When Health-e Pro’s Health-e Giving philanthropic initiative launched earlier this year, The Leader in Me was one of the charities selected to devote a portion of our money and time.

The Leader in Me is an organization that inspired us.

The organization works with teachers and school staff to instill leadership principles in everything they do, which then extends to the students in the classroom and continues beyond the classroom. Students learn about and participate in goal setting, data tracking, leadership roles, conferences, and more.

We spoke with Kristina Cox, Client Partner in Washington State at The Leader in Me recently, and she shared a few ideas behind The Leader in Me that resonated with us at Health-e Pro. First, teachers are taught to help shape the story from the beginning by re-framing and re-defining leadership. Rather than seeing some students as leaders–whether through being socially gifted, or athletically or academically inclined–the definition becomes “every child is a leader in some way.” Perhaps a student’s emotional intelligence is off the charts and other students seek out that student for support and encouragement. Maybe another student is adept with technology and helps other students–and even teachers! Another student could have excellent organizational skills. Whatever the case, teachers are encouraged to look out for those unique gifts and bring them out of each student. As Kristina said, “Every kid has a gift, so we help teachers find those gifts in each kid.”

Beyond that is the topic of motivation. “For example, we try to go from teachers controlling and directing student learning to students being responsible for their own learning,” Kristina shared about the paradigm taught by The Leader in Me. Focusing on the whole child and teaching each child how they can be a leader of themselves is powerful; The Leader in Me finds that academics follow that core learning.

What’s really cool is how this charity led us to a school in Washington State.

Hazel Dell, in Vancouver Washington, found themselves ranked fourth from the bottom academically in their state. One of their fourth grade teachers had been trained in The Leader in Me methodology in another school. She brought those principles with her to her classroom at Hazel Dell and started teaching them the 7 Habits based on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Hazel Dell’s principal, Mychael Irwin said “it was so obvious they belonged with our kids and they with her.”

After taking a picture of each of her students on the first day of school–with all their brand new clothes and school materials–she then sat them down and showed them the pictures, one after another. “I wonder what this kid’s story is going to be.” She had them do some futurecasting. “What would the paper say about them? What job would they have? If this was the picture in the paper, what would the story in the paper be?” She had each of the kids tell their story of what they wanted to be.

Whether they wanted to be a nuclear engineer or a professional athlete or a mom, she put each of their pictures and their stories up in the classroom. The following day, she introduced the First Habit in greater detail: to be proactive, and what that meant related to their chosen career or successes. As Mychael stated, this teacher “skipped all the stuff that gets in the way. The whole goal of education is to get them somewhere. What job do you have and what are your contributions to society. She got to the meat of it right off the bat.”

Soon after, this teacher started a leadership club in the school, and most of her students were in it. Then parents of students in other classes started asking, “What’s this First Things First thing? How can we get this program? It shouldn’t just be a one-classroom thing.”

At that point, Kristina Cox at The Leader in Me entered the picture and a local business offered funding. Hazel Dell sent five people to take the training–one being the 4th grade teacher, along with four skeptics–and they all came back true believers in the program; they couldn’t believe what they saw. Unfortunately, the funding fell through, but the teachers who took the training were determined to continue, asking “How can we do this on the cheap?”

That’s where we at Health-e Pro came in. Kristina introduced us to Mychael at Hazel Dell and with our newly launched Health-e Giving initiative, we offered a grant for them to continue their training of The Leader in Me program at their school.

Principal Irwin  believes that “Hazel Dell students have all the tools to be as successful as any human beings on the planet. They don’t know what the invisible staircase looks like that will make them successful . She said, “They think it’s luck. But it’s not. We’re taking luck out of the equation and making it an intentional situation. That’s our vision. That’s our story.”

Principal Mychael Irwin at Hazel Dell Elementary School

Where Hazel Dell was ranked fourth from the bottom, they already rank fourth from the top–what an incredible change in such a short period of time!

We’re thrilled to partner with The Leader in Me and Hazel Dell Elementary to see incredible transformation at their school. We’ll be following up with them periodically and posting updates here–so keep your eyes peeled on this blog!