Schools develop shared language around the values that have strong meaning for them. The success of restorative practices, gender equity and student inclusiveness depend on common words and phrases that are shared be teachers and students. It’s through shared language that school culture exists.

Recently, I heard teachers across a school repeat this question when approached by students– “Is this something you need help with, or can you solve it on your own?” This question was part of the school’s proprietary language developed around the values of independence and problem-solving. So highly valued were these behaviours that teachers had developed shared language to support them.

What leadership language do you currently use?

Here are three examples of language that reinforce different aspects of leadership and the principles behind them. Use them as a starting point to identify leadership language you already use and gradually build your proprietary leadership language repertoire.


“I need someone to lead this!”  

Goal: Responsibility     

Most students are willing helpers but not so many will take the responsibility of seeing a project or task through to its completion.

Help your students understand the difference between a helper who lends a hand when asked and a leader who has the initiative to step up and take full responsibility for a task to be completed. Develop the habit of inviting kids to step up to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions whether they are successful or not.


“You need to set a good example for others to follow.”

Goal: Modelling

‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ is a popular mantra highlighting the vital role that modelling plays on a person’s development. Humans are primed to learn from the example of others, so it makes sense to hook into this evolutionary survival mechanism and model exemplary leadership behaviours and encourage young leaders to do the same.

Core leadership behaviours such as caring for others, encouragement and working cooperatively are best taught by repeated example backed up by intentional language.


“Do what’s right, not what’s easy.”

Goal: Integrity

A sense of integrity is important for a child’s leadership capability because it’s the basis of reasoned and socially focused self-control and self-management. The job of adults is to move children from ‘Me’ to ‘We’. Integrity is the great socialising agent for a child. They may get by without courage, endurance, and grit but they won’t get far socially without integrity.

The words you use with students makes a huge to difference to not only how they see themselves, but how the interact with others. When you use leadership language to draw out the kids’ leadership abilities you are also bringing those attributes that will bring them the success, happiness, and connection.


Get your Free Language of Student Leadership Guide when you subscribe to our very practical and eminently useful Leadership News.