The school is a year into its “The Leader in Me” experience, which is a way for teachers and staff to teach character education during every aspect of learning. The program is not another curriculum requirement for teachers; rather, principal Steve Rowe said it is an approach to life that is integrated into existing lessons.
“To get children to think before they act is the primary focus,” Rowe said. “Every kid is going to lead in some way — either a positive or negative way. Our goal is to teach them to lead in a positive way.”
The program is based on Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” with an adapted version for children by his son, Sean Covey, called “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids.”
The almost 600 students at Curry Elementary are familiar with the catchphrases associated with The Leader in Me, including “begin with the end in mind” and “put first things first.” They even know a song that describes all seven steps of the program.
Rowe said teachers, counselors, librarians, principals and all other staff members all use the language of the program. He said the whole school using a “common language” is a key step to the children picking up the idea behind The Leader in Me.
“It just permeates every aspect of our school culture,” said assistant principal Roy Martin. “Without character, they could become educated prisoners. These are universal, timeless principles that all world-views could see as valuable.”
Rowe said the program has not decreased disciplinary problems yet, but he thinks it could as it becomes more ingrained in the student body.
It has changed his approach, however.
“If nothing else, it’s changed the way I deal with the kids,” Rowe said. “While there will still be consequences, now I try to really understand what caused the behavior.”
First-grade teacher Jennifer Potoka said she can see a change in her students since implementing the program.
“The kids work together better,” Potoka said, due to the “win-win” principal. She said other principals such as “put first things first” and “begin with the end in mind” are helping her students learn to think for themselves and be proactive.
Potoka was among several teachers who visited other schools to see how the program worked for them, including the Decatur city schools.
In Walker County, T.R. Simmons Elementary is also implementing The Leader in Me. Rowe said other area administrators are considering starting it in their schools.
Rowe said the program is expensive for schools. However, Curry Elementary received a federal grant written by the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Institute director at the University of North Alabama.