Future Leaders Project: Teaching life and self-leadership skills

Written by: Elke Edwards | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

We all recognise the importance of life and self-leadership skills, but how do we teach them effectively? Elke Edwards offers some tips and introduces a new resource and competition that could help

What is the one thing you would like your pupils to leave school with? Go on, force yourself to choose just one. Confidence? A feeling of self-worth? A passion for life? Clarity around their future? Happiness? Self-belief? Communication? Resilience?

Now, a second question. How much time at school is spent directly focused on developing these skills? Not much? Any?

In a recent survey headteachers estimated it was between one to five per cent (Ivy House, 2020). They recognised of that many school activities would hopefully support the development of these traits but, when it came to teaching what confidence was, the difference between core and situational confidence, and how to nurture both, most readily admitted they didn’t.

In the same survey, however, 92 per cent of heads said that the most important thing we can teach right now is life and self-leadership skills – in other words human development.

And they are not alone – in the latest research on what employers are looking for (Bright Network, 2021), communication skills, a passion for their business, self-belief and problem-solving come top of the list. Owning a string of As and A*s does not even make the top 10.

The bottom line – everyone agrees. There has never been a greater need put human development at the heart of education. It is these skills of confidence, communication, networking, pitching, managing your mind, choosing your behaviour, resilience and collaboration that make all the difference to whether pupils thrive or not.

The question then is how? How to do it when our teachers are not experts and time and resource is already at a premium. Well the solution may not be as tricky as you think.

Successful human development is built on a 10:20:70 model: 10 per cent expertise, 20 per cent conversations, 70 per cent experience. It is a resolute commitment to these three elements that makes the difference between success and failure.


First, we must recognise that human development is a specific skill in its own right, which means finding a programme that provides this expertise. It must include:

  • Self-knowledge: Who am I? What life do I want? What matters to me? What puts me in my element?
  • Self-leadership: How do I use my mind? Choose my behaviour and proactively take care of my wellbeing?
  • Self-empowerment: The specific skills needed to thrive – conversations, pitching, networking, relationships, teams, and leadership.


Conversations ignite the learning – enabling pupils to deepen their self-awareness, take ownership for their choices and gain clarity about who they want to become. There is no right or wrong – conversations need to challenge, support and inspire growth and change.

Find those school staff (not necessarily just teachers) who are passionate about this kind of learning, are prepared to show up as facilitators not teachers, and invite them to host these sessions. If your expert content is well put together your conversations will build skill and deepen understanding each week. The knock-on benefit in the common room will be tangible.


The final piece in the puzzle is experience – something schools excel at. But when combined with expert input and the right kind of conversations change can really happen. Pupils become conscious of the day-to-day decisions they are making, the fact that they have a choice and each choice will drive a different outcome. The experiences they are surrounded by stop being “just life” and instead become an opportunity to grow – captaining a team, joining a project, falling into a negative thought spiral, all become experiences they can learn from.

The key steps

  • Decide what you are trying to achieve – a structured programme or an ad hoc look at some of the topics in this area? If a programme, then choose the right content partner for you. One that makes it easy for you to do this well.
  • Decide which year group you will make it available to. And, whether or not it will be available to everyone in that year or a limited group.
  • If you want to make it available to everyone you need to consider when your sessions will take place. Will it be part of the curriculum, offered as part of enrichment or form the backbone of PSHE?
  • Think about your facilitators. You will need people who believe in this kind of learning, people who want to learn and develop themselves.

There has never been a greater need to equip pupils with these skills – it might not be perfect first time, but you will learn along the way – and of course that is exactly the kind of behaviour we should be role-modelling to our students.

All over the world there is a recognition that these human skills need to become central to how we educate young people. What is amazing is the impact is not restricted to pupils but has a ripple effect including teachers and parents too.

One exciting initiative that is aligned to human development is the Future Leaders Project. Organised by Ivy House London, we are collaborating with PiXL, EtonX, NatWest and others from business and education. It comprises two parts. First, a free resource portal to support students in making conscious, informed decisions about their future, encouraging them step up and become the leaders of their lives. And second, the Future Leaders of the Year Competition, giving pupils access to work experience, coaching and even a financial contribution to their future.

  • Elke Edwards is founder of Ivy House London, a leadership development organisation.

Further information & resources


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