The 7 Keys of Great Teaching in Leadership Education

Leadership Education, also known as Thomas Jefferson Education, is a philosophy based on the style of education received by great leaders and thinkers throughout history.

It centers around principles instead of a specific curriculum, seeks to honor children as individuals instead of teaching them as little adults, and groups childhood education into four phases, which we’ll cover in a later post.

The goal of Leadership Education is to teach students how to think, as opposed to teaching them what to think. To do this two main methods of instruction are employed–classics and mentors.

Many of us are familiar with classical education, but what exactly makes a good mentor?

Learn about these seven key ideas to find out.

1. Classics, Not Textbooks

Following the direction of philosophies like Charlotte Mason and the Classical method, Leadership Education uses classics to teach and inspire students.

A classic is defined as any work written by an author with a firsthand passion and expertise for the topic, who exudes his personal enthusiasm to the reader. Classics can be found in any field of interest to the student. A mentor helps the student discover the next classic that will inspire him.

2. Mentors, Not Professors

The goal in Leadership Education is not to have an “expert” teacher pour his or her knowledge into the student. Instead the mentor’s goal is to inspire the student, take the student’s interests into account, and help direct the child along the path that will provide the best individualized education.

Parents are the natural mentors for young children. As a child gets older, parents seek out specialized mentors in the community as the student has need.

Photo by Wonderlane

3. Inspire, Not Require

The tenets of Leadership Education do not force a child to study specific subjects, believing that such force kills the spirit of learning and curiosity in a child.

But unlike unschooling, the Leadership Education parent may not just wait for a child’s interest on a subject before engaging it. Instead, the teacher seeks to inspire a child to engage with the material on his own.

Ways of inspiring could include leaving a new book laying out on a table, taking the child to watch a spelling bee, or giving the student a musical instrument.

4. Structure Time, Not Content

Parents who follow the Leadership Education model do have structure in their homes–the structure of time. It may be that from 9 am to lunch is “school time.” What a child studies during that time would be completely up to her.

Parents study as well and look for opportunities to help any child who needs it. The entire home atmosphere is one of education–for all members of the family.

5. Quality, Not Conformity

When older students (think upper high school students) submit an assignment to their mentor, the only grades given are “excellent” or “do it again.”

High quality of work is the goal; mediocre efforts done to just “get by” are not accepted. And because the student has chosen the assignment, he wants to his best.

Photo by Jimmie

6. Simplicity, Not Complexity

As our educational system becomes more complex, results continue to decline while dissatisfaction (among parents and students) increases.

That’s why Leadership Education seeks to return to a simpler model of education. The focus is therefore on classics, discussion, projects, and writing. Keeping it simple allows for more depth within the subjects the child decides to study.

7. You, Not Them

Leadership Education mentors focus mainly on their own education, pushing themselves academically and serving as models. They don’t micromanage their children’s education, but instead provide an inspiring example that students naturally want to follow.

Mentors lead the way, encouraging their children as they embark on the learning journey together.

Oliver DeMille, author of A Thomas Jefferson Education and Leadership Education writes that “education can’t be fixed as long as we believe one basic myth. The myth is that it is possible for one human being to educate another.

The fact is that the only person who can fix education is the student.”

If you follow Leadership Education principles, please share how you have seen it work in your home.



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About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. This is pretty much exactly what we do (though I had never heard it called this) – and it is that last point that makes it so fun (for me) and so, so difficult. But I will say I have seen it pay off in spades already. We follow the “thoughts produce actions” and “know what you believe and why”, rather than teaching the kids what to think or what to believe, model.

    A key component in this is approaching children on the basis of their gifts and skills sets and mentoring into that as well.
    .-= Misha@ beautyandjoy’s last blog: Live It To Give It =-.

    • Elizabeth A Taylor says:

      This sound’s really interesting to me! Are there any books that you have read to form this style of homeschooling?

  2. Very timely post for me 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration as I begin my day today.

  3. This is new to me, at least in title.

    However, in every section I find myself nodding my head. I especially like the “inspire, not require” … I think I’m going to have to check DeMille’s books out, Jamie.

