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Middletown Life

Bringing out the leader in everyone

Aug 31, 2017 03:15PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Last year, a second-grade student at the Silver Lake Elementary School was invited to apply to be a speaker at a school program for Wreaths Across America, a nationwide foundation dedicated to commemorate our country's fallen war heroes by laying wreaths on their final resting places.

Although she is the daughter of a veteran, there was some irony in the young girl being chosen to speak before a standing-room only audience that included students, parents and war veterans. She was shy, barely spoke up in class, and had never volunteered for any public speaking opportunity. Over the next few weeks, in preparation for her presentation, she worked with her teacher to write, edit and practice her speech, and on the day of the event, she stepped to the podium and spoke in a voice that was as clear in its delivery as her words were in their content.

After she left the podium, she told others gathered near her, "I have conqured one of my fears. Now I know I can do it."

In 2009, Silver Lake Elementary School Principal Cynthia Clay attended an educational conference. While there, she met an educator from Minnesota, who introduced her to The Leader in Me, an educational leadership concept for schools that increases engagement and enables students, staff, and families to be self-confident and self-reliant, work effectively with others and make meaningful contributions.

Clay purchased the book at the conference and read it on the flight home, and somewhere high over the United States, she began to have an idea that would dramatically change the course of how Silver Lake Elementary School would operate.

"Our school is part of the Positive Behavior Support District, and we followed the routines of the program, one of which was rewarding kids for doing the right thing," Clay said. "We began to find that our kids were doing things to get trinkets, not because it was the right thing to do, but because they just wanted the trinkets we handed out.

"There was no consistent language and understanding for what should be recognized in order to hand out trinkets, and as a staff, we knew that we wanted to do something different, because in real life, you don't always get a reward for doing the right thing."

Bringing The Leader in Me to Silver Lake Elementary School began with an inside-out approach, to engage the energy of the school's teachers and staff first. The school's leadership team each received a copy of "The 7 Habits of Happy Kids," and through a grant from the I Am a Leader Foundation, the school staff received training in the 7 Habits concept. Over time, The Leader in Me began to trickle down to the school's students, and has in the last six years become a paradigm for how the school functions.

"We began independently to implement and use the language over the course of a year, and when we incorporated the concept to our students, we found that no one missed the trinkets. No one asked us, 'Do I get a prize?'" Clay said.

What evolved slowly has become merely a way of doing things, Clay said.

"The Leader in Me is not a program, but a process," she added. "It's a journey. It allows for deeper undestanding of the paradigm of leadership, and it's about making it your own. Every Leader in Me school will approach the concept in their own unique way, but here, it's become a reflection of the personality of our school. It's what we embody as important, and it allows for someone else to live the same habits and manifest those habits in another way."

Based on the New York Times best-selling children’s book "The 7 Habits of Happy Kids," written by Sean Covey and illustrated by artist Stacy Curtis, Leader in Me is now in 2,500 public, private, charter, and magnet schools across 35 countries. Locally, Silver Lake Elementary School joins Cedar Lane Elementary School in Middletown and Old State Elementary School in Townsend as Leader in Me schools.

The Leader in Me utilizes and integrates several leadership, social-emotional learning, quality, and educational models and processes from past and current thought leaders including The Four Imperatives of Great Leaders and The Four Disciplines of Execution. The process includes student participation in goal setting, data tracking, leadership roles, student-led conferences, leadership environments, and leadership events.

At Silver Lake Elementary School, the Leader in Me concept isn't just a set of rules, but a chance to apply leadership skills every day. Students have responsibilities in ther classrooms as well as school-wide leadership opportunities. They meet and greet guests. They conduct tours of the school. They organize, host and participate in community events, such as Wreaths Across America. Recently, they prepared and hosted a breakfast for the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce. They have also organized their own fundraisers to fight childhood poverty.

The Leader in Me includes training on establishing a vision for the school, goal setting, data tracking, and personal-accountability systems and is aligned with best-in-class content and concepts practiced by global education thought leaders.

"We firmly believe that everyone is a leader," said Vice Principal Kristi Boyd. "Sometimes you might need some help in discovering that, but it's a united effort to empower and let teachers find the leaders within themselves, which then transcends to the kids. Everyone has greatness in them, and we want to give them the opportunities to share that. We're all talented, so it's finding the right opportunity to let every child an adult unleash what's within them."

Based on secular principles and practices of personal, interpersonal, and organizational effectiveness, the Leader in Me starts from the premise that every child possesses unique strengths and has the ability to be a leader. The process integrates leadership development into existing programs, curricula and traditions and serves as a foundational operating system for the school, improving relationships, transforming culture, and highly motivating staff and students.

"If students are given the chance to hone those skills at this young age, they're going to have the tools to move them in a direction, which leads to self-sufficiency and leadership," Clay said.

The Leader in Me differs from other whole-school transformation processes in that it offers a holistic, schoolwide experience for staff, students, and parents, and creates a common language and culture within the school. The leadership principles and lessons are not taught as a curriculum, but instead are incorporated into coursework, traditions, systems and culture.

While The Leader in Me is not designed specifically as an academic-improvement process, many schools have reported improvement in school culture, goal setting, and data-tracking processes, which help create the conditions that are likely to lead to academic improvements. Among other things, The Leader in Me improves school culture, learning climate, students’ social-emotional skills, student engagement, goal-setting skills, and students’ ownership over their own education. Educational literature demonstrates that schools with learning climates with reduced discipline problems, bullying, and disengagement are in a better position to improve academic success.

"The Leader in Me process is becoming everything on which everyone is operating," Boyd said. "You see it on the staff, you see it in the children, and we hear from parents say, 'We hear this language at home, and our kids are resolving problems between each other.'

"It's great to see that the language has become a part of who the kids are. When you truly live it, it reaches beyond which you imagined."

For more information about The Leader in Me, visit To find out more about how The Leader in Me is working at Silver Lake Elementary School, visit

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email


The 7 Habits of Happy Kids

Habit 1: Be proactive.

I am a responsible person. I take inititiative. I choose my actions, attitudes and moods. I do not blame others for my wrong actions. I do the right things without being asked, even when no one is looking.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind.

I plan ahead and set goals. I do things that have meaning and make a difference. I am an importznt part of my classroom, and contribute to my school's mission and vision. I look for ways to be a good citizen.

Habit 3: Put first things first.

I spend my time on things that are most important. This means I say 'No' to things that I know I should not do. I set priorities, make a schedule and follow my plan. I am disciplined and organized.

Habit 4: Think win-win.

I balance courage for getting what I want with consideration for getting what others want. I make deposits in others' emotional bank accounts. When conflicts arise, I look for third alternatives.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

I listen to other people's ideas and feelings. I try to see things from their viewpoints. I listen to others without interrupting. I am confident in voicing my ideas. I look people in their eyes when talking to them.

Habit 6: Synergize.

I value people's strengths and learn from them. I get along well with others, even people who are different from me. I work well in groups. I seek out other people's ideas to solve problems, because better solutions are created through teammwork. I am humble.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw.

I take care of my body by eating right, exercising and getting sleep. I spend time with my family and friends. I learn in lots of ways and lots of places, not just in school. I take time to find meaningful ways to help others.

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