Caption for main photo:
Third graders Jose Lito, left, and Elizabeth Ruiz Mateo hold an “energy stick” above their heads at Pinecrest Elementary. In the teamwork activity, students complete a circuit by joining hands to turn on a light and sound a buzzer.
Students can lose more than academic ground during school disruptions. They may also lose the basic academic habits and routines needed to recover their learning.
“The structured and orderly environments that schools generally provide are really important in helping kids learn routines, those social norms of how to prepare? How do you organize yourself? And the disruptions of the pandemic have really upset them” , said Ronn Nozoe, chief executive of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “And so we have seen and are still seeing children struggling to get back into the groove and find their way back into typical operations. of the school day and how things should be done in schools.”
After two years of pandemic fallout — all of the school closures, trauma, widespread teacher and student absences and social distancing — experts say students are still struggling with school habits they’ve forgotten or that they have never fully learned. In a nationally representative survey conducted in January and February, 80% of educators told the EdWeek research center that their students’ social skills and levels of emotional maturity are somewhat or much less advanced now that they were not in 2019.
But some educators and experts say helping students regain a sense of leadership and ownership in schools can both improve their engagement and help them get back to their school habits.
Public schools in Collier County, Florida are among 5,000 schools nationwide that have adopted the Leader in Me program to build student and adult skills. The program, based on Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, provides training and executive coaching to principals and teachers to support school leadership, culture and academics. Through 38 “key concept” lessons for each grade level, each approximately 15-30 minutes long, teachers model ways for students to “steer themselves” first through personal responsibility, planning, and decision-making. decision-making and then to “lead others” through attentive listening, conflict resolution and teamwork, according to an evaluation of the Harvard University program.
“If you look at the seven habits of a student level, we’re focusing on executive function skills, right? It’s really habits one through three: I’m responsible for myself. I I have to set and plan goals. I have to manage my time with precision,” said Meg Thompson, vice president and general manager of FranklinCovey Education, who runs Leader in Me, and author of The 4 Disciplines of Execution for Educators. have heard from a number of our client schools they feel like they wouldn’t have survived the pandemic if the kids hadn’t had this [executive function skills] foundation. And now, post-pandemic, that’s the structure they’re using to rebuild.
Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”
- Be proactive. Take responsibility for your life.
- Begin with the end in mind. Define your mission and goals in life.
- Put first things first. Prioritize and do the most important thing first.
- Think win-win. Have an “everyone can win” attitude.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Listen to people sincerely.
- Synergy. Work together to achieve more.
- Sharpen the saw. Renew regularly.
Source: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey
2021 from Harvard University evaluation of 33 socio-emotional development programs found that in several studies, the Leader in Me program was associated with reduced behavior problems and absenteeism, more positive perceptions of school climate, and better performance on math and reading/language tests, especially for black students.
Schools build students’ identities as leaders
During the pandemic, Collier County expanded Leader in Me to 25 of its 52 schools, with all classes including a 30-minute lesson two days a week on social-emotional learning activities.
Educators “saw the need for their children to have structure, to understand that they believe in themselves to be leaders, to help their future and their careers down the road,” said Kamela Patton, superintendent of Collier County Schools.
The district serves 43,000 students in schools spread over an area larger than Delaware. About 65% of students live in poverty and 55% do not speak English at home. Spanish and Haitian Creole are the most common of over 100 languages spoken at home.
Patton said the bi-weekly district-wide activities help students and teachers develop a shared sense of identity. More recently, students and teachers have created building-scale human chains to close a circuit and turn on a light bulb as a demonstration of both electricity and the need for individual members to contribute to a team. . “Everything we try to do, we try to do in a big space,” she said. “So if you don’t have systems in place, you won’t move that needle.”
In Immokalee, Florida, academic disruption didn’t start with the pandemic — it’s a way of life. More than 40 percent of students at Pinecrest Elementary School live with migrant farm worker families who travel seasonally between Collier County and other farming and packing communities in Florida, Tennessee and elsewhere. Almost all students are black or Hispanic, and more than 60% are learning English as a second language.
The state had just given Pinecrest a failing accountability rating and was threatening the school with closure or charter takeover when Laura Mendicino took over as principal in May 2020, amid the pandemic. Mendicino, who had successfully implemented Leader in Me at his previous school, Highlands Elementary, also prioritized implementing the program at Pinecrest.
“Allowing students to really start making decisions on campus and having this ownership of our campus really impacted the culture of the school, which naturally impacted academics,” said Mendicino. “In one year, we went from an F to a C [on the state’s school accountability rankings]. The following year, we went from a C to an A, and we’ve maintained that A ever since.
Executive Coaching Helps Define Culture
Teachers and principals receive executive coaching on habits, in six to 12 sessions of one hour to 90 minutes each.
“It’s not just about training for kids. Teachers also learn better habits – being proactive, with the end in mind first – in their personal lives, … because you can’t just sit back and reinforce it with the kids and not take it on yourself,” Patton said.
Patton and Mendicino said training, support and even one-on-one coaching to improve principals’ and teachers’ school habits are key to creating a “culture of leadership and accountability” in schools.
“It’s really a two-year process where [teachers and students] you have to live it,” Mendicino said. “They need to understand what it means to set aligned, achievable and measurable goals, and then see how…those strategies and actions that we do every day are going to impact the goals. We track the things we do every day because it should get us closer and closer to reaching our goal in the end.
For example, Mendicino said, her teachers focused on one habit — “thinking win-win” — to help students get back into the habit of working together after years of teaching virtually and then socially distancing. “For so long they sat 6 feet apart. They had masks on; their teachers wore masks. It was such an isolated way of teaching students,” Mendicino said. Win-win thinking,” one of Covey’s original “habits,” involves teaching students to value cooperation over competition when working in teams and to seek solutions to interpersonal problems that benefit both parties.
“’Thinking win-win’ was huge with our kids because we had to almost teach them to work together collaboratively,” she said. “So we had to go back to teaching children how to talk to each other: how to listen; how to seek to understand what their peers are saying, process that, and then respond based on the [peer’s] emotional perspective, context, their understanding of background – and do it in a respectful way.
Adopting good academic habits also means being prepared to show students your own struggles during the pandemic, Patton said. Describing herself as an “organization freak,” Patton makes it a point to talk with students about how stress and lack of time over the past two years have affected her own ability to stay organized and how she finds small ways to improve herself.
” The last two years [my inbox] is a mess all the time. Every day I waste five minutes digging [it]”, Patton said. “So if I’m overwhelmed as an adult, you can guarantee our kids are overwhelmed during those times.”