For the past three years students at the Ardena School have been learning about the Leader in Me program. Last year, the program was extended to Taunton School and last week both schools got a visit from one of the authors of the books that have become an integral part of their daily lives.
Sean Covey, author of "The 7 Habits of Happy Kids," and the son of Stephen R. Covey, author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," visited the schools having built all the energy and electricity of an 'A' list celebrity.
Covey said when his father started building the habits it was being applied to the boardrooms of big businesses rather than the classrooms of schools around the world. "His life's work was studying what makes people effective and teams and organizations effective," he said. "My idea has been to translate those ideas to teenagers, kids and schools."
The first school to use the ideas was A.B. Combs Elementary School in Raleigh, NC. "The principal got this brilliant idea after listening to the seven habits that she was going to build her school around leadership and the seven habits,"
Covey said of a school that was failing at the time. "She kind of figured out how to make the habits come alive in a ubiquitous fashion. Our bet was that this could be replicated."
The bet seems to have paid off as the two Howell schools are among 700 worldwide that have implemented the seven habits in less than three years. Covey said that while the habits are new, they are needed going into the 21st century. "The jobs these kids will have don't even exist right now," he said.
He said their education will be about a lot more than lessons in a book. "In addition to the core subjects of reading, writing and math they've got to learn personal skills, they've got to learn how to take initiative, they've got to learn how to set goals, they've got to learn how to work with people, resolve conflicts and be creative."
Ardena School Principal Deborah Pennell said it is the way the seven habits works with the lessons that makes it successful for the students. "This isn't something on top of what we're already doing," she said. "This is something that's woven through everything we already do." Whether it is looking at how characters in a story are using the habits, or applying the lessons to social studies classes, Pennell said it all comes together.
At Taunton, they only started to implement the seven habits at the end of last year but Principal Diana Rochon said she was glad to have Covey in the school to show how much they have done so far. "For him to actually walk around and interface with the students and talk about the book and share it just supported what we feel is just wonderful about the program," she said.
With the goal being to develop 21st century leaders, Covey said even the term leader needs to be looked at differently. "We don't say a leader is only a CEO," he said. "Everyone can lead in your own life, among your family and among your friends."
Bringing such new ideas to the classroom, Covey said the ideas have been widely accepted by those teachers and administrators who have learned about it. "The biggest issue is getting the word out," he said. "This is pretty new and young. But we find that if you have a principal that wants to do it and is hungry like Deborah, it goes."
Looking at Ardena, Covey said the work so far has not only been a success, but also inspired him to bring some of their ideas to the other schools across the globe. That includes making the parents an active part of the learning process so the students can take what they learn at school and apply that to their home life. "If it's a program where Tuesdays at two o'clock we're going to talk about the habit of the month, it's not going to work," he said. "Its got to be reinforced, on the bus, in the hallway, at home and it has to be modeled by the teachers and then suddenly that's just the way things are."
Pennell said having the author walk through the halls was exciting for not only her and the staff and administration, but also the students. "We've been adopting this for three years to have the author of the book here to celebrate our success was just the cherry on top of the sundae after a week of hard work," she said. "It's a nice feeling that your hard work is being recognized and acknowledged."