Leadership and Values

From What’s Your Calling? collection, lesson plan 3 of 3

Audience: Grades 7-12, College, Youth Development Organizations

Time: One to two 50-minute class periods, plus assignments

Subject Areas: Social Studies, Sociology, Language Arts, World Religions, Comparative Religion, Interfaith Dialogue, Leadership Development, Theology/Divinity Programs

Purpose of the Lesson: This lesson encourages students to think about the qualities of an effective leader and the relationship between leadership and values. Discussion of the film modules from the documentary The Calling and the What’s Your Calling? website will provide opportunities for students to:

  • Evaluate the qualities of an effective leader.
  • Examine how values are related to leadership.
  • Consider their own leadership qualities and aspirations.
  • Undertake a leadership role in a project.
  • Conduct peer evaluations of student projects in terms of accomplishment and leadership.


Depending on the activities and assignments you choose, you may need any of the following materials:

  • The Calling educational DVD and an LCD projector or DVD player
  • Computers, laptops, or tablets with internet access
  • L3 Worksheet: Defining Core Values
  • L3 Worksheet: Guided by Values
  • Pens and writing paper

Principal Writer: Gail Evenari started teaching in Oakland, California, in 1975 and has worked in the field of education ever since. Spurred by her work developing Social Studies curriculum materials for textbook publishers, Evenari began her own business as a writer and documentary filmmaker. She has produced and collaborated on multiple educational film projects, including Spirit of the Land, Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey, The New Americans, A Doula Story, Hold Your Breath, and The Calling. Evenari is working on a groundbreaking multimedia project that teaches children about global cultures and environments and encourages them to become compassionate, informed, and engaged citizens of the world.


What is a Leader?

Explain to students that the film clips they are about to see are from the PBS documentary The Calling and/or the What’s Your Calling? website and feature three people who are in the process of refining their values and stepping into leadership roles. Discuss the following questions with students:

  • What is a leader?
  • Think of someone you know whom you consider to be a leader. What makes him or her a leader? What values does he or she represent as a leader?
  • Do you consider yourself a leader? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever been in a leadership role? If so, describe what it was like. What led to you taking that role? Did it relate to a value that was important to you?


Role Models

Preview the film modules to the left and below before your class and choose three that best fit your student audience and learning objectives. Ask students to take notes while watching the videos and pay particular attention to the leadership styles of each of the subjects.

Tahera Ahmad Film Module:

Tahera Ahmad is an outspoken young woman from a traditional Pakistani-American family. She is a coach and mentor for Muslims in high school while studying to be an Islamic chaplain. A trip to Egypt takes her out into the world for the first time, where she reflects on being a leader.

Discussion Questions:

  • Ahmad says: "I feel such a huge responsibility knowing that I’m this potential leader and knowing that I’m someone who people look up to, and yet, I’m just this small person. I have so much to learn." What does this statement tell you about Ahmad as a person? As a future leader? How will these feelings influence her leadership style?
  • At another point in the film, Ahmad says, "In these past two years, I’ve learned to have more compassion for others — and for myself." Why is compassion an important quality for a leader to have? What are some other qualities that Ahmad shows in the way she works with others; for example, when she speaks to the women in the last scene?

Shmuly Yanklowitz Film Module:

Shmuly Yanklowitz is an intellectual rabbinical student at New York City’s Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School — and a passionate activist. A Modern Orthodox Jew, he feels compelled to break boundaries — to resist becoming an old-style rabbi stuck within the walls of the synagogue.

Discussion Questions:

  • Discuss what Yanklowitz means when he says: "Prayer is how we live. We live in prayer, and so, I really believe Martin Luther King when he says he prayed with his feet." What iconic leaders have inspired you when thinking about your calling?
  • For Yanklowitz, it’s important to be "breaking boundaries" in terms of what a rabbi does. He does not separate his role as a rabbi from his identity as an activist. How would you describe the connection between Yanklowitz’s values as an activist and his values as a religious leader? How does the importance he places on social justice define his leadership style?

For additional context and glossary terms regarding the religions represented in the film clips, distribute L1 Handout: Religions in The Calling in the downloadable lesson materials.

What’s Your Calling? Website Video Clips:

Jill Perlman: Rabbinical Student
Jill Perlman talks about giving her first sermon and her decision to become a rabbi after growing up in an interfaith household. As Jill pursues her calling, she struggles with questions about acceptance and identity.

Donn Teske: Farmer
Go to college, or take over the family farm? Donn Teske is a farmer in Kansas. He talks about family, legacy, home, and his decision to take over the family farm instead of going to college.

Kevin Coval: Poet, Co-founder, Louder Than a Bomb
Poet Kevin Coval talks about the importance of understanding where you come from and how it impacts your life. He co-founded the Chicago youth poetry festival, Louder Than a Bomb.

