Leader In Me
Schools across the country are developing seven habits in their students in order to nurture these children so they become the future leaders we need for tomorrow’s world. Based on the teachings of Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the Leader in Me Program was created in part by North Carolina principal Muriel Summers. After attending a personal development seminar, Summers saw the positive impact the habits could have on her students.
There are several of the Leader in Me schools in West Tennessee. Two of them are Hardin County’s Parris South Elementary and Tipton County’s Drummonds Elementary, who both participate in the Leader in Me program. The program takes the basic concepts from Covey’s framework and palettizes it for young students.
Leslie Thurman, who teaches at Parris South in Hardin County, is extremely happy with the Leader in Me program. “The program includes training, materials, and support for our faculty and staff throughout the year. The culture of our school has improved greatly. Students discipline rates have decreased, student ownership, and leadership roles are the norm at our school. Todd Harrison, the Principal, continued, “Students find their voice and begin using their leadership qualities to become productive members of society. They develop these qualities by practicing leadership roles and skills. It allows them to find their strengths. The Leader in Me program has also had an impact on me. I’ve been able to see the changes in our students and celebrate their growth as positive members of the community. It’s so fulfilling.” Thurman continued, “The changes that we see in kids as they go through the program are amazing. Society is often about, ‘What can you do for me?’ Yet the seven habits of a highly effective child instills the concept of, ‘What I can do for others.’”
Seven years ago, Jeremy Davis, a former administrator for Parris South, came across the Leader in Me program. Davis started it because “the emphasis in education shifted more to the use of test data to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools, other critical areas of educating the whole child were being neglected. The Leader in Me process provided teachers with a road map and the foundation to teach students the importance of character, work ethic and maximizing their talents and strengths. Those skills are just as important as academic knowledge when preparing students to become productive and successful members of society.”
Since the program was implemented in Hardin County, administrators and teachers have noticed positive changes in their student body: “the culture of the school has improved” with students exhibiting more “self-confidence, responsibility, accountability, ownership, self-reliance, and self-control.” Within five years of instituting the program, Parris South became the first Leader in Me Lighthouse school in Tennessee. It’s an impressive accomplishment: Lighthouse schools are recognized for “producing outstanding results in school and student outcomes, by implementing the process with fidelity and excellence.” The Leader in Me website states, these schools have an “extraordinary impact… on staff, students, parents, and the greater community.” This outstanding achievement couldn’t have been accomplished without community support. “We would like to say how grateful we are to the Darryl Worley Foundation, Hardin County Community and Healthcare Foundation and the Hardin County School Board for their continuous financial support that makes Leader in Me possible at Parris South Elementary.”
Patricia Mills, the principal of Drummonds Elementary established Leader in Me at her school after attending Parris South’s Leader in Me day. Various Leader in Me schools were also invited, one of which was Covington Integrated Arts Academy, also in Tipton County. That group was running late but Mills was fascinated with the way the students conducted themselves. “I was so impressed with those kids from CIAA. They were actually asking better questions and were more engaged in the program than some of the people from the local community,” Mill recalled, “Just watching how they did without adults…”
What Mills saw that day at Parris South stuck with her. “CIAA students did not have a teacher with them, were coming in and asking great questions to the students in the classroom and the teachers about things like: ‘So how do you track your data?’ and ‘How do you know?’” The students’ tenacity impressed her. “I’m like ‘Oh my gosh!’ I have to have this at our school.” Drummonds Elementary’s community supported Mills goals, “ What I saw in those kids was integrity and that’s what I wanted for the kids here. And that goal was very much supported by the South Tipton and Covington chambers and the businesses in Covington to get that started.”
That was five years ago. Mills, Assistant Principal Heather Crowson, and Guidance Counselor Jamie Roedersheimer are all aware that it’s not their school; it’s the students’. They wanted to “create a culture that they (the students) own this school. It’s not our environment,” Crowson said, gesturing to herself, Mills, and Roedersheimer, “It’s theirs. They’re learning to become leaders, which later affects our community...They just become better community members.” Mills jumped in, “These kids are going to be your neighbors. They’re going to be the people that are going to work in your business… Having that assertiveness and that leadership. ‘Leadership Starts Here’ is what’s on the side of our building and that is exactly what you want in the workplace.”
Drummonds and Parris South both understand the potential for leadership in their children thanks to the Leader in Me program. Thurman mentioned that “Students take leadership roles and jobs throughout the school day. They are morning announcers, data collectors, cafeteria cleaners. We have lots of visitors that come to our school and the students give the school tours and tell the visitors what the Leader in Me program means to them. Students take an active roll in the daily functions of the school.” Davis explained that the Leader in Me program “far exceeded all our expectations. A process that we adopted to better educate our students was quickly embraced by the community and expanded to other districts within the state.” At Drummonds, it’s the same, Mills laughed when telling us about one instance of change in particular, “I loved the morning announcements! You had to pry my hands off of the intercom button, but that was a good change. They listen to their peers better.” Crowson agreed, “It’s been a learning experience. We’ve had a lot of starts and stops, and it’s not easy, but it’s the little things that matter. I feel we have arrived in a way because of the kinds of things happening here.”