Finding the Leader in Me

Finding the Leader in Me

by Susan Neuhalfen

Teaching curriculum and basic testing is common in all schools. What many schools don’t teach is leadership and life skills, especially at an elementary school level. Lake Dallas ISD is one of a select group of districts in the country that has taken on that very task. They implemented The Leader in Me program and have grown it to include all three elementary schools and now, as the students have grown older, they are bringing the program into the middle and high school as well.

The Leader in Me is an initiative started by a principal in Raleigh. In an attempt to turn her school around, she identified that leadership and life skills were lacking among her students. She approached Franklin Covey to help her design a leadership model for her school, based on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. She has since shared this program all over the country.

Karen Dower facilitates The Leader in Me program for LDISD.  Children must apply and then are selected in the 5th grade to be part of this prestigious program, but LDISD ensures that elements of the program are part of every student’s experience.

“All of the students in the elementary schools are getting The Leader in Me content as we have integrated it into everyday school life,” said Dower who said the program has become a foundational piece for LDISD. “The fifth graders in The Leader in Me class have specialized activities designed to teach leadership.”

The Leader in Me is for students who want to get extra leadership training. In the class they talk about each of the seven habits in depth. For example, the third habit is planning. They are taught how to plan daily and weekly activities.

They are also given situational problems and asked how they would handle certain issues from a leadership standpoint. As they begin to approach the situation, Dower has them think through the scenarios that could possibly occur. This is real life stuff and very difficult for many adults, much less 5th graders.

Dower’s personal favorite is teaching Habit 5, which is seek first to understand and then to be understood. The students practice by first listening and understanding their fellow student before making their own opinions known. Dower pointed out that despite their many means of social media there is a real loss of communication in this generation.

“One of the things that students don’t realizes is how hard it is to listen,” said Dower. “In this technology driven age, the most valuable thing we can teach our young people is to be really great listeners.”

Their first Leader in Me group is now in 8th grade and many have gone on to be student council leaders.

“I have watched several children who have started out quiet in a group of students they didn’t know,” said Dower. “By the end of 5th grade year, they were strong leaders in group activities.”

Most importantly, Dower says, they’ve watched the kids become leaders on the campus. They are taught that leadership is a privilege and not something to be taken lightly.

“We teach children that everyone can become leaders and I’ve seen some blossom into phenomenal leaders,” said Dower. “I think it’s the very best thing we can teach kids now.”

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