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Leading the leaders

Student ambassadors help implement leadership program

Byron Center — Student ambassadors Abby Ross, a kindergartner, and fourth-grader Ava Friend loved sharing ideas from their Brown Elementary classmates about how to make their school better.

“We’d like to have longer lunches, because some kids don’t have time to finish all their food,” said Abby.

“We’d like to have a longer lunch so you don’t have to eat so fast,” Ava echoed five minutes later, in a separate interview.

The student ambassadors reported on how their classmates think the school could improve and then discussed and brainstormed those ideas — and their own — at twice-monthly ambassador meetings. They then shared the updates with their classes.

Ideas included “being a buddy to a new kid,” serving as greeters for parents at conferences and having more salt and pepper in the lunchroom, school psychologist Kristi Kinzler said.

“I really like helping people and learning about how to be a leader; a leader takes on a lot of work and a lot of responsibility,” Ava said. 

Seven Habits of Leadership
Brown Elementary is implementing Leader in Me into its curriculum and everyday language. The initiative focuses on ingraining seven habits of leadership into both school and everyday life.
• Habit 1: Be Proactive (You’re in Charge)
• Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind (Have a Plan)
• Habit 3: Put First Things First (Work First, Then Play)
• Habit 4: Think Win-Win (Everyone Can Win)
• Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood (Listen Before You Talk)
• Habit 6: Synergize (Together Is Better)
• Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw (Balance Feels Best)

Source: Leader in Me

‘We are trying to foster these young little leaders. Our hope is instilling the traits and the values and the habits when they are young.’

— Kristi Kinzler, school psychologist

This school year, 24 students in kindergarten through fourth grade were selected to serve as student ambassadors. In each classroom, interested students submitted applications – including a letter of recommendation – and teachers chose a representative for their class. At their Monday morning meetings, the group discussed ways to “make Brown a better place,” said Kinzler, the group’s co-adviser with fourth-grade teacher Kelsey Krieger.

One of their biggest ideas to date, a schoolwide assembly, took place in front of parents and teachers. The school choir sang seven songs tied to leadership, with student ambassadors presenting on seven habits of leadership — posters in hand — between each song.

Learning Leadership by Practicing It

The ambassadors are modeling student leadership as Brown implements the Leader in Me initiative into its curriculum and everyday language. In its second year of implementation district-wide, Leader in Me focuses on ingraining seven habits of leadership into both school and everyday life. It was developed by business professional Steven Covey and is based on seven habits of leadership.

As student ambassadors, students not only learn about leadership but practice it, Kinzler said. During conferences, the ambassadors greeted parents as they arrived, opening doors and directing them to classrooms. Older students helped the younger students in this task.

“When we had teacher-parent conferences, (the younger students) were a little nervous to talk to parents and I kind of  helped them and told them what to say, so they could help out and not just sit there,” Ava said.

They are also learning the meaning behind each Leader in Me habit, which involves time management, organization, working together, prioritizing and listening, among other skills.

Abby explained Habit 4, Think Win-Win: “If someone wants to do the monkey bars and someone wants to do the swings, they can do one of them first and then the other one,” she said.

Leader in Me is helping students develop confidence in their own leadership abilities — being able to share ideas, speak in front of others and support one another, Kinzler said. The entire staff is working to embed the language into the school day.

“To see the kids rise up with some of those leadership qualities….to see that potential of taking that responsibility and owning it has been very cool,” Kinzler said.

The student ambassador group, in particular, has learned to work across classes and age groups. 

‘If someone wants to do the monkey bars and someone wants to do the swings, they can do one of them first and then the other one.’

— kindergartner Abby Ross, explaining an example of ‘Think Win-Win’ from the Leader in Me curriculum

“We are trying to foster these young little leaders. Our hope is instilling the traits and the values and the habits when they are young,” she said.

Krieger also said she sees a difference at school since adding a leadership focus.

“It’s helped our students notice each others’ individuality and put more emphasis on strengths,” the co-adviser said. “It’s truly been a joy to work with the student ambassadors this year and see their motivation and growth in helping our school.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. 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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