WATERLOO — Student leadership and learning were in the spotlight during a recent community celebration at Kingsley Elementary School.
For a group of kindergarten students, that meant being ready to greet people and hand out pictures they had colored as they walked into a classroom. What did the brightly colored picture of the sun mean to kindergartner Keochky Dorsainvil? “To bring your own sunshine to school, because you have to have a happy face on,” said the boy.
In a first-grade classroom down the hall, Tayler Junker was sitting at a desk applying what she has learned about the seven habits through Kingsley’s Leader in Me initiative. She read a brief scenario about two friends disagreeing over playing a game or watching a movie and applied Habit 4, Think win-win. “I wrote, ‘The best thing is movie first and then games,’” said Junker.
Later, visitors gathered in the gym for a short student-led program, which ended with fifth-graders ringing the room to sing a song.
The second annual Leadership Day followed a month where children chose either the seven habits, the seven continents or the seven wonders of the world during an “interest club” and spent time daily learning about the topic. “It’s kind of like a break to learn about something you’re really interested in,” said Principal Amber Dietz.
Leader in Me has become part of the culture at Kingsley and 20 other Cedar Valley schools in recent years. Created by Utah-based FranklinCovey, Leader in Me introduces students and teachers to the principles of Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and helps to put them into practice.
The effort locally was started and has been coordinated through the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber, a regional economic development organization. Officials there believe Leader in Me helps students develop skills which are essential for the workplace but not explicitly taught in school settings usually.
Leader Valley, the educational arm of the chamber, oversees work with educators and schools. It is also heading up the $7 million Create Great fundraising campaign to help expand and sustain the initiative in the Cedar Valley. So far, the campaign has raised just under $2 million.
Half of the funds would be used for implementation and operating expenses with the other half put into an endowment. “That endowment will provide support to the schools for ongoing operational expenses,” said Melissa Reade, Leader Valley director.
She noted the process of securing the funds can be slow, as potential donors often need to learn about Leader in Me’s benefits. “Businesses, especially, want the assurance this is an investment in their future work force,” said Reade.
At St. Patrick School in Cedar Falls, students develop leadership skills by taking on job responsibilities they are assigned through an application process. Students hold leadership roles at recess, lunch or in the office. They raise and lower the flag each day or serve as greeters as children arrive in the morning.
“They have to apply for it and commit to it,” said Principal Bev Mach. Students who don’t fulfill their obligations get replaced.
Fourth- through eighth-graders also can apply to be on the eight-member student lighthouse team. Pairs of students work on action teams to plan events or oversee activities during the school year. Teacher Janae Gross, who facilitates Leader in Me and the lighthouse team, said school staff formulates ideas for the action teams and then student members determine among themselves which assignments to take.
Mach said students are learning life skills through their responsibilities. “I just see a change in them of taking more ownership and wanting to do more,” she said. “I think it became their school and their mission and goals.”
John Deere’s Matt Meyers sees the benefit of the skills students are learning. The manager of business improvement for tractor cab assembly operations also serves on the Leader Valley Council. He highlighted such skills as communication, event planning and management as some of the skills Leader in Me develops.
“The leadership skills they get through this program and some of the soft skills, it’s impressive,” he said. “The skills that are being taught to kids are exactly what are missing in education today.”
The council includes both education and business members. It guides the process of implementation at schools and helps to raise money for the initiative. John Deere is one of the companies that has financially contributed to the campaign.
“When I heard that John Deere made the donation and was looking for someone to serve on the council, I volunteered,” said Meyers. He was already familiar with the initiative through his daughter’s involvement at school.
Reade said Leader Valley has engaged the University of Northern Iowa’s Center of Education Transformation to complete a third-party evaluation of Leader in Me in local schools as it continues to raise money. That evaluation, which will continue until the end of the year, will look at the initiative’s impact on things like school culture and various student measures.
In the meantime, Leader Valley is building its capacity through FranklinCovey to train school staff locally.
“They’re piloting this with us,” said Reade. “They call it their transfer of knowledge model. There’s very few entities like us.”
Reade and Teri Trask have been certified to facilitate workshops and are being trained as coaches. The workshops and coaching are ways to train school staff on using Leader in Me.
“We’re leading them through this framework to help them be successful in their implementation,” said Trask. “It’s all about what are the needs of the school, and what can we do to support them.”
“Both of these are ways to extend our investment,” said Reade, noting they will be able to provide more continuity than a trainer who is here for a limited period of time.