The Leader in Me

‘Change starts here’

Jess Oaks
Posted 1/26/24

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The Leader in Me

‘Change starts here’


GOSHEN COUNTY – Goshen County School District No. 1 is giving the students of the community more tools for success. 

Through the Leader in Me, the district hopes to bring a set of skills surrounding self-confidence, problem-solving, emotional regulation, and many other life competencies. 

The teaching module is a whole-school transformation model developed with educators which provides students with leadership and life skills, according to the FranklinCovey Foundation website.

The program, which also teaches students how to become more self-reliant, plan ahead and prioritize their time came to the district by word of mouth. 

“Some of my elementary teachers came to me a couple of years ago after one of them had read an article in the Star Herald about Bayard (Nebraska). Bayard Elementary, specifically,” Tim Williams, Southeast Schools Principal said. “They are a Lighthouse School, is what they call them. There are certain steps that you go through to achieve certain levels through the Leader in Me or the seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s FranklinCovey Foundation is the one that did this.”

After hearing the vavs and reviews regarding the program, Williams sought out more information. 

“She (a teacher) contacted some teachers down at Bayard and talked to them about the process that they had gone through and what it was doing for their kids,” Williams explained. “They couldn’t speak highly enough about it, the different skills it was giving their kids and the confidence it was building within their kids.”

Bayard schools had been utilizing the Leader in Me program for three to four years, when it was brought to Williams’ attention. 

The Leader in Me is a peer-lead group that works in support of other groups in the school district.

“Their kids had different roles that they played, down to every kid having something to do throughout the week. They had one little boy, he was the greeter,” Williams said. “That was his job. He greeted everybody and he just loved it.”

“We just reached out to the FranklinCovey Foundation, and we got in touch with a lady by the name of Lynn Brown out of Denver and she was kind of the one that started us on the path we are currently on,” Williams explained. “I was able to use some carry over funds and some Title 1 funds to get our initial training and we did that K-12.”

This year, the budget for training only allowed for a brief introduction into the program. Williams said a trainer came from Michigan to give teachers an overview of the 7 Habits (of Highly Effective People) and unfortunately, it was all the district could afford. 

“We need the core one training. We need more staff training, that kind of stuff,” Williams explained. “We are trying to build it as we fly it. We got the foundational piece but there’s more to it.”

Brown also returned to Southeast Schools for a volunteer training session.

“She (Brown) volunteered. She came down and did another training for us, free of charge,” Williams explained. “She’s just like, ‘I want to see schools get going on it (Leader in Me). I just want to do anything I can to do to help.’”

Williams was also able to find more funding in this year’s budget for the program. 

The program is separated into elementary and junior high/ high school grade levels, according to Williams. 

“Reid Pritchett is our building coach, and he has been and met with our leadership teams, both junior high/high school and elementary leadership teams,” Williams said. “Out of those conversations with him, the elementary has developed a student leadership team that they are currently just giving those kids some skills to do some things.”

One of the leadership tasks an elementary student might have would be to conduct the morning meetings held in the commons area of the elementary school on Mondays, according to Williams. Eventually, Williams hopes the program will help the student body run the meetings through the leadership skills being taught. 

“Our high school leadership team, we are working on some of these things. We are developing a t-shirt that says, ‘change starts here’ to initial that conversation,” Williams explained. 

The student leadership team doesn’t believe the walking-billboards will draw attention by the student body, but Williams feels students are bound to see the shirt and ask questions. 

“I have a deal with them,” William added. “I asked them how many of you think that if we all wear them (the t-shirt), there’s nine of them and one of me, that 10 of us wear a t-shirt on one day, will that start the conversation, will anybody ask you what your shirt means when they see more than one of us has it on. They don’t think anyone will, but I do,” Williams said. “Maybe I am being overly optimistic, I don’t know. We are really hammering, right now, on being proactive. That is habit number one (of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) and we use that in all sorts of conversations.” 

Williams explained how he utilizes being proactive in his disciplinary actions to help students rationally think through their actions and behaviors.

