Captain Strong's Leadership Program Increases Classroom Learning

October 16, 2014 BGPS Web

Captain Strong's Leadership Program Increases Classroom Learning

October 15, 2014

At Captain Strong Primary School, kids speak the language of leaders. Words like proactive and synergize are embedded in their vocabulary, as are phrases such as "Begin with the end in mind," and "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." At Battle Ground’s Captain Strong Primary, it isn't odd to see one student whisper encouragement to another or ask if a decision is the best one to make in a given situation.

"We're trying to create student leaders out of every single individual in this building," said Michael Michaud, Captain Strong's principal. For the last five years, the students at the primary school have been mentored in the educational version of a best-selling self-help book that identifies seven habits of effective people. The leadership training program, called "The Leader in Me," is based on the seven habits, but is aimed at instilling them in students' lives with explanations that bring the life skills program to their level. Staff, teachers, and students receive regular training on the philosophy, and the program's benefits have been evident among students in the school's performance growth scores.

The Leader in Me program works hand in hand with Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) at Captain Strong to meet students' social, emotional and behavioral needs. PBIS is a set of practices that models for students what is expected of them. PBIS practices show kids what appropriate behavior is, model that behavior, and then recognize students who demonstrate appropriate behaviors with positive rewards. At Captain, for example, students receive tiny, brightly colored plastic school mascot paws that they save in glass jars and then turn in the full jars for school spirit days and an end-of-year school carnival. Students earn the trinkets by following the LEAD expectations: Learn responsibility, Exhibit respect, Always be safe, and Do your best.

From the time their parents wish them their first nice day as kindergartners, students at Captain Strong are taught the blended programs of behavioral expectations and what it takes to be a leader. The Leader in Me is designed to  equip students with the self-confidence and skills they need to thrive after high school, in business careers or as community volunteers. Students receive an in-depth introduction to the seven habits at the beginning of the year, followed by weekly reinforcement in the way of 30-minute leadership lessons with specialist teachers.

First graders know what it means to be proactive. Michaud recounts little moments that confirm the practice is sinking in. One such moment required gentle affirmation when a seemingly exhausted first grader asked teacher Lucinda Smith whether he had to follow the habits at home, too. Captain Strong teachers encourage students to practice the seven habits in all aspects of their lives, not just in their education.

On the playground, students are asked if the outcome of their actions resulted in a win-win situation. Many occasions have occurred when Michaud has served as a facilitator in recess discussions about who took whose ball and who should be allowed to have the next turn at an activity.

New teachers at Captain Strong are introduced to the leadership program through books and on-site training. This year, a group of Captain Strong teachers spent the recent State Inservice Day in the classroom, learning about the Habits and how they are translated to students in The Leader in Me. After an introduction, staff training continues with books, seminars, and peer groups that show teachers how to incorporate the leadership traits into other lessons. Teachers might discuss a character in a book, for example, for being responsible, demonstrating teamwork, or solving a problem--all traits of a leader.

"That's the most effective way to teach it," said Kristen McIntyre, Captain Strong's school psychologist. "It isn't an additional thing that kids learn. It's a part of who we are." The school also has copies of The Leader in Me books for parents to check out.

This year's fourth graders are well-versed in the principles. They have been schooled in The Leader in Me qualities and PBIS expectations since they first stepped foot on campus as kindergartners. This time and effort that teachers have spent teaching students about leadership principles and behavioral expectations have greatly benefited Captain Strong students. 

Captain Strong teachers have enjoyed a dramatic decrease in behavioral distractions in the classroom, giving them more time to spend on lessons. Teachers give fewer referrals to students. Students are more confident. "Ultimately it isn't about us managing kids, it's about kids managing themselves," said Jennifer Kerr, Captain Strong's assistant principal.

Last year, Captain received a Washington State Achievement Award for high growth, which means the school's students have learned at a faster rate than others based on state test results.

Captain adopted the program after Michaud, who was the assistant principal at the time, received the book The Leader in Me as a Christmas gift and shared his enthusiasm for it with then principal Cindy Arnold. Arnold provided books to Captain Strong's staff, and The Leader in Me became a school-wide book study. Staff saw how well The Leader in Me's life skills philosophy meshed with the PBIS expectations, the the two programs blended into what has become a successful model that is ubiquitous in classroom curriculums, during recess and lunch time and at school events.

Michaud and his staff are so enthusiastic about the program and the positive impacts it has had on Captain Strong that they are beginning a three-year journey to become a Lighthouse School. There are 101 such recognized schools around the world that demonstrate advanced implementation of The Leader in Me program throughout their curriculum, culture and traditions.

"This is who we are and what we want our kids to be," Michaud said. "It's teaching kids what we expect of them in all parts of their education."

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