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A Proactive Approach to Teaching Students about Leadership Skills

A great deal is expected of kids and students in today’s society. With not enough hours in the day, it can be difficult to deal with so many external factors such as peer pressure and social media. With that difficulty comes the challenge students face to make the right choices in their lives each and every day. Hear how faculty members and students of Cartersville High School found positive influences in the lessons from the Habitudes curriculum.

Marc Feuerbach, the Principal for Cartersville High School shares how Habitudes helped create a positive school culture:

What challenges were you facing and goals you were trying to meet?

We started to see a need to become really proactive in teaching our kids leadership skills. It’s not that every kid is going to be the CEO of a company or a president of the United States, but every child can take responsibility for their own lives. Kids face more challenges today than they probably faced fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five years ago. So that made us ask ourselves, “How can we be proactive in that approach of showing them a way where they can at least lead themselves well?” A lot of kids today can get words of wisdom or advice from the internet. We want to make sure that some of that is good, because probably some of that’s not so good. So what can we do to be proactive in teaching self-leadership skills? That was really our desire and reasoning behind it. In today’s society, you see less and less ownership of things. In reality, that’s not a good thing. We need to own what we do; we need to own where we’re going; we need to own those things. So we are trying to teach that self-ownership piece.

What were some of the objectives or goals you set forth for Habitudes?

We want to see all of our students consistently make good choices. That involves work ethic, discipline, grades, etc. We have great kids, and I hope we can continue to grow to see a campus where students consistently serve each other and care for each other.

We had a deep desire to be intentional. If we’re going to do something in advisement, there should be a purpose to it. At the end of the day, what are we going to hang our hat on? Advisement is about advising kids with their class schedules and all those kinds of things, but let’s go a little deeper. How can we increase that capacity within our students to lead themselves well and serve others?

Why use Habitudes?

Today we live in a world of pictures; we live in a world of images. We knew being able to teach a leadership principle with an image and then to facilitate a conversation around that would be impactful and personal for kids today. That’s why we ended up going with Habitudes.

How has Habitudes helped?

One tangible outcome has been our hallways. I have seen more kids hold a door for those behind them; it happened to me this morning. Or a kid asked me how I was doing before I asked him how he was doing. Habitudes is making a difference. The reason we stayed with the whole campus program, and the reason we’ve done it again this year, is because we want Habitudes to be part of our culture. When I talk about the Habitude, Indian Talking Stick, I want an eighteen-year-old to know what we’re talking about it, just like a fourteen-year-old. They’re both students here at this school, so they should both have the same idea of what we’re talking about.

I did see an increase in student involvement last year and we have had more requests for new clubs to start.

In regards to the discipline infractions we see, we saw an 11% decrease from the year before Habitudes to the year we implemented it. I believe Habitudes has had a part to play in that.

I also asked one of my teachers and a few students this question and here’s their responses:

Teacher: Habitudes affords me the opportunity to build deeper relationships with my students. The character-driven lessons are extremely relatable for both myself and my students. Almost every lesson speaks to areas that everyone could stand some improvement. I try to be very transparent with them about my personal experiences and even current struggles. As I speak, usually it makes them feel comfortable and allows them the opportunity to discuss their experiences with everyone. Even if they choose not to verbally discuss their experiences, they always have their journals to record their thoughts and consider the topics presented. These conversations with students during advisement—as well as conversations after advisement— whether in the halls, at a football game, or anywhere are often related to topics and discussions that began during Habitudes. The lessons offer guidance and reminders for the students (and myself) in striving to be better human beings in general. We all want this—for our careers, our relationships, and for our lives.

Student: Habitudes means a lot. It tries to make you become a better person. Like one part of the book…it talks about being a good listener and a host. You have to hear before you speak. You just can’t start talking right away. That plays a big part in my life. Before I changed, I used to talk over people and never let them talk first. I never wanted to hear out other people and what they had going on. But now I take my time and listen to what people have for me. The book is just about how you should live your life a better way. Everybody isn’t out to get me…that is what I used to think. But the book showed me that for you to become successful you have to go through certain steps to become better.

Student: Habitudes makes me think about things before taking action because others have different points and opinions. It teaches students how to become a better person by the examples it gives. If someone listens and actually goes by the book, they would be a better person and understand things more.