    Thank you for introducing me to something new today. I’m really interested to hear what parents using this method have to say 🙂
    .-= Kara Fleck’s last blog: Parenting Preschoolers: A Starting Place for Social Graces =-.

  4. We are using this method of homeschool. I love the principles. I’m passionate about my own reading and learning, and I have seen my kids’ passions grow as they model after me and follow their own unique interests.

    My kids are pretty young, so we spend most of our time reading and doing life-led/passion-driven learning. We also spend time working (and playing) as a family.

    I highly recommend the DeMille’s book, Leadership Education, as well!!!
    .-= Emily @ Homespun Light’s last blog: Poetry Friday: The Lion by Jack Prelutsky (with hand movements) =-.

  5. Great list — love that definition of “classics”; I wish more people defined them that way!
    .-= Olugbemisola (Mrs. Pilkington)’s last blog: Hello world! =-.

  6. I’m pleased to see you spotlight Leadership Education here, as it best describes everything I believe about learning at home. Thank you for promoting it. I wish more of my IRL homeschooling friends would catch the vision of this method.

    .-= monica @ paper bridges’s last blog: Christians and their “acceptable” porn =-.

  7. This is what I’m looking into and reading about (the Leadership Education book) as I prepare to start homeschooling next year. I think it’s spot-on about what is wrong with the “conveyor belt” education system I went through and that continues today, and the logic of classics and mentors is so obvious now, though I’d never thought of it before. I don’t have anything to offer since we haven’t really implemented this in full force with our homeschooling, but I do notice that when I grab a book and read, my kids do the same and join me on the couch. When I am learning a new skill or taking interest in something, they pick up the same thing, too, or it opens the door for conversation about why I’m doing it, even though I’m already an adult, or they talk about what they want to start learning about/to do. It’s interesting to see how inspired your children can be to learn just by watching you, and that’s the first step!

  8. Leadership Education works. Having a rather large family by today’s standards; we are experiencing the fruits of our labors. Our children range from 21-8 years of age.
    There are myriads of things that I appreciate about this style of education, but here are some highlights:
    Leadership Education is education that is internalized. It goes deep into the heart and soul of the individual; helping to define who they are and their purpose for being here on this earth.
    Classics put you in touch with tremendous thoughts and ideas, rather than a committee of mediocre minds. Sadly, most textbooks can fall into this category.
    The mentality in Leadership Education is that every individual is a genius. It is the job of the mentor to help bring that genius to the forefront of an individual.
    Kids are wired for independence. The mentor helps the student through inspiration, to develop and channel this independence effectively.
    This model of educating, fosters a pioneering spirit! It isn’t looking to copy, but rather to innovate and create.
    It also realizes that there are many things worth fighting for, and that true education aids and fine tunes those things. Professionalism can be an aid, but it isn’t education in an of itself!
    And finally…a free society is absolutely dependent upon people being truly educated and productive.
    Starting with yourself is always going to produce a greater, better and more effective product!
    .-= Teri’s last blog: Amy Maus: Finding Meaning in Laying Your Life Down for Others =-.

  9. This is fascinating, thanks. I hadn’t heard of this method of education before but it sounds very intriguing.
    .-= Laura @ Getting There’s last blog: A useful little shelf. =-.

  10. Shannon J says:

    I’ve been exploring LE for the past couple of months. I’ve been working on lifestyle changes such as cleaning the house side-by-side with my kids in the mornings, protecting their time so they have more longer unplanned blocks of time in the afternoon, removing toys and books that aren’t fully beneficial, breaking one child’s video habit, and working on my own learning.

    I highly recommend the TJEdMUSE yahoo group. Lots of folks there who have been doing it a long time. There’s also a TJEd Marketplace with access to the past two years of recording from the national workshop. Each lecture is $4. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve listened to/studied so far.

  11. I really enjoyed today’s post. I was wondering if you could explain how “inspire, not require” looks fleshed out day to day. Does this recomendation apply to all subjects, like Math, Reading and Writing?

