I attended a 3-day training this week on “The Leader in Me,” presented by the FranklinCovey group and based on Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I’d heard of the 7 habits before but always thought they were 1) some kind of gimmick & 2) only really applied to people in the corporate world. Last year, when the 5th grade team at my school presented how they wanted to use the 7 habits to raise our school’s 5th graders into leaders, I started paying a little more attention. Now that I’m a part of that team, I was interested in becoming more familiar with the philosophy of the 7 habits and am excited about the potential I see for these habits to improve my personal and professional life, as well as the lives of my students.
During this training, we had a few opportunities to do some reflecting and thinking about our lives as elementary students. Thinking back to myself at that age, I remember being a shy and insecure kid. I didn’t feel very empowered to change many things about myself. I had a scarcity mentality when it came to things like friends (“Everyone already has a friend, so there’s no one left for me” or “This person likes me, so I have to hang onto them and not let anyone else take them from me”). I didn’t know myself well enough to know what I was good at or what I really liked to do, so I focused mostly on my faults and how I didn’t fit in. Going to this training made me wonder about how my experiences might have been different, if the 7 habits had been part of my learning in elementary school.
Vision. The starting place for making any change or shift in your operation is developing a vision for what you want to see. If I could go back and change my experiences in elementary school, I would want to instill confidence, empowerment, social skills, and an abundance mentality in myself. I would like to see the same happen for my 5th grade students this year. So, how could I see the 7 habits affecting my students?
Let’s take a look…
Habit #1: Be proactive (the habit of personal responsibility)
This is so important for students. It is my job to teach, but it is their job to learn. If they are unwilling or disengaged, it is so hard for the learning to happen. Being proactive means that students will be engaged in learning, asking questions to better understand, and taking responsibility for the attitudes they bring into the classroom. FranklinCovey calls this “carrying your own weather.” I know it’s difficult to not let circumstances dictate our happiness, but there are changes we can make in our mindset to impact how we feel and respond to life. Which student is more likely to be successful? A student who embraces the attitude that he/she can grow to meet a challenge OR a student who thinks ______(insert subject area) is just too hard. Being proactive gives students some choice and control to make their lives better.
Habit #2: Begin with the End in Mind (the habit of personal vision)
I picture a student being able to use this habit to develop goals. These might even be short-term goals, like “My goal is to write 3 pages a week in my Writer’s Notebook” or “My goal is learn 5 new words a month and incorporate them into my writing on a daily basis.” Teachers use goals to track student progress all the time, but if we truly want students to be proactive and own their own learning, don’t they need to know what they’re working towards?
Habit #3: Put First Things First (the habit of personal management)
I can certainly relate to this habit. I always feel like I have a million things to do and not enough time, so I really appreciate the strategies we learned about scheduling and classifying activities based on “importance” and “urgency.” It’s all about taking care of the “big rocks” first or prioritizing. But what can a 5th grader do with this? Well, I see it affecting their choices. Maybe it’s a matter of choosing to finish eating lunch before chatting with friends. Or maybe they will finish homework before watching TV. In the classroom, it could be about being prepared for class with all materials and keeping themselves organized. Students can practice prioritizing the responsibilities they have now so that they will be able to handle more in the future. This habit is also about developing awareness of what the important things really are and what their greater impact will be. That’s a pretty mature concept to develop, and I’d love to help my 5th graders get there.
Habit #4: Think Win-Win (the habit of mutual benefit)
This is a great habit for students to have. Spending time in an elementary classroom means being around lots of people all the time, and sometimes conflict can arise. I am excited by the idea of students being able to resolve conflict themselves using a “win-win” mentality. One of the practices for this is balancing courage with consideration. What a great understanding for students to attain! Learning how to consider others’ feelings but not let other people walk all over you is a strong skill for leadership. It takes time and effort to understand another’s point-of-view and express your own, but finding win-win solutions creates a supportive climate for learning and living well.
Habit #5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood (the habit of empathic communication)
I am not very good at this one. It is so hard for me to listen well to someone and not jump in and give advice or try to solve their problems. Empathic listening means reflecting back to the other person what you hear or understand they are saying. It builds trust and understanding. It opens communication, because it removes judgment and personal agenda. Students who can practice this habit will have less misunderstandings and arguments. They will work together better and not make as many assumptions about others.
Habit #6: Synergize (the habit of creative cooperation)
Kids often do not naturally know how to work together. Taking turns, listening, sharing responsibilities, and producing something together can lead to crying, yelling, pouting, withdrawing, and all manner of lovely behaviors. And that’s just as true with adults. Synergizing isn’t about compromising (where no one really gets what they want, so everyone is equally unhappy). Synergy is using the strengths and ideas of everyone in the group to come up with something even better. Students who can use synergy are able to recognize the gifts of their peers and encourage them to use those gifts to benefit the group. Students feel recognized by peers for their gifts and gain confidence. Synergy = engagement in learning.
Habit #7: Sharpen the Saw (the habit of daily self-renewal)
This is my favorite habit for myself. I think self-care is so important, especially being a teacher who is responsible for young people every day. Sharpening the saw means taking care of my body, heart, mind, and spirit. Students already have some of this built into their schedules at school. PE works on exercising the body. Learning hobbies and playing brain games can exercise the mind. Using lunch and recess time to invest in good uplifting friendships is a renewal for the heart. And engaging in activities where they serve others or work on developing values help them to renew their spirit.
Can you imagine what a classroom full of students practicing the 7 habits would look like? I’m blown away by the possibilities of the 7 habits in my own life! I can’t even imagine what the positive impacts would have been for me had I learned them in elementary school. I’m excited to see how learning these habits will impact my classroom this year. I’m a little nervous about my own ability to practice, model, and teach them, but I’m hopeful that they will challenge me to be a better person and a better teacher and that my classroom will be a happier place for it.