad to be the one that does come up with the idea. The goal of the club is not say you can’t be the loudest person in the room, but instead that you don’t have to be. The idea of the club is to foster communication and teamwork while also taking into account people’s individual leadership skills. And while I will continue to work with this group on teamwork and different aspects of leadership, it was great to see them all take on their own unique, important leadership roles in a team.
Last week at our visit to Southwest Regional Library, we were so excited to see Leaders UNITE flyers up at the front of the library! It was exciting to see Leaders UNITE as a regular activity at this library, and to see the flyer we made last year alongside other fun library activities. Some people even heard about the club from these flyers, so that was great!
Our first official meeting at Southwest Regional library took place last week. Although we had a meeting before, this was the first one where we actually did a Leaders UNITE activity. We started with our The Newest App activity, to give people an idea of how the club works, and the kinds of things people would have to do. And today, we were faced with a new situation: the person participating in the activity was not really into technology. This was the first time this had happened to me: no matter the age group, I had never had someone unfamiliar with apps in our club. This particular student loved to read, but was not really into technology: she did not use her computer much and did not have a smartphone. Usually, the premise of the activity assumes the participants’ general knowledge of apps or some sorts of interactive websites. And to make matters more complicated, this students was the only one participating in this activity.
My first thought when this happened was to do a different activity. “Should I change the activity to make it something she relates to more? After all, the purpose of Leaders UNITE is to make leadership fun by integrating things that everyone enjoys, so if she doesn’t like/know apps, she probably won’t enjoy this.” However, my first instinct, and the one I chose to go with, told me to still do the activity. I knew that one purpose of this activity was to create an app that interested the person participating. So I decided to work off of this. I asked the student what she was interested in. She loved books, Kindle, and YouTube. I knew that if we dug hard enough, we could create an app or website that someone like her would even be interested in.
Since this student was the only one participating and it was her first day, I served as a bit more than just the sounding board for the activity. I made it my own personal mission as well to try to help her create an app that she would like. I asked her more details about her interests: What she liked about Kindle, how she could make this more applicable to the broader audience, what other features she wished book websites had, and more. Through this, we were able to come up with a website that had some features of a Kindle, but included even more. The app had a separate area for Children’s Books, a price matching system, location services, a book club/discussion forum, and audio books for children. This creative product even had a creative name: LiveBooks, with a logo that included a tree and the app’s features whooshing out of the tree.
As I conducted my reflection with the student after the activity, I felt super proud of her. She noted that although she felt frustrated at points while creating the app, her end product was something even she would turn on her computer for. I was also proud of myself. I was happy that I stuck to my instincts and kept doing this activity with the student. I was proud at myself for getting to know the student on a more personal level, and using this to actually help her create an app that she would be interested in. I was also happy that I was able to push boundaries and make connections that seemed like a big leap, but in the end really helped to tie the whole app idea together. I was proud to have stuck to my instinct, and I enjoyed taking on this inquisitive approach as the club leader.
At the end of our reflection, I asked the student why she though I stuck with this activity even after I found out the student was not interested in apps/technology. I told her that there were a few reasons. First, I wanted to challenge her. I wanted her to take on the role of adapting to a new situation, since that often happens in leadership or working in a team. Although Leaders UNITE aims to incorporate leadership in comfortable settings, it is still important to take these small steps outside of our comfort zone in the club to help prepare people to do so in real situations. Second, I actually thought she might bring a unique perspective to this activity. Sometimes when I do this activity, some students make an app exactly like something that already exists. But the goal of the app (aside from teamwork and public speaking) is to think outside the box, synthesize information, and create something new. I knew that someone who was not familiar with apps might be able to make something completely outside the box, or something that could be interesting to someone who is not too interested in the mainstream apps. And because of this, she was indeed able to think outside the box and create something completely different than any other student had before in the club.
All in all, this was a very interesting session on both ends, and I look forward to seeing how this student progresses over the school year!
Yesterday, Leaders UNITE began its first day of the new school year at Southwest Regional Library! We are excited to work with high school students towards achieving their leadership goals!