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Thursday, August 1, 2019

"Leader in Me" to Expand to Two More Fort Thomas Schools This Fall

Samuel Woodfill Elementary in Fort Thomas is the first to implement Leader in Me, a framework based on The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.

By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor

When parents want to know how their Woodfill Elementary school student is doing, they can ask the teacher, but they can also learn a lot by simply asking their child. At Woodfill, students identify and track their goals, their learning styles, their weaknesses and their achievements. Taking ownership for one’s own learning is key to the school’s culture.

Student empowerment and self-awareness are key concepts behind a framework known as "Leader in Me," which is based on principles and concepts first developed by Stephen R. Covey and outlined in his well-known book on leadership and productivity, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The Franklin Covey organization found that many of the principles outlined in the book could be expanded and adapted for use in education. They worked with educators to develop the core concepts into an evidence-based, school improvement model that has yielded strong results for schools using it across the county.

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Many of the ideas behind Leader in Me present a new way of looking at education. Within the framework, students become actors in their own learning rather than merely passive recipients. They are taking more control and advocating for themselves to get the help and resources they need. 

Leader in Me in Fort Thomas schools

Many of the skills students acquire through Leader in Me fit well with the key competencies identified in the districtwide Portrait of a Graduate. Yet, Leader in Me has not been implemented across the entire district.

"We very purposefully made sure the implementation [of Portrait of a Graduate] presented a scaffolding that would allow the schools to choose their own resources," explained Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Bill Bradford.

"We wanted to allow for school-based decision making. Each school can choose what fits their needs, but it is certainly part of the district’s momentum," he said. "Woodfill took the initiative on its own three years ago, even before Portrait of a Graduate, but it aligns quite conveniently with our own efforts."

Woodfill’s choice to implement Leader in Me fit well with the school’s goals, said Bradford. Now both Moyer Elementary and Highlands Middle School will implement it in the coming school year.

The framework may look different at different schools and each rung provides for different goals depending on the school and the level of each student. For elementary students, Leader in Me introduces a whole-child approach. For middle schoolers, it addresses many of the social and emotional needs of that age group. For high schoolers, it focuses on career and life readiness, Bradford said. 

A new framework

Leader in Me presents a genuine change in school culture, a paradigm shift that can seem daunting to parents and even to educators.

The framework at Woodfill is still developing, and students, parents and educators are exploring how it fits into their school. For example, in the 2018-19 school year, Woodfill tried something very new. The school turned over control of the traditional parent-teacher conferences to the students. The students sat with their parents and explained what they had been learning, how they have been doing and some of the challenges and goals ahead.

While no one knew exactly how it would go off, parents and teachers reported they were pleased and surprised at the level and depth of knowledge the students had about their own learning.

RELATED: Woodfill Elementary Steps Outside the Box on Parent-Teacher Conferences

To help prepare parents at the next schools to adopt Leader in Me, the Fort Thomas school district is planning an event for Moyer onsite and one for Highlands Middle School to be held at the Launch location (20 N. Grand Ave.)

Leader in Me at Woodfill

"We are entering our third year, but we’ve been exploring closer to five years. It all started with a conversation with a school counselor," said Woodfill Principal Keith Faust.

While the school had been keeping an eye out for resources that could help improve student learning and the culture at the school, they first discovered Leader in Me through a rather mundane, practical need.

The school had been using student planners to communicate with parents. Students wrote down assignments and messages from their teachers into the planners, and parents would sign off on them. It had been a primary means of daily communication, said Faust.

The school put together the planners and used a preprinted cover. When the supplier ran out of the covers, counselor Rachel Caswell began researching student notebooks and binders and came across Leader in Me. Integral to the framework is the use of a "leadership notebook."

From there, the educators decided to explore the entire concept and did extensive research. They visited Bowling Green schools to see how the framework is used. It became clear that Leader in Me fit many of the goals the school had identified.

"A big part of what we wanted was for our students to be a part of their own education," said Faust. "We wanted them to have more voice, choice and purpose."

Each student is given a leadership notebook that they maintain throughout their school careers. The notebook tabs reflect the areas students track. Sections are "Myself," "My WIGS (Wildly Important Goals)," "My Learning." "My Leadership" and "My Celebrations."

Students track their attendance and academic goals and achievements but also their personal interests and thoughts and a personal mission statement. Students work on a set of one to three specific goals, termed WIGs, that can be academic or personal.

The students also learn "seven habits" and these are posted throughout the school:

  • Be Proactive (You’re in charge.)
  • Begin with the end in mind (Have a plan.)
  • Put first things first (Work first, then play.)
  • Think win-win (Everyone can win.)
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood (Listen before you talk.)
  • Synergize (together is better)
  • Sharpen the saw (Balance feels best.)

 Leader in Me is not one-size-fits-all

Leader in Me did what the school staff wanted most. It gave students a sense of ownership for their own learning. "We meet students where they are every year. It’s a philosophical approach not a program. Programs have a begin and end. This is a process, one that is continually evolving. Leadership is who we are now," said Faust.

Yet, he cautions, while school personnel researched and observed how other schools use Leader in Me, it would be a mistake to try to replicate what others are doing. "You must make it your own. It’s your school culture, and it’s up to you how you choose to go about it."

He says the same will be true for Moyer and for Highlands Middle School. The framework won’t look exactly the same for these schools as it does for Woodfill.

As does Bradford, Faust sees Leader in Me as an excellent vehicle to help students learn, practice and live the concepts outlined in Portrait of a Graduate. The key roles identified of courageous leader, creative problem solver, curious critical thinker, empathetic collaborator and global communicator may seem a heavy and complex set of expectations for elementary-level children, but, he said, they can handle it.

Through the process, Faust says he’s learned an important lesson he would share with parents and teachers. "Students can do more than we give them credit for. They are more capable when given a greater sense of ownership and I would say release some of the control, the ownership, the power. Let your child be in control of the decision making in their lives, and they will surprise you."

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