Joshua Stanton: Blogger, Tikkun Daily and The Huffington Post, Co-founder, Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and Religious Freedom USA
Joshua Stanton talks about his journey to finding his calling. He believes everyone has a calling, an internal feeling of hope, aspiration, or excitement about an idea.

Ronit Avni: Filmmaker, Human Rights Advocate
Ronit Avni turns a lens on nonviolence in Israel-Palestine. She talks about her work in fusing human rights work with filmmaking to advance a social change agenda and the importance of shedding light on important stories that the world can learn from.

Moustafa Moustafa: Founder, United 2 Heal
Moustafa Moustafa is the founder of United 2 Heal, an interfaith humanitarian organization that collects and redistributes surplus medical supplies to hospitals in need around the world. He explains how collaborations between diverse groups can lead to great accomplishments in the service to others.

Ethan Austin: Co-founder, GiveForward Inc.
Ethan Austin writes about his journey towards discovering his calling. He co-founded GiveForward, a company that helps people who are fighting cancer and other illnesses, pay their medical bills. Essay only. This entry contains no video content.

Discussion Questions:

  • What ideas or beliefs are important to each individual interviewed? How do they affect his or her leadership style?
  • What activities that the subjects engage in are part of their role as leader? What activities or ideas are not specific to this role?
  • Which leadership style do you feel is most like your own or that of other leaders you know and admire?


Defining Core Values


  • Ask students to help you create a working definition of core value. Here is an example: A core value is a defining principle that guides a person’s internal conduct as well as his or her relationship with the external world.
  • Tell the class they are going to make some decisions about what is important to them as individuals and as a class. Distribute L3 Worksheet: Defining Core Values to each student and provide small sheets of paper, scotch tape, and markers (thick enough so that the text is legible at a short distance). Complete the worksheet as indicated.
  • Help your students learn to apply their values to imagined situations. Distribute L3 Worksheet: Guided by Values in the downloadable lesson materials and allow your students time to consider how they would respond in each situation. Then facilitate a group discussion by sharing their responses.


Select one or more of the following assignments to complete:

Assignment 1. Students as Leaders with a Calling

Ask students to think of a project they want to accomplish that aligns with their core values — something they can accomplish on their own or by leading others — a calling.

It might be simple, such as vowing never to buy another small plastic bottle of water (and encouraging friends and family to follow suit), or they might decide on a longer-term commitment, such as teaching at their congregation’s religious school or volunteering as a tutor in an underserved community.

Assignment 2. Public Service Announcement (PSA)

Ask students to choose an issue they’d like to change and create a PSA about it. PSAs can be in the form of a web commercial, magazine ad, or podcast. They should clearly explain the problem and why individuals should get involved to make a difference.

Assignment 3. Nonfiction Reading: Rachel Carson

Ask students to read the article "From Calm Leadership, Lasting Change" in The New York Times by Nancy F. Koehn about Rachel Carson’s seminal work Silent Spring.

After reading, students should complete the following questions. As an extension, have students read Silent Spring and answer the same questions.


  • What are the central ideas of the text?
  • What is the author’s point of view?
  • What evidence does the author use to support her point of view?
  • What personal and professional challenges did Carson face? How did they influence her growth, values, and/or leadership?
  • What events or experiences contributed to the author’s reasons for writing the text?
  • What is the historical significance of Silent Spring?

Assignment 4. Leader Interview or Research Project

Ask students to choose a religious leader, alderman, youth mentor, teacher, or director in a service organization. This can be someone who is known historically or in current events — or it can be someone the student knows and respects. Using research and interview material as available, the students will write a three- to five-page paper describing this person’s journey to becoming a leader, including the motivations, the principal focus of his or her work, the values that define his or her leadership, and why he or she is effective as a leader.

Assignment 5. All-Class Community Service Project: Part Three

After completing Parts One and Two included in the previous lessons, students should now have a clear definition of the problem and a plan for how to address it. It is time to put the plan into action. Make sure to secure proper permission slips from parents and approvals from your administration. Ask students to undertake their plan during or after school hours. When they are finished, ask them to reflect on their experiences. Here are some guiding questions:

  • What did they choose to do and why?
  • What people or organizations did they work with and how did they execute the project?
  • How successful were they in accomplishing their goal?
  • What challenges did they encounter along the way and how did they overcome them?
  • How did the challenges help shape their growth and learning?
  • What more needs to be done?

As an extension activity, students can submit a press release to their local paper, including any information that will encourage members of the community to support their endeavor and help it to continue.

  • Film module:
    Tahera Ahmed

  • Film module:
    Shmuly Yanklowitz

Download lesson materials