Elementary students lead schools in culture shift

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Elementary students are practicing leadership habits as part of The Leader in Me, a program based on “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” The Leader in Me is part of the kidFRIENDLy initiative, which aims to have “Kids Focused, Responsible, Imaginative, Engaged and Determined to Learn.” 

kidFRIENDLy is part of the Race to the Top grant that Carroll County, along with 21 other school districts in the region, is participating in.  One of the key components of kidFRIENDLy is “Students as Leaders.”  

“The Leader in Me is a motivating factor at our school,” Cartmell instructional coach Jeannie Rohrer said. “We are teaching the habits one at a time and seeing students using them in their daily lives.”

At Cartmell, teachers introduce a new habit each week so that the students have an overview of the program as a whole. Teachers and administrators are working the common language of the program into the routines and procedures of the school.

“We have changed the discipline system,” Cartmell assistant principal Jonica Ray said. “We put a proactive approach in place by focusing on positive behaviors rather than negative ones.”

The school also created a program that allows students to apply for different jobs, creating a sense of student ownership. “Students fill out an application just like they would for a real job,” Ray said.

In Jan Eldridge’s classroom at Kathryn Winn Primary School, students are learning the basics of leadership. 

 “Leaders do the right thing even when no one is watching,” Eldridge said, speaking before a banner reinforcing her message. That motto runs throughout the seven habits, which show students how to take initiative, prioritize tasks, achieve group victories and grow continually.

“It’s good for students and for staff,” said Winn teacher Lindsay Utley. “When students follow the habits, they are better about turning in homework and budgeting their time.” Utley went on to say that the habits have been beneficial for her as an adult as well.

 “The Leader in Me will help kids develop skills and habits that will make them individual leaders,” Kathryn Winn guidance counselor Kelly Massie said. “The training made me realize that I need to believe in myself as a leader first if I want the program to work for the students.”

All elementary teachers have attended training for The Leader in Me. Middle and high school teachers will be trained in the program next school year.

“We see the program changing how we do business in this district,” Superintendent Lisa James, Ed.D, said. “Leadership can be taught, and The Leader in Me will help students discover that they can all be leaders not only of their classrooms but also of their communities. We want our students to be leaders on all fronts.”

Bart Noffsinger, a custodian at Kathryn Winn, said that he has seen growth in the students since the program started, both in student initiative and in understanding.

“The students seem to understand things more quickly now,” he said.

The Leader in Me initiative uses the analogy of a computer operating system to explain how cultural change can happen in a school. Just as a computer has an operating system that can run programs, a school has a culture that can drive it toward success. The Leader in Me is designed to change the culture of a school.

Research shows that a school’s culture has a large impact on student achievement. The Leader in Me guides students toward cultivating habits that build a positive school culture, like working toward “Win-Win” solutions to problems.

As students move through the grades and out into life beyond high school, they will take those leadership habits with them, beyond the school walls and into the community.


Carl Roberts is director of public relations for Carroll County Public Schools.