Students are unleashing their leadership potential

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For a video about Vulcan Prairieview's special evening, please click here.

Students at three Palliser schools are demonstrating leadership skills daily through the Leader in Me program, which embeds “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” into school and classroom culture.

Staff at Arrowwood, Coalhurst Elementary and Vulcan Prairieview Elementary schools embarked on their Leader in Me journeys with staff training in August 2013 and supplementary professional development from representatives of the Covey Institute this year.

The habits, first published 25 years ago, encourage independence, co-operation and continuous improvement through seven simple rules for living and managing relationships with others.

Vulcan Prairieview Elementary staff and students held a celebration with parents Wednesday evening, with student skits and songs about each of the habits. The evening also featured an unveiling of the school’s new vision — “Empowered Minds Building Strong Community” — the result of a collaborative process involving students, staff and parents.

“This is my sixth year here at VPE and I would consider it one of the most special evenings I have been a part of,” Principal Shane Cranston told the crowd of about 150 parents.

“We have been working with kids developing the vocabulary, creating common language throughout school, developing a vision statement, and we arrived at today. . . where we’re celebrating with parents, educating families on how we can support the Seven Habits program at home as well as at school and start to develop the whole community education around Leader in Me.”

At Arrowwood Community School, Principal Jason Neville said students are focusing on a particular habit each month, and students who model the habit well will be recognized at monthly assemblies.

At Coalhurst Elementary School, Vice-Principal Chris Spanos said staff and students in some classes are experimenting with “data notebooks,” in which students establish goals for themselves, academic or otherwise, and track their progress. The school recently created a student job board, and students have been signing up for tasks suited to their interests and schedules.

The program encourages every student to develop as leaders, he said.

Cranston said leadership skills are critical to students today because schools simply can’t predict what particular professional skills will be highly sought in the future. Many of these students will work in jobs that haven’t been invented yet.

“We’re not only thinking about how can we create better citizens, but how can we create a better future for our kids,” Cranston said.

He said he sees daily examples of a new leadership culture at the school. Even kindergarten students talk about finding win-win solutions or goal setting.

Amanda Akitt, a parent and school council member who played a key role in creation of the new VPE vision statement, says her youngest child who doesn’t yet attend school, already knows the words to a Seven Habits song, and her own kids let Mom know when she’s not exercising one of the seven habits.

“It is a self check that, yes, I could be doing this differently,” she says, adding Habit 3, “Put First Things First, Work First, Then Play,” is a popular one around the Akitt household. Her kids clean their room, do their homework or practice piano before heading outside to play.

“To have a habit they can relate to and words I can say that they understand, it helps,” she said.

Vulcan Prairieview student Sydney Carey said the habits have helped her in her relationship with her little sister.

“I treat her with more respect now,” she said. “She can be a leader, too. If you’re treated the wrong way, then you probably will treat other people the wrong way. You have to treat somebody the way you want to be treated.”

Palliser Regional Schools Associate Superintendent (Education Services) Pat Rivard said other elementary schools in the division have expressed interest in participating in the program next year. The Leader in Me program grew as an extension of training Palliser provides staff on the Seven Habits. The program is offered to teachers in the third year of Palliser’s teacher induction program as well as to administrators in the second year of the Administrators’ Induction and Mentorship Program.

In March 2013, Rivard attended a Leader in Me conference and witnessed the positive, caring culture the program created in schools in New York.

“The program is creating young leaders not only in schools, but beyond the school community,” Rivard said.