Show kids how to take charge of working toward their goals by building initiative, an important 21st century skill that all students need to be successful.

Often overlooked as an important trait (until it is noticeably absent from an adult’s personality), initiative is integral to excelling in both the classroom and a career. This characteristic is the ability to take ownership of our own future and the decision-making skills necessary to reach goals. While older generations might characterize youth as being lazy or lacking motivation, the truth is that initiative is a skill just like any other that can only be developed through intentional practice. Luckily there are some simple methods teachers can use to ensure students will develop the skills necessary to take initiative and work independently.

Outlining Initiative Building

initiativeYou can’t effectively teach someone something without first increasing your own understanding and then creating a plan. The Institute of Museum and Library Services outlines methods to help cultivate different 21st century skills, including initiative and self-direction:

*Manage Goals and Time:
Set goals with tangible and intangible success criteria;
Balance tactical (short-term) and strategic (long-term) goals;
Utilize time and manage workload efficiently

*Work Independently:
Monitor, define, prioritize, and complete tasks without direct oversight

*Be Self-Directed Learners:
Go beyond basic mastery of skills and/or curriculum to explore and expand one’s own learning and opportunities to gain expertise;
Demonstrate initiative to advance skill levels towards a professional level;
Demonstrate commitment to learning as a lifelong process;
Reflect critically on past experiences in order to inform future progress

Implementing Initiative Skills in Class

Teachers have many opportunities to bring initiative lessons into the classroom while still covering their core content and standards. By devoting a bit of time and some creativity to the process, educators will be able to prepare students for success in class and their careers.

Give an Allowance

No, teachers shouldn’t start paying their students a cash allowance, but assigning chores during the school day can be an effective method to teach initiative skills. At the beginning of each week, create a plan for each student to be responsible for a different task. The frequency and challenge will vary, as some students might have to water plants three times throughout the week, but others must reorganize the library once. To make this seem similar to the real world, group some students into teams, while others work alone, but be sure to change the dynamic each week to allow all kids to experience different scenarios. The “reward” for doing these jobs is up to you. You can assign tasks by explaining that you’re all part of the same team and everyone needs to contribute, so the reward is a clean, well-organized, and productive work environment. If you’re trying to mimic experiences students will have in the real world, the “reward” can be something like extra credit, a homework pass, or access to some group reward like holding class outside, going on a field trip, or working on a special project.

Classroom Incorporated

initiativeThrough this activity, students will gain an understanding of the corporate structure and how progressing along their career paths can be possible through promotions that are awarded for hard work. Teachers take the role of president, which allows multiple students to attain positions as C-level executives, executive vice presidents, vice presidents, senior vice presidents, directors, managers, and coordinators, through maintaining excellent grades and submitting well-planned projects. Using this structure in which there is one, central senior officer–the teacher–and many different positions for students at varying levels, provides goals to strive for while offering a number of important titles available to kids who work hard.

A Key to Kindness

Showing initiative is great, but can feel hollow when initiative is only used to accomplished self-serving goals. Help students organize mentorship programs, school clean-up days, community building events, and simply encourage them to be empathetic toward others. This will show them that a little initiative will not only help them personally and professionally, but can make an impact in their school, community, and beyond.

As students see greater progress through stronger initiative skills, its important to remind them that there is more to success than this one skill. To navigate the paths toward personal, academic, and professional achievement, kids will need additional 21st-century skills such as flexibility and communication.

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