Quick Ted Talks to Develop Leadership and Character

Talking to high school students about leadership and character is tricky. Most of what is said sounds cliche at best and patronizing at worst. So I turned to Ted Talks for a little help. Following is a list of talks that are brief – six minutes at most – and often funny. They approach the topics in new ways that engage students instead of turning them off to the ideas.

1. Everyday leadership

I found this one through a comment on my previous post about Ted Talks. Dudley, the speaker, gives insight into how we’ve falsely built leaders up as having to be extraordinary Earth-changing individuals. But in reality, we all do something that positively impacts others and makes us leaders as well. His example from his own life is hysterical and something students can relate to.

I use this in my school with every student sharing their “lollipop moment” for a collaborative bulletin board that shows the leadership in the school. You can see his talk here.

2. A life lesson from a firefighter

A volunteer firefighter humorously tells about how he was the second to arrive at a fire, so instead of saving the dog, he saved the shoes. He was bummed, but learned later that getting shoes for a woman who was having the worst day of her life was pretty important as well. Similar to the above talk, this one reminds students that small acts of kindness, courage, leadership, etc. can positively impact others just as much as the large ones.

In closing, he reminds the audience to “save the shoes.” If presented with the opportunity to do something good or kind, do it. It may seem small but it’s always worth it. You can see this talk here.

3. Try something new for 30 days

Change is overwhelming and at times seems impossible. Cutts, the speaker, made small changes in his life like biking to work, hiking, and even writing. He did them one at a time and for thirty days each. The results were amazing: increased confidence, healthier lifestyle, and a published novel! Okay, so the novel is terrible and is not published; but he can now say he’s an author and he did it.

Cutts explains how 30 days is just the right amount of time to create, or eradicate, a habit. So after 30 days, as long as your change is small enough to be manageable, you’re likely to keep doing it.

I use this with my students and encourage them to pick something that day that they will start to do and will continue to do for 30 days. We discuss what is manageable and the possible benefits. I love hearing my students comment on what they are still doing months later!

Love these quick (and funny!) talks to inspire leadership and teach character with my high school students! Perfect to fill an extra 15 minutes or all together as a mini character-building unit.

4. How to start a movement

This speaker uses a movie to show a movement in creation. Hilariously, the movement is a dance party of sorts in a field. The message of the talk is spot-on for most of my students: you don’t have to be a leader to impact a movement. Sivers, the speaker of this talk, explains the importance of the early followers who take the risk of being one of the first, and have the essential job of getting more followers and teaching them how to follow as well.

The video used to demonstrate the movement is great and the message co-insides with the other videos: you can make an impact. You can watch the talk here.

5. What I learned from 2,000 obituaries

Okay, not exactly funny. But the speaker, Narayan, keeps it light given the bleak topic. Narayan’s focus in on how a majority of the obituaries that are not paid for by the families are for people in the arts who positively impacted their communities.

It’s a gentle reminder that if you want to be remembered when you’re gone, be kind to others. I also love that this talk reiterates how you don’t have to be an engineer or a lawyer to be successful. We overlook the importance and significance of the contributions from the artists of the world. You can watch this talk here.

6. Weird, or just different?

Another talk from Sivers who points out some of the humorous miscommunications and understandings between different cultures. For example, doctors in some areas of China are only paid when their patients are healthy because it means the doctor is doing a good job. Makes sense!

Students have already heard that they should keep an open mind, but this talk helps them to remember to practice it as well. One example is when he shows a map flipped from the way we usually see it. When students say the map is upside down, it already shows they are set in thinking our perception of the map is more correct than someone else’s even though it is actually of the same Earth. Very short but still impactful. You can watch this talk here.

What to do with Ted Talks?

These specific talks are perfect for class discussion and quick worksheet when you have 15 minutes or so to fill. Since the focus is on leadership and character, they can work in almost any classroom. They can also be combined to create a mini unit on leadership and character.

Short on time? I have my worksheets available here at my TeachersPayTeachers store.

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