Arcadia Unified School District Talks Leader in Me

Author: Carla Wright
February 21, 2018

Gary McGuey of Leader in Me sits down with Ryan Foran

Arcadia Unified talks Leader in Me with Gary McGuey

Arcadia Unified School District Presents Digital Education Station: Leader in Me

This video was produced by Arcadia USD, Digital Education Station and used with their express permission. The “Digital Education Station” is a digital web series, or vlog, hosted by the Arcadia Unified School District to help communicate and explain different educational topics of interest within the Arcadia Unified School District. Launched in January of 2017, the Digital Education Station is hosted by Chief Communications Officer Ryan Foran. 

Ryan Foran: So at Arcadia Unified, for years we have had great character programs, especially in our elementary and middle schools to help kids with respect, responsibility, learning how to be a better classmate, and just a better all person and leader. Recently, we went to Leader in Me last year throughout all of our schools so we can have the same program and be united with that same program throughout elementary and middle school. Some of the schools are using different programs, same point, but everyone was really impressed with Leader in Me seeing results in the students and their leadership. So, what is Leader in Me and this model you guys use?

Gary McGuey: Thanks for the opportunity. I think the one thing right off the bat is we want to think of Leader in Me as a process and not a program. I think most educators have been introduced to programs in their careers and this is a little different. This is a process that starts with every adult in the building— and we like to take all the adults through the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® content, which 90 percent of Forbes 100 companies train their employees in the 7 Habits. So, what are the 7 Habits? It’s basically principle-centered leadership. Words like responsibility, integrity, respect. We take the adults through this content and then the goal is for the adults to take this back to the classrooms and model and teach the students the same life-long principles. We really want to challenge students to take on more leadership roles within the classroom. A great question that we love to challenge our teachers with is, “what are we presently doing in the classrooms that we could be turning over to the students?” It creates good discussion. So, every student will have a classroom leadership role and school-wide leadership roles— leadership Events. It is more student led. Bottom line, it’s giving students a voice and it’s empowering students and then they start taking it home. What’s going to happen, parents, is some of your sons or daughters are going to say, “Hey mom, you’re not being very proactive today” or ” you’re not thinking win-win”. So, we are continually educating the parents, so we really appreciate this opportunity.

Foran: So, our staff is currently being trained in this. We put a lot of resources and time so they have all the knowledge of this. So, before we get into the specifics of this leadership process, not a program, what does the training look like for our staff and how do you work with them to get them up to speed?

McGuey: That’s a great question. We take them through a two-day experience of the 7 Habits and what’s very interesting is we ask them to forget about their students right now and take this as personal development, because all of these educators have other roles in their lives, so they really start to reflect on themselves. So, this isn’t something just for school, this is for life. It really gets them thinking about their role as a parent, their role as a spouse or significant other, as a family member. So, it really gets them thinking, they have these emotional connections with each other— it’s great team building. And then we spend a day with them, how do we implement this in our classrooms? So, this process, we call it a “crock-pot”, not a microwave— and that helps. Teachers like to hear that. It’s not a race. It’s not a destination. It’s a journey. And it’s going to look different at each school. It’s not a cookie cutter. It’s inside out. So, me first, then the staff, then the students, and then the families and the communities. It’s that crock-pot ripple effect.

Foran: So once the teachers and staff, they get trained, so what are the specifics they are bringing back to the students in the classroom?

McGuey: We asked them, how do we teach these leadership principles to the students? And there’s really three ways. We call the first one, “Direct Teach” where they actually have on this website called there is [sic] these lesson plans online and they can teach the students the 7 Habits. We suggest a habit a week for seven weeks to give them a common language. Step 2, we call the “integrated approach” where we naturally infuse this language of leadership into what we are already doing and never overuse the language or use it negatively—but just to bring this language of leadership organically into the classroom. And then, most importantly, modeling. Am I modeling these principles? Am I modeling responsibility? Am I modeling accountability? Cause, the only person we change is ourselves— can’t change anyone else. So, by modeling, I think it was Albert Schweitzer that said, “modeling is not the main means, it’s the only means of influence to others.” So, this is very much inside out. Life is inside out.

Foran: So how much time are the teachers and students spending on talking about this, working through it, in the classroom? What does that look like on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis?

McGuey: Ok, so really, it’s not like, “ok put away your math, let’s bring out Leader in Me”. That’s not what this is. So, the Direct Teach, that might be 15 minutes, once a week, early on in the year so they get the language. Now, we’re just naturally infusing this language. It’s not like we need to block out time for it. Each classroom will have their own classroom mission statements. Class rules is [sic] old school leadership. You know? Rules without relationships breeds rebellion. So, we want to involve students in establishing their classroom mission statements. We want every student to have a classroom leadership role which changes monthly. We just want to give students a voice. And a leadership role isn’t like a classroom job. A leadership role is more empowering. And when students start coming up saying, “Hey Ryan, I think we need a leadership role for this or a leadership role for this”, then that’s when the magic starts happening— and students start feeling good about themselves.

Foran: I like how you put that because it’s for the parents out there that are wondering, like the difference from when you and I were in a class and maybe when mom and dad were in a class and so you touched on it maybe a little bit more, how it looks different, this process, leadership process, as opposed to when we were sitting in rows and desks way back when, when we were in school. What are some of the other differences?