    • Hi Amy. Thanks for your question. I’m far from an expert, but I have read quite a bit about this method and the answer really depends on the age of the child. Leadership Education recognizes four different phases of childhood, and suggests that children learn differently in each one.

      But as a short answer, yes, the “inspire, not require” does apply to all subjects, including the ones you mention. Especially up until the age of around 12, there is little emphasis on academics; instead the emphasis is on creating an inspiring environment–stocked with educational material–and to let the child see you studying and working on your own projects as well.

      My kids are quite young still (7, 5.5, and 5), but I’ve seen this working in the very short-term. They are as likely to pull a handwriting book off the shelf on a Saturday as they are to play with Legos. It’s all the same to them–fun–because its on their terms.

      I really suggest you read Leadership Education if you’re interested in learning more. It goes into great detail about the specifics you’re asking about. Thanks!
      .-= Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool’s last blog: The 7 Keys of Great Teaching in Leadership Education =-.

  12. I’ve never heard of this particular education style before, but it definately sounds like something my husband and I would take to naturally with our daughter. She’s young now (not quite 2), but I’ve been enjoying reading about the various education styles. We’d love to homeschool her (she is “homeschooled” now, but we need to find a way to make it sustainable long term), and will regardless be supplementing her education with our preferred style, so your articles are a much needed boost for us as we navigate our way through parenthood for the first time!
    .-= Chris’s last blog: Adventures in Park, Adventures in Palate =-.

  13. melissa says:

    WOW!! I am so thankful for this information! It sounds so similiar to what I feel naturally led to do. I am eager to read more!!

  14. This may be a crass question, but it seems that most of the comments on here come from parents with young children (aside from one or two). I wonder how this method prepares children for university entrance exams? I would imagine in some areas they would be exceedingly high (particularly critical thinking and literature) and possibly quite low in others (i have yet to hear a child get passionate about long division or other mathematics).
    Are there parents that have followed this method that have children who have done well on SATs/ACTs? If so, would you be willing to share details on some of the more mundane subjects, and how your students pursued them?

    • Hi Kevin. You may find this article interesting:

      Actually many children do get passionate about higher mathematics when allowed to develop that interest on their own timetable.

      Thanks for your comment!

    • I have used this method with my kids since the oldest was 10. He’s 18 now. His SAT scores, even with a concussion, were quite high, just short of 2000, even though he started hallucinating partway through and was dealing with a bad headache. He had no accommodations made. He is doing a lot better this year as compared to last year, so he’s going to take it again. His pre-concussion PSAT put him in the 99.5 percentile overall, so we’re hoping he’s healed back up to that level.

      • That should have been “since the oldest was 4”. My 10=year-old is jabbering excitedly about something in my ear as I type!

  15. Janalyn says:

    Thank you for your post. I try to follow TJEd in my home. I love the principles and have found that it’s what my son needs. I still struggle with some aspects of it (like inspire, not require) and find myself resorting back to the conveyor-belt style when I am fearful he is not “doing” or “learning” anything. I did that yesterday and it ended up with my son in tears. So running across your post today was a blessing, reminding me to take it easy. I appreciate the links to the yahoo group and other sites as well. I didn’t know they existed and I’m looking forward to hooking up with others trying to use these same principles in their homes.

  16. This is a nice intro to the Leadership Education principles.

    My children are 13, 11, 8, 5 and 1. I have been using these principles in my home for about six years. In the beginning it took faith. I wasn’t sure my children would turn into scholars…but now that I have one, I can say it really is amazing. Kevin’s comment echos my own early concerns. However, I now know many people with older children who have done exceptionally well as far as entrance into college. My own experience with math in our home is that our little scholar went from struggling with fractions to voluntarily doing long division because she likes math. She likes it because we worked on inspiring her (mostly my husband…since he LOVES math). She wants to study Euclid, she’s 13. I didn’t know who Euclid was at 13.

