Lauran Arledge is a Colorado native who started her career as high school social studies teacher in Wilmington, North Carolina.

A recent speaker at Point of Departure, Lauran has spent the past 15 years taking her love of education and leadership development into the realms of public health, violence prevention, community organizing, coaching, and organizational development.

Here we talk about making social studies sing, the unheralded power of WWI, and how people never really grow up.


I’m curious to hear how you got into teaching social studies because I had an influential social studies teacher in seventh grade, Mrs. Herring.

Nice! I hope somebody is saying that about me somewhere in the universe. I had my undergrad in political science and women’s studies. I was looking at graduate programs and I was at a crossroads: do I want to go into academia or do I want to go into something else? I eventually made the decision that I wanted to go into education. I come from a family of teachers, social workers and public servants. I was passionate about teaching social studies by focusing on social justice and highlighting parts of history that aren’t well known. I’m just a history geek! When I taught about the writing of the U.S. Constitution, I would get so excited that my kids would always laugh at me. They were just like, “Wow, you really like this stuff!”

When I was young, social studies seemed nebulous or gauzy. It was very clear what math, science, and other subjects were. It’s important to find something that hooks kids and helps them understand what social studies really means.

That is important. Timelines are hard for kids. It’s hard to understand what life was like 150 years ago and as you go further back it gets even hazier.

Do you have a favorite era to teach?

I love teaching the turn of the century through the end of World War II. For me that is where it gets really exciting and it’s recent enough that people can wrap their heads around the timeline. World War I and World War II were so pivotal the course of history.

I feel like World War I doesn’t really get its dues either. There are so many movies and gut-wrenching dramas about World War II.

Definitely. I used to teach assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as a dramatic story, highlighting how many things almost went wrong and the kids would be like, “Wait, what?” When you present it that way they think it’s amazing.

Then there’s the Christmas Truce of 1914, where soldiers from both trenches came out and played soccer and hung out, right?

Yes! That’s another part of World War I that doesn’t get its dues. There was so much hand-to-hand combat in WWI. You could hear the enemy in the trenches next to you, talking and playing cards, and you’d quickly realize that they are nineteen-year-old kids just like you! The amount of trauma soldiers endured in World War II was similar, but there was more detachment.

You’ve worked leadership training roles across many fields. What are the similarities?

The problems that organizations face are generally the same: it’s egos, miscommunication, and priorities being out of whack. I get jazzed about using sociology to understand how people work together.

Is it easier to get a large group of kids to do something or a large group of corporate employees to do something?

It is so funny that you say that. I recently worked with my senior leadership team on a new leadership program. One of the curricula we use comes with a plastic blow-up beach ball. My colleagues immediately opened up the packages, blew up the balls, and started whapping them at each other. And I thought, “Yeah, that’s exactly what my ninth graders would have done.”

So we don’t change that much as we get older?

No, we don’t. People always ask me, “Is it easier teaching students or adults?” I always tell them, “It’s pretty much the same.”

Do you have a favorite TED Talk?

Everyone I teach knows that I love TED Talks and watch them all the time. Perhaps it iscliché at this point, but I love Brené Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability. Another talk that found really interesting was Monica Lewinsky talking about what happened to her as a young woman and the public shame that she endured. I just thought that it was incredibly brave of her to do the talk.

The brutality of the situation from her perspective is usually overlooked.

Oh yeah, and you really get the sense that she was just this young kid. How many of us would like to have the most embarrassing moment from our 20s broadcast around the world? There were obviously different repercussions for her than there were for the president involved. I really admired her for stepping on that stage and talking about that.