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Orion Oaks finds a leader in me

September 04, 2013 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

Orion Oaks elementary will be a new launching point for leaders.

Beginning the first day of school, The Leader in Me transformation model will be enacted in every classroom, in the halls and on the playground.

It is based on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleŽ, a book written by Stephen R. Covey, to aid in self-empowerment through a positive and productive outlook.

Using this system, seven habits will be woven into daily school sessions for academic achievement, fewer behavior problems, and increased engagement for students, teachers and parents according to the website.

The seven habits are taken from Covey's book, but reshaped for the student world.

Some habits are "sharpen the saw," which means focus on yourself, "synergize," meaning work together, "seek first to understand then to be understood," "think win-win" and "begin with the end in mind."

"We'll be teaching the habits independently of each other, and then it becomes just a culture that we talk about," said Wendy Tait, Lower EL teacher of Orion Oaks. Tait was part of neighborhood D within the school that piloted the Leader in Me last year.

"As we read books the kids will say, 'hey they're being proactive in this book', or boy, they didn't seek first to understand. We start doing that all day every day so if there's a problem on the playground we'll say, 'hey, let's seek first to understand what really happened,'" she said.

Teachers of Orion Oaks were trained over the summer on their own time. They gathered last Wednesday, August 28 for the official ribbon cutting in front of the school.

For most schools it is a three-year process, the first year being implementation year, the second year applying the tools, and the third year gaining Lighthouse status while maximizing the results.

"Next year people can visit us to see what leadership is all about, and that helps us teach our leadership to others as well," Tait said. "At the end of the third year we are a Lighthouse school and a leadership school that other people come to visit."

She said the idea is to produce leaders because every child is a leader in his or her own creative way.

"I think social skills are just not as easily taught anymore because people are so fragmented and segmented and on their I-pods and everything else. Kids aren't running the neighborhoods like they used to," Tait continued.

The idea started with a parent at Orion Oaks who also happens to be the principal of Beaumont Elementary in Waterford that has taken on the Leader in Me model.

Orion Oaks teachers visited the school, and the process caught "like wildfire."

Orion Oaks is divided into four "neighborhoods," but because of the layout of the school, Upper EL teacher Teresa West said it was hard to unite everyone.

"We wanted to wait to bring the staff together, we wanted common language, we wanted common rules and expectations," she said.

She said you could see the difference in the eyes of the kids.

"The biggest thing is the ownership in the kids. When you walk in, you're greeted by kids. They look you in your ey. They speak in complete sentences. They can explain what they're learning in class," she explained. "When we were there the kids where in charge."

While piloting the system last year at Orion Oaks, a slogan was made, teachers and students developed a mission. The seven habits were taught and enforced all year.

The Orion Oaks family network donated $11,300 for the program cost, which is still being paid off through fundraising and other sponsors.

"Our teachers were 100 percent in favor of this application and procedure, and I thought that once they brought it to me it was the best thing to do for our school," said Amy McCaffery, president/facilitator of the Orion Oaks Family Network.

All of the teachers agreed that Stephen Covey's book has changed their personal lives, and that the journey should begin as a child.

"I think as a community it brought us closer together and made the kids kind of care more about things," said Amy Bohm, Upper EL teacher.

"We talk to the kids more about their learning and put it in even more adult terms even, and they love it. It lets them know each where they are as a learner, and where they need to go. They take responsibility for it, and it motivates them," she said, "hopefully inspiring others to do the same thing."

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