McGuey: We need to stop thinking rules and rows and start thinking mission and movement. I think that’s really what we are getting after here. You know, it’s not my classroom, it’s our classroom. We want students to feel like they own the classroom not like they are renting the classroom.

Foran: So what [sic] impact? So, I’m a student and I went through this, I learned everything, I know the 7 Habits, I’m practicing with my teacher, my classmates. What impact does that have on me?

McGuey: What are we hoping to achieve by bringing this in? Right?

Foran: Exactly.

McGuey: That’s the bottom line.

Foran: Right. 

McGuey: So, the first year we really get into social and emotional learning (SEL) piece, creating this culture. When you walk into your school, what do you see? What do you feel? You know? We’ve been in a lot of schools over the years, right? And when you walk into some schools it feels like you’ve walked into the DMV. Or a hospital. Right? When you walk in, it should feel like leadership. And then next year, we’re going to get into this piece around leadership notebooks. Where students are going to be tracking their goals. They are going to be tracking their various progress, how they are doing— which will set up student-led conferences. So, year one we talk about how do we teach leadership principles to students? How do we create this culture, you know people feel valued and then we get into talking about leadership notebooks and goal setting which impacts academics. Right? And it’s not like a three-year “program” and then we are done. This is just life. And we want to keep growing with this. I was sharing with your superintendent that many high schools around the country are seeing this for workforce development. Because we are hiring these kids or they are going to colleges… and even colleges are saying, “Boy it’s great. Here’s what they [students] have around leadership on their applications.” Cause that’s more and more around leadership then it’s helping them get into these colleges. Or for students that chose a specific career path they are teaching these workforce development skills, these competencies.

Foran: A big concern, as you know Gary, nationally and everywhere for parents or administrators is on-campus bullying. It’s an issue that has persisted for years and it seems like it’s here and people are always talking about it: “what can we do”, “I’m a parent, what can I do”, “what is my school doing”? How does this model, this leadership model, impact bullying? Does it reduce bullying? What effects does it have?

McGuey: Another great question. It’s tragic what’s going on. So, this is all principle-centered leadership.  And how does this impact the bullying issues? This is a pro-active approach to dealing with bullying issues. If we were to look at one habit, Habit 4 is to think “win-win”. And over the years, I’ve done a multitude of workshops with high-school students. And typically, the people that exhibit the bullying behaviors — you should never label them as bullies— the people that exhibit the bullying behaviors typically work from the win-lose paradigm. And who they typically pick on are the people who come from a lose-win. We call them the doormat. Walk all over me. Wipe your feet on me. So, we can start teaching students more about being principle-centered, like Habit 4 being courageous and considerate of others, being kind, these are words we have heard all the time but being more deliberate with this. It’s definitely going to minimize or reduce these bullying issues whether it’s cyber-bullying or physical bullying as opposed to “walk down a different hallway or go talk to an adult”. This is a deeper way of looking at it.

Foran: How have you seen our teachers or students respond to Leader in Me so far?

McGuey: Here’s the interesting piece— and I’ve been doing this for 19 years— students, I’ll say this right now parents, students are never the issue. Students get it. It’s ME as an adult, how am I doing in modeling these principles? What’s exciting is every school we have worked with— unbelievable leadership, the administrators are fantastic, the staff is fantastic, so this is going to be the recipe for greatness. What do we typically see right off the bat with this piece here? Office referrals go down, attendance goes up, students are more excited, the staff is more excited. This really reconnects a lot of staff members to why they chose this profession. And I love asking this question around mission— do our behaviors match our mission? And that gets people thinking, right? If so, why am I talking to this student that way? Is that part of my mission? Why am I talking to my own daughter that way?

Foran: So, if I’m a parent, and I want to know what my student is going through, what Leader in Me is, what can I do? What can I read? What website can I go to so I’m speaking the same language?       

McGuey: So, if you go to  you can look under the parent piece there — and we really do want the families being involved in this because if you think about it, students are at home 67% of the time. And hopefully, we can help model these principles that will help design a family mission statement. There’s a great activity, right?

Foran: Yeah.

McGuey: You never thought about that. Cause that’s the most important organization is their families. I think it is wise to ask your sons or daughters, “tell me about your leadership role”, “tell me which habit you are working on right now”. And give them a chance. The best way to learn something is to have these brain retrievals and let them talk about. So, I think that’s a great way to help support it. We share this with the teachers, and I’ll share this with you parents, never use the language negatively. For example, “excuse me, young man, you’re not being very proactive today are you?” So, if you go negative, your sons and daughters will become allergic to the habits.

Foran: Very good tip. Anything else we should know about the leadership model and the Leader in Me that you want to touch on?

McGuey: Well I think just in summarizing, crock-pot not microwave is huge. Process not program is huge. And light is inside-out; it means that it starts with me first. So, modeling is the key to life.


About Arcadia Unified School District

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The Arcadia Unified School District is a nationally renowned public school district that proudly educates nearly 10,000 students throughout 11 award-winning schools. Nestled in the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, all schools are located in Arcadia, California. Business Week named Arcadia as the “best place to raise your kids” in the entire state of California on two separate occasions.


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