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One World Lessons: Leadership

In our latest blog series, Laura D’Elia and Wendy Garland discuss their experiences and offer diversity, equity, and inclusion lessons that can be taught in the K-6 classroom or library. Each lesson incorporates the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards and the AASL Standards Framework for Learning, as well as includes recommended picture books from the Diverse BookFinder collection. 

Laura Beals D’Elia (she/her/hers) has been an elementary library teacher since 2002. She has presented at various state, national, and international conferences on such topics as 1:1 iPads in an elementary school library and technology program, digital storytelling, and guided inquiry. She currently co-teaches a professional workshop for educators with her district’s ELL District Coordinator about using inclusive picture books in the classroom for all grade levels. Follow the Armstrong Elementary Library at @aeslibs.

Wendy Garland (she/her/hers) has been an elementary librarian since 2002. She has a BA in Spanish and a BS in liberal studies from Southern Connecticut State University and a MLIS from Simmons College. Wendy has spoken at library conferences both locally and internationally and was a participant in the AASL Induction Program. She shares all things “library” at @dancelibrarian and Listen. Connect. Empower blog

Why Leadership?

In our November post, One World Lessons: You Matter, we began to build the capacity for learning about activism, a core theme of the Social Justice Standards. Identifying what matters is the first step towards action. Before jumping into lessons about activism it is important that our students understand the qualities and behaviors of good leadership. We want the students to learn that anyone can be a leader through their actions and words.

Browsing biographies

The Lesson

  • Essential Question: What makes someone a good leader?
  • AASL Standard: Inquire/Create I.B.1 Using evidence to investigate questions
  • Social Justice Standards: Justice 15 Students will identify figures, groups, events and a variety of strategies and philosophies relevant to the history of social justice around the world.

Pre-Read Aloud

We began by identifying leaders in our community. Then, we asked students to brainstorm about people they would consider leaders:

We then brainstormed what qualities a leader should have:

Student ideas were captured in a word cloud

Read Aloud

Depending on the age of our students, we chose one of two books: Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beatty or The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts. These stories help students recognize the actions and words of leadership in the familiar setting of a school or community. We asked students to pay attention to what the protagonist said or did in the story that made her a leader.

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade


by Justin Roberts and Christian Robinson

"Lyrical debut picture book from hugely popular, beloved musician Hardly anyone noticed young Sally McCabe. She was the smallest girl in the smallest grade. But Sally notices everything—from the twenty-seven keys on the janitor’s ring to the bullying happening on the playground. One day, Sally has had enough and decides to make herself heard. And when she takes a chance and stands up to the bullies, she finds that one small girl can make a big difference. Grammy-nominated children’s musician Justin Roberts, together with vibrant artwork from award-winning illustrator Christian Robinson, will have readers cheering for young Sally McCabe." -- publisher

Any Child Cross Group

For some classes, we brainstormed as a whole class for ideas:

2nd grade students identify Sofia’s words and actions

For other classes, we used the Follow This Leader template and had students share their thoughts and ideas individually.

1st grade students write and draw a picture

Post-Read Aloud

We then asked students to apply their new thinking to a different story. This was a great opportunity to incorporate nonfiction read alouds by choosing picture book biographies. There are so many wonderful examples featuring people from all over the world taking action against social injustices, big and small. Depending on how much time you have, you can read one or more stories. Here are some of our favorites:

NOTE: There are many different versions of picture book biographies for Wangari Maathai; you are sure to find the right one for your grade level!

Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando by Andrea Wang

Coming soon to the Diverse BookFinder!

The boy who harnessed the wind


by William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer and Elizabeth Zunon

"When 14-year-old William Kamkwamba's Malawi village was hit by a drought in 2001, everyone's crops began to fail. His family didn't have enough money for food, let alone school, so William spent his days in the library. He came across a book on windmills and figured out how to build a windmill that could bring electricity to his village. Everyone thought he was crazy but William persevered and managed to create a functioning windmill out of junkyard scraps. Several years later he figured out how to use the windmill for irrigation purposes"--|cProvided by publisher


5th grade students brainstorm on sticky notes

Additional Lesson Ideas

  • Using the books that had been previously read throughout the year, students chose one book and then mapped the leadership qualities of the characters.
  • Applying the thinking to their own independent reading, students create a slide identifying a leader and three of their leadership qualities.


The most challenging part of this lesson is narrowing down which books to read because there are so many wonderful picture book biographies.

In the process of writing these blog posts, we realized it would be worth taking the time to find a way to connect this lesson to the previous “You Matter” lesson. We think we could draw connections from the students by asking them to consider, “What matters to this leader?” 

Finally, we are always looking for ways to scaffold these lessons for our different grade levels. One idea we had was to ask our older students to read a few picture book biographies and compare and contrast the leadership qualities of various leaders. This activity would give them opportunities for analysis and critical thinking. We are looking forward to adding this element to our lessons next year!

Explore other One World Lessons

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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