It was nearly 11 a.m. Friday, and Berea Community Elementary Principal Emily Reed had spoken no more than a few words to any of her guests during the school’s first Leadership Day.

But her silence was intentional. For her guests to understand Leader In Me, they needed to see it in action, she said, and that meant stepping back and letting her students take the lead.

More than 80 superintendents, principals, teachers and parents from all around the state were visiting Berea to see what Leader In Me was all about.

 “Leader In Me is not a curriculum or a program, it’s a framework,” said Reed when she finally broke her silence around lunchtime. “Our focus was to change the culture of our school. It really should be a natural progression.”

Leader In Me is based on the 1989 self-help book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. Berea Elementary students and staff implemented the habits in 2012 and have integrated them into everything they do.

“We never wanted this to be something else for teachers to do,” said Reed. “The seven habits are woven into what we’re already doing.”

The day started with student-led tours around the school to showcase how the seven habits were used in the classroom.

“I’ve not even heard an adult speak,” said Knox County kindergarten teacher Kim Marsee after completing her tour.

She was impressed with how students maintained eye contact and conducted themselves, she said.

Marsee’s co-worker and special education teacher, Mackie Whitley, mentioned the school’s variety of after-school activities as something that stood out to her. She also was struck by colorfulness and circular design of the school.

“You get a different feeling when you walk into this school — it’s really cool,” Whitley added.

After the tours, guests were guided to the Conkin Gymnasium for performances by Pirate Percussion, a group of fourth- and fifth-grade boys “who use music as a vehicle for leadership,” said Mark Fields, BCES music teacher.

Started in 2013 as an extra-curricular activity, members of the ensemble play a variety of instruments, including drums, Orff instruments and even buckets, garbage can lids and cups.

The percussion group entertained the crowd with the “BCES Leader In Me Cup Song” using a cup clap technique made popular in the 2012 musical romantic comedy film, “Pitch Perfect.”

Students also performed a second piece using “boom whackers,” thick, plastic tubes that make different pitches based on their size and length.

Both songs required intense collaboration, which represented the students’ practice of one of the seven habits, “Synergize.”

Following the performance, a panel of student leaders representing every grade spoke about their favorite habit and how they use it in their lives. Many students expressed their use of habits “Think Win-Win” and “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” when trying to get along with a sibling or a classmate.

One fifth-grader said the habits have improved the relationships among fellow students and she is not teased as often.

“People in the fifth grade realize that we can’t tolerate that stuff. We can’t tolerate bullying,” said another student.

One student said she and her classmates use the habit “Begin With the End in Mind” when divided into stations in her science class.

“We make sure we have a plan before we start,” she said.

Many of the school’s breakfast clubs and after-school activities evolved into leadership clubs after the implementation of Leader in Me, said GEAR-UP academic specialist Rita Payne.

And there is something for everyone, Payne said.

“We have kids who’ve never had the opportunity to be a part of anything,” she said. “This is a way for them to become leaders and find something they’re good at.”

During the lunch break, Waynesburg Elementary Principal Mark Upchurch took a moment to speak with a few of the student leaders about how they solve problems using the 7 Habits Talking Stick. Based on the Native American practice, only the person holding the stick is permitted to speak to practice the habit “Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood.”

“When problem solving, those conversations become deeper with an understanding of the seven habits,” said Upchurch, whose school is implementing Leader In Me soon with grant funding.

His school “already has a student leadership mentality,” he said, and Leader In Me is the right fit.

This year, Berea began Leader in Me in its middle and high school, making Berea one of the two school districts in the state using the framework for K-12, said Superintendent Mike Hogg.

Glenn Marshall Elementary School teachers and staff received Leader in Me training last summer and in August, became Madison County Schools’ first to implement the seven habits.

Clark-Moores Middle School Principal Vickie Fritz challenged her staff this year to incorporate the skills outlined in the book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.”

Crystal Wylie can be reached at or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.


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