By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — One year after Johnathan Kent kicked his principal and school "went all bad," the 8-year-old was recognized at a recent assembly as the "Star of the Month" for being polite and helping out his teachers.
The third-grader's explanation for the turnaround: "I'm not doing what I did last year."
But Emily Cross, the principal of Indian Trails Elementary on the outskirts of Kansas City, Mo., is giving some credit to a program the school began using last year that is built around the late self-help guru Stephen Covey's best-selling "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." A 25th anniversary edition of the 1989 book will be released in November.
The nearly 1,500 mostly elementary schools using the program — called "The Leader in Me" — teach principles from the book, including "think win-win," ''seek first to understand, then to be understood" and "synergize." Teachers, for example, might ask students how historical figures like George Washington might have used them.
And if a student gets into trouble, teachers and principals ask what habit could have helped him or her avoid the scrape.
When Johnathan's principal asked the boy what habit led to his turnaround, he quickly responded, "Do first things first." He said he didn't finish his work last year.
Students typically are assigned leadership roles that range from class greeter to fish-tank cleaner. They also keep a leadership notebook in which they chart growth in an academic area. The notebooks also track a personal goal, such as the time spent learning to tie their shoes. Cross said the tracking is a big motivator for Johnathan.
"He sees that when I'm in class putting first things first, my dot on my graph is going up, and he's proud," Cross said. "He's very confident now, and he wasn't last year."
The Leader in Me, which has started branching out into preschools and middle schools, is one of "literally dozens" of programs seeking to improve the school climate, said Paul Baumann, director of the National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan group that researches education policy. He said most of the programs are run by nonprofits. The cost of the Leader in Me was "pretty high" in comparison, he said.
For a 400-student school, adopting the Leader in Me program would cost between $45,000 and $60,000 over the first three years.