Cobb school uses ‘7 Habits’ in bid to build culture

Metro schools using ‘The Leader in Me’

Cobb County:

Addison Elementary

Bells Ferry Elementary

Eastvalley Elementary

Fair Oaks Elementary

Pickett’s Mill Elementary

Smyrna Elementary

Atlanta Public Schools:

D. H. Stanton Elementary

Fulton County Schools:

Shakerag Elementary

Fayette County Schools:

Spring Hill Elementary

The staff at Cobb’s Eastvalley Elementary School decided last year to build a bully-free learning environment where students would take charge of their own education.

To do so, they’d use a group of A-list celebrities and the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” a bestselling book that Fortune 500 CEOs have used to boost profits.

So during a recent assembly, Beauty, who starred in Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and super hero Violet, from the Incredibles, waltzed down a red carpet to the gasps and cheers of hundreds of kindergartners and first graders.

As the “paparazzi” took their pictures, the stars each introduced a habit and spoke of how it has affected their lives.

“I always begin with the end in mind,” Snow White told the students, repeating one of the “7 Habits” from Stephen Covey’s book on leadership.

Eastvalley is one of nine schools in metro Atlanta that are taking the book’s lessons from board room to classroom.

The program is known as “The Leader in Me” — the title of a later book by Covey that focused on childhood education. It is part of a growing movement of school leaders focusing on building a school culture that will boost students’ civic and organizational skills and, ultimately, their test scores.

It’s shown to be a strategy that works, said Jonathan Cohen, president of the National School Climate Center.

“There’s been a mushrooming amount of research that says an effective school climate reduces school violence, bullying, dramatically helps in engaging kids and contributes to teachers being more happy,” Cohen said.

It’s important that a school community decides together what its vision and reality is, Cohen said.

After several community meetings, Eastvalley parents, staff members and students chose to focus on leadership.

“What we’re hoping to get out of this is better citizens within our schools,” said Karen Wacker, the school’s principal. “When children begin to take care of their own issues, that frees the teacher up to teach which leads to higher student achievement.”

“The Leader In Me” approach, based on Covey’s “The Leader in Me — How Schools and Parents Around the World are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time,” was first used at A.B. Combs Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C. The school’s principal effectively used the book to help turnaround low test scores and morale.

The program was soon replicated at hundreds of other schools around the country.

Wacker said Eastvalley used a $51,000 grant offered by the program’s administrators and spent around $10,000 of its own money to put the entire school staff through leadership training last year. After reading the book, the school’s staff had several discussions about the school’s vision.

Staff members then spent several days this summer giving the school a makeover. They painted the seven habits and quotes from famous leaders on the school’s walls and defined for themselves what leadership means to them.

Soon after school began, students learned hand signs and a song to remember the habits. They focus on one of the seven habits each week: Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, Put First Things First, Think Win-Win, Synergize, Sharpen the Saw and, finally, Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.

During a recent class at Eastvalley, students read a book and evaluated how the main character effectively or ineffectively tackled his problems.

Students then told of how they resolved their problems.

Tommy O’Brien, 10, said it depends.

“I count to 10 or maybe 100,” he said, “depending on how mad I am.”