“We are starting to build some of these conversations,” Williams said. “Kids are starting to be aware now. It is an uphill battle. When I talked to my staff, initially, said if we are committing to this, we have to commit to it for five years minimum. That’s what the FranklinCovey Foundation people will tell you. For full implementation, to fully get your schools going where they need to be – five years.”

“We are starting to have some very good conversations and we are nearing the point where one of our leadership team members will coteach with me and then I am hoping to hand that over to them eventually,” Williams said. “The kids will be teaching it and leading the discussion and running groups and that kind of stuff.”

“A lot of the kids gain confidence. The kids are able to problem-solve. Right now, we are very reactive,” William explained. “Somebody does something to me, so I just immediately react to that. I don’t think about it at all. I don’t think about my other options. That’s what I see a lot as someone who has handle discipline for the last six to seven years at Southeast.” 

Students will also learn how to develop win-win situation and they will also learn better ways to prioritize their time, Williams said. 

“One of the things I always hear from kids is, ‘I’m stressed, I have so much to do,’” Williams said. “So, putting first thing, first. Sitting down at the beginning of the week and saying ‘here is my biggest rock. How am I going to tackle that rock,’ and then kind of prioritizing throughout the week to reduce that stress.”  

The Leader in Me is a schoolwide program clearly will require dedication from all areas, Williams explained. 

“We want K-12 staff, K-12 students living it (the Leader in Me program),” Williams said. “This is not a preaching thing. This is not just ‘here’s how I want you to do it’ it’s more of a ‘I have to live this out,’” Williams explained. “To me, the 7 habits are lifelong skills. It’s not something that’s just school based.”

Goshen County Superintendent of Schools, Ryan Kramer, agreed with Williams, stating the students have the opportunity to learn student-life skills through the newly implemented program. 

“We start talking about life skills and what we want to see from kids,” Kramer said. “This is a component of that. These are things that we feel are really hirable qualities that we need to invest in. If we are not explicitly instructing our kids on them, we can’t expect through osmosis and being in a building gain those,” Kramer added. “We have to be very deliberate in what we want our kids to be able to do. It also reflects back to the school climate and culture, and we know that is something not only around here in Goshen County Schools, but nationwide.” 

“Absolutely,” Williams agreed.

The Leader in Me program will address student and climate and culture as well as adult climate and culture, according to Kramer.

“We were approached by, because of Southeast’s involvement, by the FranklinCovery Institute that they had knowledge of a grant, the Stronger Connections Grant, that would allow districts the size of Goshen County to institute this program in all schools in the district and have the training that we were spending building funds on at Southeast to actually be paid for by the grant, districtwide,” Kramer said. “Then we will be able to implement this in a districtwide component.”

Kramer feels the Leader in Me program is an investment of time and effort.

“What they have found and the things that are really impactful, school climate, student attendance, student discipline and student life skills,” Kramer explained. 

Student attendance had a 10% increase and school climate had a 13% improvement in schools where the peer-lead program has already been implemented, according to Kramer. 

“It also supports other programs that we have with Sources of Strength,” Kramer said. “Sources of Strength is another peer-lead group that really incorporates suicide prevention and the overall mental health of our student body. Those same leadership skills and the peer-to-peer relationships are also incorporated into this program, so it really fits really well with some of the other things that we are doing and to be able to have that common language districtwide.”

Southeast Schools have touched the tip of the iceberg with the training they have received for the program but both Kramer and Williams are excited to see what the program can do for the district and our youth however the official kick-off date will be determined. 

“It is dependent upon the grant. The grant is due February 9. Mr. Derby our curriculum instructor is working very hard on that right now with the FranklinCovey Institute partnership,” Kramer explained. “They feel very good about where we are at as a district and being able to identify there is a need and the fact, we have already had some of those things put into place with Southeast and seeing some of the buy in from the staff.”

Timing will tell if the school district will obtain the grant money for the program, according to Kramer. 

“We know, through talking with staff, climate and culture is a huge, huge issue that we have, and this is again our way of really focusing on that. It would be our hope that we are granted these funds through this grant that we would be able to institute it this fall, district wide,” Kramer said.