Without neglecting instruction in reading, math, and other subjects, the staff at South Scotland Elementary School is lacing those classes with lessons in leadership.
“A leader is someone who is responsible and always does the right thing,” said third grader William Jackson. “They turn in their homework, they are respectful to each other, and they help one another. Leaders always try their best.”
The Leader In Me program, an instructional model based on Steven Covey’s bestselling “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” was implemented at South Scotland in the 2011-2012 school year. It is currently in use in some 25 schools in North Carolina and in more than 1,100 worldwide.
“When you think about the Leader In Me program, it would be the paper that you write your lesson plans on,” said South Scotland principal Angela Gallagher. “It’s kind of the basis and foundation of everything we do.”
Though students only spend an hour a week in concentrated leadership time, teachers guide their students every day using the language of the seven habits: be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win, seek first to understand then to be understood, energize, and sharpen the saw: balance feels best.
The program is in use in classrooms from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, with younger children learning the seven habits and older students learning to modify their behavior based on the qualities of an effective leader.
“On a day-to-day basis, you’ll hear the teacher say ‘first things first’ - it’s about the language we use in the classroom,” said Gallagher. “They do go through learning about the seven habits, and as you mature the way you think about what ‘think win-win’ means changes and the way you think about synergizing changes.”
Students’ leadership notebooks, which they update weekly, help them to track their progress toward attaining their long and short-term goals.
“We’ve got what our grades are, what we made on our AR tests that we take on books, biographies of ourselves, our class mission statement, our own mission statements, our goals and what we want to do when we get older,” said fifth grade student Alex Sutherland.
South Scotland held its second annual Leadership Day on Tuesday, attended by some 50 community members and visitors from other schools. Students explained the seven habits and the many opportunities for student leadership at South Scotland, including the student Lighthouse Team, student council, and Scottie Helpers.
“When you’re a Scottie helper, you dress to impress - if you’re wearing jeans, you cannot be a Scottie helper,” said fifth grader Macie Williams. “A lunch helper passes out the materials, like napkins and ketchup and bring them to the younger kids.”
All fifth grade students have at least one chance to be a Scottie Helper for a day, assisting other students in the lunch room, escorting younger students from their parents’ cars to their classrooms, helping in the office, and running the flag up the school’s flagpole. The student Lighthouse Team is in charge of introducing new students to the seven habits and how they can use them in school at at home.
“If you’re not thinking win-win, you’ll get in trouble for it,” said fifth grader Madison Jackson. “Let’s say you’re having a fight, then you’re not thinking first to understand or thinking win-win. When we have a project and we’re supposed to be working together, if we’re not, then chaos happens.”
Tuesday’s visitors included several members of the staff of the Academy of Moore County, an Aberdeen school that also implemented The Leader In Me two years ago.
“South Scotland’s children seem to be very well-versed in the seven habits and taking ownership of them,” said Gail Cunningham, leadership facilitator at the Academy of Moore County.
“I feel like our children really take on a lot more responsibility than they would normally. They take ownership of their behaviors and their actions. They do realize that they can make things happen.” Gallagher has noticed changes for the better in South Scotland’s students as well, as they are given the tools to take more personal accountability for their actions.
“When I have to talk to a student about discipline our about making choices, they can really talk to me about the habits and which ones they might need to work on,” she said. “They don’t always make the right choices, but they understand what they should have done.”