    The one other thing I would say is that I don’t worry about college entrance exams anymore. My thoughts are all about how I can help prepare my children for their unique mission/contribution. College is just one part, not an end goal. We have an attitude that we will succeed at whatever we put our minds to. The ability to do that in difficult areas is mastered through the art of work. If they learn to work as young children, mastering tough subjects is easier as young scholars. And generally, more fun!

    I would love to share more details on how we inspire subjects but I will warn you, I don’t know any mundane subjects.
    .-= Deon’s last blog: The Sound of Things =-.

  17. jessica says:

    I liked some of the principles in TJED, but share a lot of the same concerns the anonymous writer of this blog has: so I’ve just taken what I like and disregarded the rest.

  18. ZM Quadri says:

    Hi, this ia an lovely article, a true guide for teachers or i must say for parents. Children’s have an different physiology …. n we should have to understand this. Brilliant .

  19. I raised three children using the TJEd model of education. While their geniuses were revealed in ways they wouldn’t have been otherwise, and their love of learning still burns brightly, the most meaningful outcomes are demonstrated in their love for their fellow man, their desire to serve others, and the confidence that they do, can, and will make a difference in the world for the better. Plus there is a special closeness between them and me as a result of treating them like individuals, and honoring and trusting them in the use of their time and energies.

  20. This was a great article, Jamie and embodies my ideals. One thing I was wondering though, (and I am sure you get this question a lot) is the “what about math?”) question.

    Do you simply put a math book on a table or do you do directly inspire them by having a one-on-one tutoring time that is filled with real life math and plenty of hands on experiences?
    Michelle’s latest post: Pitiful Pity

  21. Thank you for this!!! After I read this I just had the biggest ah ha moment! This is what I do and almost to the letter in how I do it. We are like a leadership team in our home constantly trying and doing new things together and not really to a time table or structure. It is free form, but there are standards, it is not a dedicated curriculum telling us what to do, but multiple resources challenging us to find our rhythm as a family. I just found this to be so perfect when I read it!!! Thank you again and again.

  22. We’ve been doing a version of this all along! I’m glad to see you’re offering more posts on this. Reading it gives me that “click” inside, what I feel when something is so right it fits perfectly.

  23. This was such a blessing! After homeschooling for 2 years & getting ready for our third, this is exactly what I have been praying about & looking for! Being missionaries our schedules are never consistent, but unschooling seemed like a far leap from the somewhat structured we’ve tried… This is exactly what I’ve wanted put into words, thank you so much for this post!!!

  24. So interesting! My daughter is 3 and quite self-directed with a strong personality. She will not sort or color or do the cute little activity trays I so wanted her to do after finding them online, but she will ask me questions about the human body, magnets, honeybees, and any other topic we happen to talk about. I myself am in love with learning and I love the idea of creating an environment for learning. Unschooling also appealed to me because of her strong personality, but I struggle with what feels to me like the lack of control. This seems like a good alternative. Incidentally, my husband and I are still trying to form our philosophy on education and our goal for our kids, but for me, for them to become leaders and to make a difference (not just get a good job and earn money) is definitely important to me. Thanks again!

  25. Hello,
    Very Scholastic piece! I think Leadership is rather a human process than a closed system. It is a dynamic blend of paradoxes and perceptions. I will tag it to my favourite’s internet site list and will be checking back soon.


  26. Wish I came across this method years ago. My oldest is 10, then I have a 9yo, and a 6yo. Is it too late to use this method, or incorporate it somehow? If not, where would I start with the older kids?

  27. Diana Kosa says:

    You have articulated so beautifully the educational philosophy of my heart toward my children. Being in my 20th year of homeschooling, I look back and realize there were seasons where we operated this way but, in the upper grades I would second guess myself and methods. My 8 yr old has been thriving in a free flow educationally​enriching environment that I couldn’t define…Until now! Over the years I was drawn to aspects of educational philosophies represented by the quote section of you blog. My heart sang as I saw each one! I plan on reading anybooks on the topic I can get my hand on! What would be your favorites ?
    Blessings, Diana

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