Brent Jaffe
Digital Media Teacher

Teaching good work ethic and leadership skills in the classroom.

I am a high school media teacher that teaches an introductory class in digital media to 9th graders. I feel that the maturity and skill level of my students requires that I provide a lot of control over the procedures and steps to the point that they do not have to take on a lot of responsibility and leadership for the projects they work on. But, soft skills and leadership are supposed to be incorporated into my class. The classes they take after mine incorporate much more independent work. I'm looking for suggestions or references that can help me begin building these skills in my class.  

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Lorraine Nitschke

Posted on 1/6/19 10:22:09 AM Permalink

I've been retired for a couple of years, but can remember the issues that I had with some of the younger students (Years 9/10), as their work ethic was very low, and they found it difficult to understand the concept of planning. Unfortunately, some who had a little knowledge from playing around with their phones didn't really want to stop and listen - a bit of a "know it all" attitude was getting in the way of doing the videoing properly. However, some of my older students were more ready to pay attention, and produced some commendable work. I think age definitely helped with my students!

Bill Drivas

Posted on 10/30/18 10:43:06 PM Permalink

Similar to some of the posts here, I use group work in grades 10, 11, and 12 media arts classes that I teach. Grade 10 is very technical as they are my "1st Years". and they are versed in the fundamentals of making a movie. We do mainly video production and I detail the responsibilities of all positions. Director, assistant director, camera, boom operator, slate, continuity and actors. This is how they run they're shoots. I even teach them a pre-shot routine used on real sets (e.g. camera, sound, slate, action).

In pre-production, tasks are split up. For example, some will work on the script, the director and camera person will work on storyboards, etc. They are all busy and working and collaborating to a final end. Everyone has to pass a camera test (we use Canon t5I's) and an audio recorder test (tascam dr60D). Everyone knows all the positions responsibilities so there's some accountability on set if they're not doing their job.

In the overall structure of the course, I basically add a skill with each assignment and by the end of the year, they are writing their own script, drawing storyboards, detailing camera positions on a floor plan, creating a lined script, shooting it in a big group, and editing a final video individually on Final Cut Pro X. I try to professionalize the production process and the students respond almost always in kind. I stress to them that the real film industry is also a business and is run very efficiently, so I expect the same of them. I can see how grade 9's can be more difficult because of they're lower maturity level​ though.


Posted on 8/15/18 4:20:50 AM Permalink

​should you have group work, you may want to try asking them to do daily huddle and randomly select a group to conduct in front of the class. I try using this approach in my class to allow active participation on group works encouraging them to collaborate ideas. when they expect to discuss in front of the class they are encourage to bring in good ideas and prepare for their work. it also motivates leaders on how to improve way of conducting daily huddle. hope this helps

Jeffrey Jorge

Posted on 8/6/18 10:48:23 PM Permalink

Hi Everyone,

Just so you all know the Calm is offering its mindfulness application and resources to teachers for FREE! Check out this link:

I am going to start to have students engage in mindfulness exercises and more reflection this year which research has shown can have significant impacts on students abilities to regulate their emotions, actions, and study habits.

Additionally, when my students are struggling to work on things independently, they need a nudge from their peers, so I am going to work on establishing a learning community where my students are expected to support and challenge each other to be better versions of themselves every day.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert at anything I mentioned, they are things that I want to explore and work on though, and I would love to share thoughts and ideas with you all as I start down this path.


Jake Simms

Posted on 8/6/18 8:52:26 PM Permalink

​Hey Brent,

I teach video storytelling as a summer course for high schoolers. There's no credit or grade, so there's very little keeping them engaged outside of their own interest. Not all the kids are in there because they chose to be, sometimes they're there because their parents thought it'd be good for them.

There's def a difference between 9/10th grade vs 11/12th grade. The 9/10th graders were okay at getting their final deliverables in on time, but they were noticeably worse at missing pre-pro, script, or other non-final "checkin" deliverables. I used my background as a professional videographer/producer when this starts to get too common by saying something along the lines of:

"Okay, so I know this is a summer course, but, if this were graded, there's no way you'd get above a 70% given that you just don't do pre-production in the way that was asked. Which, as you know by now, is 1/3 of the effort of making a video. So, that's something to keep in mind if you take a course in this later. And just to give you an idea of how the real world operates a bit. If someone else was asking me about hiring or working with you, and I had been a client of yours or someone that had been on your production team, I would say I very much like you as a person, but I cannot recommend working with you professionally because of missed deadlines and poor communication with stakeholders and the team."