Stories:

I can think of a specific student. She really went through a tough, tough, time personally—the death of a parent. I won’t go into the details but we saw Habitudes help her be able to take a step back from what she was dealing with personally and get help with how to cope during that very difficult time. I remember speaking to her last year and she shared with me how it helped through that time.

Concluding thoughts:

The simplicity of Habitudes is huge. I don’t mean simplicity in a negative way. When you can take an image and put a story behind it and facilitate conversation around it, that is impactful. Many times we forget that image piece and images drive the way we think today. It just helps drive things home.

Also regarding the content… it goes back to what I had originally said. Our job in education is to care passionately and deeply about kids. But possibly even more so thirty years from now, because what we’re doing now is impacting them. Their future families, their future communities twenty or thirty years from now. We need to make sure that we don’t lose sight of teaching kids how to work together. How to fight through challenges and really how to continue to lead themselves through easy times and difficult times and bring others along with them.

Video Transcription

Marc Feuerbach, Principle: I think here, at Cartersville High School, I think we see similar issues as other schools and that is, you know, a lot of it is expected of our kids today. There’s not enough time in the day, how do you do it all at the same time? You are bombarded with things like job and peer pressure and social media and things of that nature, how do you balance your time; and, how do you make sure you’re making the right decision each and every day? And that was an issue that we saw here: how do we get our kids to prioritize? How do we get kids to take ownership of their lives, you know, how can I build myself up to lead myself and, in essence, to lead others? My hope for graduates is for them to be prepared for the real world. I need kids who are going to college to be ready for college. I need kids that are going into workforce ready for workforce; that are mature, that are ready to lead themselves and influence others in a positive way.

 

Kyle Tucker, Faculty Member: There’s such a focus on, at their age, what you look like, who you know, the clothes you wear, and things we preach “we don’t want you to focus on” but it just happens. This is the nature of our society and for students to really have those conversations like “hey these are not the most important things” and Habitudes allows you to have these conversations, which you might not get to have normally.

 

Cade Roberts, Student: My favorite Habitudes lesson was the “Iceberg” which, I think, was the second one that we did and I really enjoyed it because it talked about how when you look at an iceberg you only see 10% of the iceberg, and 90% stays below the surface. And how people are kind of similar to that.

 

Joneicia White, Student: I think “Emotional Fuel” would be the most impactful for me because my mom recently passed away, and when I finally came back to school we had a Habitudes lesson and those are my favorites. And so, it just really helped me evaluate like who are my real friends; and who were trying to help me to come to school like “hey you should come to school today, we haven’t seen you in like three weeks.” And so, it just helped me reevaluate who I was, and I was like “hey, people really care about me.” When you start high school, you don’t really know who you are. And so, dealing with Habitudes, it helps you to give you that clear vision of: “okay I’m a leader.” I have little siblings that look up to me, and you have to be a better person for them because it’s not always all about you.

 

Kyle Tucker, Faculty Member: Pictures grab our attention and Mr. Feuerbach, our principal, has the pictures in different places around the school. And I think it’s good that, you know, as they walk around they can see a picture of something we did in August and right away that clicks. You know? Versus me just saying “hey, remember what we did in August?” and they respond with “yeah.” Well – but do they really remember? But when they see the pictures, then they remember right away.

 

Marc Feuerbach, Principle: Habitudes has really helped us touch on things that sometimes maybe we take for granted. I think that over the years, multiple years, I think public education has become very test-focused. And I think teachers need to have the time to be able to talk about soft skills. And that’s what Habitudes is doing. It’s creating an avenue for us take a step back and talk about things that we may not always talk about when we’re talking about math curriculum or social studies curriculum. The hope is that, over time, the conversations we’re having in advisement meetings begin to bleed themselves into our regular coursework as well so that we’re preparing kids to be well-rounded individuals ready for the world.

 

Joneicia White, Student: It’s about growth and finding yourself. You start off at a point where you’re like “hey, I don’t really know this. I don’t know anything.” But then you learn about character responsibilities in different relationships. Not like boy/girl relationships, but like relationships with adults, with other people the same age as you, and just people in general. You see things from a different perspective that you aren’t looking at before and that’s an awesome thing.