Communication Builds Our Community

Polk Avenue Developing Students into Confident, Effective Leaders

Reading, writing, math and other academic subjects are important, but Principal Gail Quam wants to make sure students also leave Polk Avenue Elementary with leadership skills. That's why the school for 10 years has been participating in the Leader in Me program, patterned after Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Polk Avenue is a Leader in Me Lighthouse School, incorporating a schoolwide process that develops staff and students as leaders, transforming the culture and performance of the school.

"It has made a HUGE impact on our school," Quam said. "It really comes down to the way we think about our students and what we expect from them."

The school showcased the program and its students on Leadership Day Nov. 14, with Pre-K children reciting the Seven Habits, a Thanksgiving presentation by the kindergarten classes, chorus performance and school tours conducted by fourth and fifth grade leaders.

Dressed in sharp navy blazers with red ties, students escorted business and community leaders around the school, showing off the butterfly garden, sand pit with rocks painted with words, the library and several classrooms. Students in the library shared their leadership notebooks and talked about the program. Students also described some of the teams they can participate in, which included coloring, archery, sports, and other activities. Part of the program involves students speak to various audiences to build poise and confidence.

The Seven Habits as they apply to elementary students include: Habit 1 – Be Proactive – You're in Charge; Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind – Have Fun; Habit 3 – Put First Things First – Work First, then Play; Habit 4 – Think Win-Win – Everyone Can Win; Habit 5 – Seek First to Understand, then be Understood – Listen Before You Talk; Habit 6 – Synergize – Together is Better; and Habit 7 – Sharpen the Saw – Balance Feels Best - and Remember to Take Care of Yourself.

"The Leader in Me is an innovative, schoolwide model that emphasizes a culture of student empowerment and helps unleash each child's full potential," according to program materials.

Polk Avenue has a challenging student population, with the vast majority of its 500 students from low income families. Nearly three-fourths are minority and about one-third come from homes where English is not their primary language.

"At Polk Avenue we believe that leadership is the right of ALL students, not a privilege for a few," Quam said.

Polk Avenue is one of about 300 schools worldwide to earn the Lighthouse school certification. The school had to meet the following criteria:

- The principal, school administration and staff engage in ongoing learning and develop as leaders, while championing leadership for the school.

- Leadership principles are effectively taught to all students through direct lessons, integrated approaches, and staff modeling. Students are able to think critically about and apply leadership principles.

- Families and the school partner together in learning about the 7 Habits and leadership principles through effective communication and mutual respect.

- The school community is able to see leadership in the physical environment, hear leadership through the common language of the 7 Habits, and feel leadership through a culture of caring, relationships, and affirmation.

- Leadership is shared with students through a variety of leadership roles and student voice leads to innovations within the school.

- Schoolwide, classroom, family and community leadership events provide authentic environments to celebrate leadership, build culture, and allow students to practice leadership skills.

- The school utilizes The 4 Disciplines of Execution process to identify and track progress toward the high priority goals of the school, classroom, and staff members.

- Students lead their own learning with the skills to assess their needs, set appropriate goals, and carry out action plans. They track progress toward goals in Leadership Notebooks and share these notebooks with adults in student-led conferences.

- Teacher planning and reflection, trusting relationships, and student-led learning combine to create environments for highly engaged learning.


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