That tends to wake them up a bit. I'm guessing most 9th/10th graders haven't really had job experience yet, so hearing that I (someone who is helpful and they have a good relationship with) wouldn't hire them based off of something like deadlines and communication skills is a little bit of a surprise. It never improves things astronomically, but I do find it makes things improve a little. Since I only have them for a short period, that's all I can really expect.

Casey deWaal

Posted on 6/27/18 2:11:19 AM Permalink

Hi Brent,

A few other tips that I use that you may find helpful. Keeping with the small group theme, I like pairs. I allow students to "pick their group" at random out of a "hat". All enrolled student names go in, they random select. This helps eliminate 'friend' groups, and simulates collaborative learning by design and not by selecting "friend group comfort" This helps reinforce instruction to the students that in life, college/career you will be tasked to work with colleagues and cohorts that you may not know well, and goals, and deadlines are needed to accomplish projects.

Another tip, the students track their progress with proficiency logs. This forces the student to track what they know or don't know; as their instructor, I then know what to focus on more with the group (instead of reviewin everything).

Last tip, allow the students to take ownership in small portion of their partners grade, with a measurable rubric. (When your partner is responsible, for a portion of your grade) there is a tendancy for both partners to stay on task throughout the duration of the assignment.

Good luck!


Case deWaal

HS Digital Media Broadcast/Film Production - Teacher

Krysia Jeffries

Posted on 10/31/18 8:04:36 AM Permalink

I love this hat grouping idea! Because then I would imagine it removes a lot of hostility against the teacher for "picking" the groups. It still works well to randomise groups as the student only gets to pick in a very loose sense.


Dennis Engelhardt

Posted on 6/22/18 12:52:54 PM Permalink

​Brent, I teach at a public high school in central Florida. I found HP Life: Home a couple of years ago. It is a website that covers soft skills and entrepreneurial skills. They are separated into modules, each providing the student with a certificate when it is complete. I have found it to be a great resource.

Kenneth Stephens

Posted on 4/26/18 7:53:54 PM Permalink

Even though you have a great deal of structure in your class, you can still give them group projects to work on independently. At first, they will frequently seek your advice, but over time, they will develop independent learning skills. Responsibility and leadership can be learned this way. "Failure" is a great teacher, and all creative people learn that sooner or later. You can provide a safe, nurturing environment for letting them learn from their failures. (Ken Stephens, College Professor)​

enrique perez

Posted on 3/9/18 7:28:08 PM Permalink

Hi Brent. We are a part of SkillsUSA in my classroom. They have a ton of information on how to build skills and they also can provide you with more materials once you become a member with them.​ The thing is, you have to get yours students enrolled too so they can participate in regional chapter competitions for design or computer advertising (if thats your field)

9th graders are a challenge - I teach Sophs, juniors and seniors.

Going back to SkillsUSA, they gave me this handbook called: "Ignite" Activities that spark student engagement.

Go to their shop and see if you can find it online? or

Good luck! and keep on learning you can do it !!!

Linda Cuellar

Posted on 1/16/18 8:48:10 PM Permalink

Hi Brent,

Cooperative/collaborative learning using roles are a good way to teach skills to students in communication and leadership.

I am recently retired from teaching at the community college level courses in Mass Communication that I incorporated production in video. I am a fan of Alan November and decided that writing and creating tutorials would be a good way to use group skills in sharing responsibilities, meeting deadlines and working together to shoot some on-camera segments. I found that groups of 3-4 work best in projects that were 4-5 weeks in duration with scafolding of project goals, such as research, storyboarding, writing a purpose statement, prior to starting the production using Adobe Spark Video or a screen casting program, while some groups used video editing software.​ ​Our YouTube channel

Michelle Rauch

Posted on 12/7/17 11:42:04 PM Permalink

​I just stumbled on this discussion as I am new to the Educator Exchange. What a gem of resources. Thank you all!

Steve cabral

Posted on 10/18/17 4:35:24 AM Permalink

​thank you. Great post

Angela Wong

Posted on 2/25/17 10:53:38 PM Permalink

​I'm not sure if you're still looking for feedback as your post is from some time ago, but here goes. I have a work ethic block on my project rubrics that lists the following criteria:

  1. Used class time effectively and came to class prepared.
  2. Demonstrated perseverance and problem solving throughout the project.
  3. Actively participated in class and followed along with class demos.
  4. All work handed in on time, submitted to Google Classroom.

