Implementing The Leader in Me in a Middle School: I.S. 061 Leonardo da Vinci, Corona, New York
Author: Marshall Snedaker
October 28, 2015
The Leader in Me is not a process for only elementary schools. Many middle schools and high schools are piloting and have implemented a version of The Leader in Me process and have seen great success.
I.S. 061 Leonardo da Vinci School in Corona, New York, is in its second year of implementation. Principal Joseph Lisa and two teachers shared their approach to implementing and cultivating The Leader in Me and some of the positive changes they’ve seen in their school.
Antonella Caccioppoli, a teacher at I.S. 061, read The Leader in Me and shared it with principal Joseph Lisa. He was intrigued by the example of a middle school using a life-coach model to introduce the 7 Habits, and that there is flexibility in how to directly implement and teach the leadership principles.
Caccioppoli held voluntary meetings throughout the 2013–2014 school year in which teachers devoted personal time to learn more about The Leader in Me. The school also held a voluntary 7 Habits training over the summer. Here the teachers were able to Sharpen the Saw through professional development and become more aware of what defines the 7 Habits.
This empowered them to move forward with implementation for the new school year.
“We had our roundtable discussion about The Leader in Me book, and before you know it, we had drafts about restating our school’s mission statement,” Caccioppoli said. “We came back in September; the team grew larger and we finalized our new mission statement. This created the first footsteps towards synergy.”
Growing the Team
From that initial group of teachers, they picked the members for the Lighthouse Team. The team started to put together ideas for new roles and goals for the I.S. 061 community.
“What’s great about the book is that everybody took on the project of implementing The Leader in Me differently,” Lisa said. “You can really take ownership of it. We started very small and then grew very big, very fast. For me, I think it exceeded my expectations for what I thought it would be this year.”
Giving Teachers the Choice
Since middle school students have multiple teachers and subjects each day, at I.S. 061 each teacher chose how to implement it into his or her specific subject.
Elizabeth Larsen, a Special Education teacher at I.S. 061, shared how giving teachers the choice and sharing their voice about the process has transferred to empowering students as well.
“Since the teachers now have a sense of empowerment for themselves, the students have also learned to embrace what empowerment means for them, and it’s given them a sense of control over their learning, over their friendships, and over how to deal with each other,” Larsen said. “We have noticed the areas in which the kids are growing.”
When deciding how to implement The Leader in Me at the schoolwide level, Caccioppoli explained how Lisa sent out a survey about the idea of using a life-coach model during an advisory period.
“Teachers volunteered to promote life skills in the advisory period, which was included in the teachers’ schedules,” Caccioppoli said. “Hopefully, we will continue the program until the students graduate, so they’ll have a life coach throughout the three years they are at our school.”
Changing the Environment
At the schoolwide level, they also hold assemblies and have posters and quotes throughout the building to remind students to be leaders.
“Every hallway in the building has some sort of poster, saying, or slogan to remind the students and the adults about leadership,” Larsen said.
“Just walking into the building, you can tell something is happening related to the 7 Habits. There is a constant reminder that this is our culture,” Caccioppoli said.
The team from I.S. 061 said they are learning and adapting as they continue to implement The Leader in Me. They recognize that the process takes time, but as they’ve started to make the change, they’ve already seen positive effects in the school and in their individual approaches to leadership.
“The program has helped me out tremendously. It’s given me the ability to see the other side a little bit better than I used to. I’ve let go of a little bit more of the control, and now things are more student-led,” Larsen said. “I want them to become the leader of their own learning and help each other as well.”
“A lot of times I would react to the negative, and that would put me in a negative state,” Lisa said. “Now I try to always think positive because I’m thinking with the end in mind and how I want something done—not just getting something done, but getting something done right.”
“We’re trying to learn a little bit more about who we are. I think we’re all changing a little bit. We’re finding our voice all over again; I know I am,” Caccioppoli said. “We’re not here just to teach students reading, writing, and arithmetic. We want to inspire them to become well-rounded individuals. If I don’t do this in my career now, I don’t think it’s going to matter if they got a 3 or 4 or 90 or 100 percent on their tests; I would not have done the best I could have done as an educator.”
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Tags: leadership culture, middle school, professional development, staff engagement, teacher training, The Leader in Me, whole-child education