Leadership model making a difference at Lake Myra Elementary School

amoody@newsobserver.comDecember 26, 2013 

— Students are being more polite and getting into trouble less at Lake Myra Elementary School, and it’s not because of Santa Claus’ recent visit to town.

School staff members claim The Leader in Me process, based on Stephen R. Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” is already making a difference after being implemented for just a few months.

The year-round school was awarded a two-year grant over the summer to begin the leadership model, which preaches seven maxims: Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, Put First Things First, Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand – Then to be Understood, Synergize and Sharpen the Saw.

Since October, when staff received formal training for the process, Lake Myra has witnessed more than a 50 percent decrease in student discipline referrals.

“(Students) are respecting each other more because there’s more of a thought process behind it with making sure they’re putting the habits into everyday life,” fourth-grade teacher Monique Fennell said.

Fennell explained The Leader in Me is not like an extra subject for kids to study, and that it can’t really be called a program.

“It’s more like a way of being,” she said. “We’re using the language and the kids are owning it. They’re totally buying in.

Conveying the message

Teachers incorporate the leadership habits into their lessons when relevant and students are rewarded for remembering the habits and putting them to good use. They also fill out leadership forms for each other and notice the habits their peers are portraying.

“They’re benefiting extrinsically,” Fennell said. “There’s the external stuff that’s always needed with kids at this level, but we’re trying to make it more like, ‘let’s reflect – let’s have a self reflection moment,’ so they’re taking it internally and not expecting (a reward) all the time.”

Prior to the roll-out of The Leader in Me, Lake Myra Principal Jim Argent had named three ways the success of the process would be measured: academics, discipline referrals and participation in extracurricular activities.

The steep decline in discipline referrals and a recent increase in student involvement are proof enough to Argent the process works.

“On Thursday, 30 students had different speaking and leadership roles in organizing a luncheon as part of the program,” he said. “We have also implemented leadership clubs and all our first-through-fifth-grade students have participated in those.”

Argent believes academic improvement will follow, but said it won’t be measurable until test scores are released after the school year.

A different vibe

The school is in the process of installing propaganda throughout the building to remind students of the leadership habits. School staff recently painted a large mural of a tree in the school’s lobby that lists the seven maxims of The Leader in Me from the ground up.

In the meantime, Argent is enjoying the good vibes in his school’s hallways.

“When you look at student work habits, students’ treatment of one another, just a higher level of respect is occurring throughout the building – way less bullying,” Argent said. “We’re having students understand the importance of greeting each other, their role and advocating for their role in the school community.”

Lake Myra joins Green Elementary in Raleigh in incorporating The Leader in Me for the first time this fall. They are the second and third Wake County elementary schools to use the process alongside Combs Elementary, where the idea to apply Covey’s book in the classroom originated.

Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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