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Schools develop leadership through The 7 Habits

The 7 Habits Leadership Tree

Pineville Elementary School in Bell County, McBrayer Elementary School in Rowan County and Gamaliel Elementary School in Monroe County have begun a new way of thinking and a new kind of interaction between students and teachers.

It includes phrases such as “be proactive”, “begin with the end in mind”, “think win-win” and “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  These are four of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” developed by Stephen R. Covey that are being applied in school settings and making a difference in academic outcomes.  The school initiative is referred to as “The Leader in Me”.

The 7 Habits provide a common language for students and teachers and provides a road map of expectations for behavior in personal interactions and academic achievement.  For example, when students are “proactive”, they keep track of their own grades including tests and daily assignments.  The teachers document grades too, but when students are recording their own grades, teachers say the students take more responsibility for their own improvement or advancement.

“Begin with the end in mind” is all about setting goals so students know where they are headed with a task and take responsibility for completing it themselves. Then teachers don’t have to do as much explaining and reminding.  “Think win-win” helps students understand the importance of compromising their differences.  “Synergize”—the sixth habit—helps them value other people’s strengths so students can work things out between each other without teacher intervention.

Another habit, “put first things first”, helps students focus on priorities.  One of those priorities is the seventh habit, “sharpen the saw”, or taking care of yourself so that you can be your best.

Habit 2--Begin with the end in mind

A visit to any of the schools provides insight into the commitment each school has made to incorporate The 7 Habits into daily school life.  The 7 Habits are posted in classrooms and painted on walls.  Projects displayed on bulletin boards demonstrate one or more of these qualities of leadership.  Some of the students have created or learned songs and cheers incorporating the habits.  The habits are part of the school’s opening announcements and in conversations between students and faculty.

The schools began introducing The Leader in Me in late 2011 and early 2012, but already administrators are reporting changes.

Pineville Elementary Principal, Cynthia Smith reports remarkable change.  “It’s amazing to see students walking orderly in the hallways and displaying more respect for each other,” she said.  The school rules, she said, were reviewed and rewritten to simplify them with the habits in mind.

Christie Biggerstaff, principal at Gamaliel, reports that the excitement at her school is spilling over to other schools in the district that have also begun introducing the concepts to faculty.

To participate in The Leader in Me, faculty and staff make a significant commitment to implement the initiative.  Each attends an intensive three-step training process that requires five full days of active participation over the first 12 months.  They evaluate the school’s current “climate”, develop a vision for the future, spend time learning about and personally practicing the habits, then move into the implementation stage.

Gamaliel, McBreyer and Pineville elementary schools began their investment in The Leader in Me with support from Forward in the Fifth,a regional non-profit organization that promotes increasing educational attainment in southern and eastern Kentucky.  Forward in the Fifth was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Education that made it possible to purchase training materials and cover the costs for the initial professional development.

Visitors at last year’s regional Leader in Me Symposium in Bowling Green toured a school that is in the third year of the process.  Booths were set up by students to explain to visitors how the school has implemented student-led parent-teacher conferences.  The students say that because they keep track of their grades and their progress, they are able to describe their strengths and their weaknesses to the adults.  The teacher’s role is to coach the student to find methods to improve on their weaknesses.

“It may seem unbelievable, but when you listen to a third grader outline their accomplishments followed by their plan for improvement and the parent is standing next to the child nodding in approval, you know it’s working,” said Laura Kamperman, community education specialist for Forward in the Fifth who attended the open house.

For more information about Forward in the Fifth’s work with The Leader in Me, visit or call 606-677-6000.

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