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Elms Road staff uses nautical theme to teach leadership skills



A makeshift porthole provides a glimpse into a classroom.

A makeshift porthole provides a glimpse into a classroom.

SWARTZ CREEK – Second-grader Emma Mossman, who wants to be a cheerleader when she grows up, tugged at the lanyard around her neck and proudly showed off the badge she earned last week at Elms Road Elementary.

“It’s for listening and following directions,” said Emma, who added that those behaviors are representative of one of the seven habits of highly effective people: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

This year, the crew at Elms Road set a course for empowering students to be leaders. They christened their endeavor “All Aboard the LeaderSHIP.”

Even before the new school year was under way, all hands were busy preparing to launch the effort they designed themselves, building upon a hull of inspiration from Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s books, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and “The Leader In Me.”

From stem to stern, the school is decorated with nautical themed reminders – or “aids to navigation,” if you will – of the seven habits: be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; and sharpen the saw.

Right, second-graders Teairra Goodman, Jade Ford, Sydney Gilmour and Emma Mossman – pictured with Principal Jim Kitchen and Instructional Specialist Sandy Cook – show off the badges they earned last week for demonstrating one or more of the seven habits of highly effective people.

Right, second-graders Teairra Goodman, Jade Ford, Sydney Gilmour and Emma Mossman – pictured with Principal Jim Kitchen and Instructional Specialist Sandy Cook – show off the badges they earned last week for demonstrating one or more of the seven habits of highly effective people.

Staff volunteered their time to hang Navy blue curtains and maritime flag-inspired banners, and to build a focal point – a ship with sails inscribed with the seven habits – that greets students as they enter the main doors.

“We found that the seven habits complement our Creek expectations,” said Sandy Cook, instructional specialist, one of the skippers of the LeaderSHIP.

The Creek Code is: Commitment to learning, Respect for others, Everyone is responsible, Everyone is safe, Kindness counts.

“The entire staff is very passionate about students,” said Cook. “We want them to know they all have unique talents and abilities they can use to better the world.”

Teachers incorporate the seven habits into the curriculum wherever possible. Rewards show that the desired behaviors have positive outcomes.

Along the way, teachers try to buoy the students’ individual strengths, and give the youngsters opportunities to take the helm, said Principal Jim Kitchen.

“We’re educating the whole child,” said Kitchen. “These days, you can find information everywhere. We’re teaching students the skills the community and businesses want, things like problem solving, teamwork and loyalty.”

Each student has a data notebook with individual plans, so they can log and map their own their progress, he said.

“It’s an ongoing, living snapshot of their performance,” said Kitchen.

“It puts them in charge of their learning,” said Cook.

Even the students who are not natural leaders can benefit.

“We have a lot of shy students,” said Cook. “That’s fine. They have unique talents, as well, and that’s what they can explore.

“They’re loving it. It’s empowering them.”

“It’s creating a common language and giving them a definition and a rubric of a leader,” said Kitchen.

In other words, it’s preparing some precious cargo to be seaworthy when finally they are outward bound from their homeports.


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