Kristina Rudd, returning for her second year of teaching third grade at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary in Starkville, works on decorations for her classroom on Thursday morning. Photo by: Mary Alice Truitt/Dispatch Staff
Newly painted murals are displayed at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary in Starkville emphasizing “The Leader in Me” philosophy.
Photo by: Mary Alice Truitt/Dispatch Staff
Newly painted murals displayed at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary in Starkville show the seven tenets of “The Leader in Me” program.
Photo by: Mary Alice Truitt/Dispatch Staff
August 1, 2016 9:23:19 AM
The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District plans to implement a new learning philosophy this school year, aiming to improve students' leadership, life skills and make them more productive individuals in and out of the classroom.
The school district will incorporate the philosophy, called "The Leader in Me," district-wide in grades K-8.
Superintendent Lewis Holloway said Starkville is the third school district in Mississippi to put the program into action.
"It's a school-wide philosophy built on developing leadership skills in individual kids," Holloway said.
He described The Leader in Me as a powerful concept.
"When we took a group of teachers, a district team, to other schools, there were two things that were impressive: the stories that kids told about how it changed their lives, and then the fact that they were going home and talking to their parents about being proactive, about thinking 'win-win,' about 'synergizing,'" Holloway said. "Those things caught the attention of our district leadership team."
The Leader in Me is based on Stephen Covey's book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and has teachers directly and indirectly push students to develop their own skills and abilities.
The seven habits
"The basic foundation of The Leader in Me is seeing the greatness in all kids and that greatness doesn't necessarily always mean academic," said Kristina Rudd, a third grade teacher at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary School. "The big focus is leadership and the fact that everyone is a leader. It's not a title that you get. It's actions that you choose to live by, and so the actions we're focusing on with the kids are the seven habits."
The seven habits include be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; and sharpen the saw.
Rudd said The Leader in Me starts with teachers modeling the seven habits, then introducing them to their students by tying the habits into lesson plans and emphasizing them whenever possible. Rudd said teachers want to get students involved in setting their own goals.
"It's not something separate," she said. "It's not a program. It's finding a way to connect [the seven habits] to the teaching we're already doing here at school."
Rudd taught elementary school for four years in Colorado before moving to Columbus and joining the faculty of the SOCSD last year. Rudd's Colorado school used The Leader in Me, so when she heard near the end of last school year Starkville would adopt the ideology during the 2016-17 school year, she started using pieces of it in her classroom.
Rudd expects a positive reaction from students because she knows the impact the philosophy has.
"It is amazing to see the way the kids pick up on it and start using it, not because they're told they have to but because the want to. Because they see positive outcomes from practicing these things that effective people do," Rudd said.
SOCSD elementary and middle school teachers went through a two-day training this summer to prepare teachers to implement the philosophy in their classrooms. A consultant from The Leader in Me traveled to the district's schools to train teachers on the seven habits, how they could use them in their own lives and then transfer that mindset to students.
Proven track record
The Leader in Me began in 2009 at a magnet school in North Carolina, as the school's principal, Muriel Summers, endeavored to turn around her failing school. That school became the No. 1 magnet school in the nation a few years later. The program was so successful it is being implemented in schools across the nation and across the globe.
Rudd is optimistic. She has been working in her classroom during the past two weeks creating a visual representation of the seven habits.
The Leader in Me uses the symbol of a tree to help children visualize those habits.
"The first three habits are things you do internally to make yourself stronger and more of a leader, so those are the roots of the tree," Rudd said. "The next three habits are things that you do when you interact with other people, so those are the branches and the leaves."
The final habit, "sharpen the saw," means balancing relationships with others with physical, social, mental and spiritual well-being. The tree's canopy represents this final concept.
Rudd tries to find authentic ways to incorporate the seven habits into her classroom setting and learning material. She is creating a tree visual for her classroom and hopes to have the language of The Leader in Me visible to students. She looks forward to potentially empowering her students through the district's newly adopted philosophy.
"I think anything we can do to empower kids makes them more active participants in their learning," Rudd said. "We know that the more ownership they have in something, the more willing they are to try it when it's harder and challenging, and I think The Leader in Me is designed to help kids see 'you have so many great things about you, and we want to see them.'"
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