I also give them a participation score for participating actively in the project critiques at the end of major assignments. They need to have their project submitted on time to participate so if they don't, it's a zero that cannot be made up.

Another option that I started to use last year is Google Classroom. It's a wonderful platform to share the lessons with the students, including the due dates and supporting material. It lets you know exactly when something is late and you can email only those students who have not submitted the assignment to you yet through Classroom. ​It also puts the responsibility squarely on their shoulders in a way that seemed to be clearer to my students.

Another thing I have done with particularly troublesome classes (regarding getting work submitted on time) is to take points off for each day the work is not received. This limited their maximum score.

Hope this is helpful!

Robert Eaton

Posted on 1/19/18 7:39:20 AM Permalink

Hi Angela,

thanks for the suggestion. I love the idea you have of putting that as a component in the marking rubrics of assignments. I will add this to my next assignment.

Robert Eaton​

Colleen Pfeilschiefter

Posted on 1/23/18 7:16:31 PM Permalink

Great tips! I also use Google Classroom for all assignments, but had not thought of emailing those past due students. As a CTE teacher, I've also experimented with including a Professionalism outcome on the rubric, similar aspects to yours listed above​. The deal breaker is the turning work in on time - if it's late, they earned an F. Similar to getting fired in the real world of work! I prefer incorporating Professionalism as an outcome rather than taking off points for lateness because it creates a more tangible guideline and record of their productivity. Funny how some will self-access their professionalism as an A yet turn in the work late.

I'd love to know how you track their class participation and use of class time. It's quite time consuming to monitor students and maintain an active log for each of them daily in a large classroom

Jeff O'Brien

Posted on 6/15/18 1:28:16 PM Permalink

I use google classroom, but I also use Remind to send to all of the students when they have an assignment. I found that two different ways normally gets them to do the assignment. ​

Larry Rud

Posted on 5/13/16 2:32:57 PM Permalink

Hey Brent,

I feel your plight. I am finishing up my first year as a teacher at the high school level. I teach Photoshop to all grade levels but the bulk are 9th graders. I have struggled with the same issues you described in your post. For the last quarter I incorporated a new rubric that I went over with the kids. It lays out my expectations and how exactly I will grade them. Before I started this new system I had well over 50% of the class turning in work late. Now I would say only about 10%. I have a block on there were I grade them on professionalism in the classroom and that seems to be helping as well.

I hope any of this helps you and good luck!


Tessa McNamara

Posted on 11/6/16 4:53:07 AM Permalink

That rubric sounds fantastic! Would you be willing to share?

Vehicle Paint Protection

Posted on 1/5/16 12:03:05 AM Permalink

A teacher is a compass that activates the magnets of curiosity, knowledge, and wisdom in the pupils"

-Ever Garrison

Anchor Points

Posted on 12/24/15 2:45:09 AM Permalink

Well I think that your attitude and work ethic are going to rub off just nicely on your students. Well done and all the best.

Michelle Dennis

Posted on 11/25/15 4:33:07 AM Permalink

At our school, the students work in small groups to create their entries into the International Youth Silent Film Festival. The girls individually come up with a concept and try to sell the pitch to the class. The class has a silent vote to chose which ideas are to be developed and we set up small groups on each movie idea. Each student is given an individual role which is very clearly defined: Director, Cinematographer/Camera Operator, Costumes, props and make up, post-production. They prepare and plan, then have a one day incursion to make it happen. Afterwards, some of the group work on a supporting marketing campaign while the others do the post-processing and editing.

The reason that this task has been really successful is that it's carefully scaffolded but student-owned. We carefully match up the students with roles that either they would do well in or would give them scope for growth. Post task reflections on both their own performance and the group performance highlight what they could've done better. The teacher acts as a mentor rather than setting the pace.

Adobe Education

Posted on 11/23/15 6:22:34 PM Permalink

Hi Brent,

You may want to check out some of the resources we created as part of the Digital Careers Curriculum where we work on the soft skills. Below are some syllabi and activities that may help you. You may also want to check out the workshop Managing the Creative Classroom.

Best of luck with this and please report back what you finds works and how you built these skills. It is a really important topic and we'd love to hear more!

The AEE Team

- Introduction to project planning, project management, and teamwork
- Exploring Design Careers
- Design project review and redesign
- Peer review
- Presenting design projects
- Project Management and Planning for Design Projects
- Research and Communication for Design Projects