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School Embraces Concept That Leadership Can Be Taught

Students Transform School into 'Leaderville'

Parent Matt Stowe is used to hearing leadership lingo at home from his daughter, Kalani, a third-grader, and son, Nathan, a seventh-grader.

They’ve practiced the “Seven Habits of Leadership,” as defined by businessman and author Stephen Covey, since kindergarten at Oriole Park Elementary School.

While presenting her artwork, third-grader Abby Kramer said “I am proactive and have a plan"
While presenting her artwork, third-grader Abby Kramer said ‘I am proactive and have a plan’

“Leadership is a learned thing. It’s about skills that can be taught,” Stowe said to an audience of parents during the school’s recent “Leaderville” event, presented by kindergarten through fourth-grade students.

“It’s had a very positive impact on our household,” he added, noting that Nathan, now a seventh-grader at Wyoming Junior High School, gets most of his homework done at school in order to have free time at home. “He’s proactive.” Kalani often reminds the whole family of leadership habits, and the company Stowe works for also uses the model to build culture.

“Your kids will get out of it what they put into it,” he said.

The event transformed the school recently into a marketplace of leadership ideas, with classrooms relabeled as “Win-Win Courthouse,” “Synergize Supermarket” and “Seek 1st Cafe,” among other “businesses” highlighting students’ learning.

Third-grader Presley Harrison presents during “Leaderville”
Third-grader Presley Harrison presents during “Leaderville”

Curriculum Modeled After Self-Help Book

The school’s culture is based on business self-help book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey. The book, published in 1990, has sold more than 20 million copies and spawned a series of spin-off books.

Six years ago, Oriole Park began implementing “The Leader in Me,” a whole-school transformation model that aims to improve the performance of all other programs. Students develop self-confidence and skills that carry beyond elementary school, said Principal Jennifer Slanger.

“‘The Leader In Me’ has positively impacted all aspects of the school community,” Slanger said. “Our students follow common expectations in the hallway, lunch room and the playground. They use the language of the seven habits each and every day.”

Seven Habits of Leadership

  • Be Proactive: Be responsible and take initiative
  • Begin with the End in Mind: plan ahead and set goals
  • Put First Things First: Set priorities, make a schedule, and follow a plan
  • Think Win-Win: Balance courage for getting what you want with consideration for what others want
  • Think First to Understand, Then to Be Understood: Listen to other people’s ideas and feelings, try to see things from their viewpoints
  • Synergize: Value other people’s strengths and learn from them, get along well with others, work well in groups. Seek out other people’s ideas to solve problems
  • Sharpen the Saw: Know the importance of caring for your body by eating right, exercising and getting sleep, spending time with family and friends and helping others

Source: www.leaderinme.org

Students begin developing skills in kindergarten. The habits are referenced often by teachers and staff members; the catchy phrases hang on signs on the walls; teachers attend professional development training on the curriculum.

The skills are also tied to students’ goals they set while thinking about using the traits, Slanger said. Students will revise their goals as they achieve them. Keeping a data notebook allows them to take ownership of their learning.

Third-grader Abby Kramer said she sets goals around her reading and thinks about leadership when doing her work.

“I am proactive and have a plan,” Abby said. “I put first things first and I always do a really good job on everything.”

Teachers set the example, Slanger said.

“Our students definitely learn a lot by the modeling from our staff, but also within their classroom. Our teachers do an amazing job teaching students how to set academic goals and behavioral goals throughout the course of the year.”

Third-grade teacher Ginger VanderBeek said helping students develop skills like planning and being proactive helps them stick with a project, complete it by a deadline and learn to present it.

“They realize that what they are doing and the skills they use in the seven habits can help them finish and do a good job, so they can take ownership of what they are doing,” she said.

Third-grader Lesly Vasquez said following the leadership habits makes her a better student.

“I put things first by doing my math before playing on the computer.”


Leader in Me

Seven Habits for Kids

Oriole Park Elementary students present the Seven Habits of Leadership
Oriole Park Elementary students present the Seven Habits of Leadership
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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