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Developing Student Leaders to Build a Positive School Culture

he athletic director of Hudsonville High School sought a way to teach students what it means to be a leader in their school and in their lives. Learn how the use of Habitudes in the school’s new leadership class lead to positive changes in the school’s culture. Kevin Wolma, the Athletic Director for Hudsonville High School, shares how Habitudes helped develop student leaders and built a positive school culture:

What were some of the challenges you faced before using Habitudes?

At the end of a season as the coaches and I evaluated how the season went, so often we would say, “Hey, the season didn’t go well because I didn’t have good senior leadership.” Other times we would say, “Man, that was a great season. I had such great leadership.” But it seemed leadership would always be a part of that evaluation of the season. Then we asked ourselves, “Do we even intentionally teach leadership? We don’t. We just assume kids have it or don’t have it.

Those questions sparked the idea and need for a leadership class at our school.

What were some of your objectives or goals you were trying to meet with using Habitudes in the leadership class?

I wanted the students to be able to recognize that there was more to leadership than what they thought. That’s kind of the first question I start out with is: What do you think a leader is? Then I kind of have them brainstorm that question. You know, I tell them in this class, you’re going to have some strengths and you’re going to have some weaknesses. That’s my goal for you guys: to understand the areas where you’re strong and build on those so you can be the best leader possible.

What led you to use Habitudes?

I’ve never seen a leadership program that has been both simple and powerful at the same time. I think the use of images really hits this generation. They remember it better. Without a doubt, I’ll have about 90% of the kids who will be able to tell me all twenty-six images taught, and they can give a small description of what each one’s about. That’s amazing! Tell me something else where you can just do that and get that kind of feedback from kids—without telling them they’re going to have a test.

How would you say it’s helped you to meet the goal that you had?

I would say that the culture in our building has changed. We have students here that are much more open to other student’s needs. We’ve seen that more so than ever before.

Whether it is kids seeking out other kids in lunch who sit alone to picking up trash on the floor the impact has been significant with changing a culture than ever before. The goal is for these students to put others before themselves and we are seeing that everyday. Coaches of athletes who have taken the course are making comments on how some of these principles are being brought back to their team. Many times situations are resolved before coaches need to get involved.

Rather than me tell you how Habitudes has helped, I’ll let the students tell you. Here are some quotes from them:

Quotes from Students

"The opportunity to come and take this class has been an amazing one. When I first heard about it, I didn't really want to take it. I had to choose something first hour, and this is what I was scheduled for and was unable to change it. After my first day my view changed. This class became an awesome chance to learn the different ways to become a leader. It has helped change some of my thinking about how I want to live my life, and the impact I want to have on others around me. It has shaped my whole view of what it takes to be a leader."

"Using Habitudes and discussing them in class has taught me the intricacies of what it takes to be a good, and proficient leader. The ideas behind Habitudes like The Starving Baker, Pyrrhic Victory and Velvet Covered Brick were all unknown to me before this class."

"This class helps the big word "leadership" make more sense by breaking it down a little bit each day."

"I learned a lot about myself as a leader by reading and reflecting on each of the Habitudes."

"Reading each Habitude taught me more about myself than I thought I knew."

“The use of images was very helpful for me, and I know that there will be many of them I will remember as I move on from this class.”

Are there any students or athletes that come to mind that came into this class and throughout it you saw some behavior, attitudinal changes because of it?

One story that I often tell people is about an athlete who cheated. Typically, a conversation with a student who hadn’t gone through Habitudes would be centered around the disciplinary action like: “What are you doing? What were you thinking? You know as an athlete you have greater responsibilities than other kids.” You know the same stuff we talk about all the time.

But because of this class we were able to have a different conversation that had a greater impact…

One of the things we do at the beginning of the class after we discuss the Habitude, Thermostat and Thermometers, is each student comes up with their core values, and then they share that in class.

When I brought him in and started talking to him… water in his eyes, the first thing I asked him was what was his core values were. He told me his core values and broke down. We were then able to talk about the core of the issue–not living by one’s values–rather than just the behavior.

Another story is about a student-athlete of mine that is now playing college football here in Michigan. He just called me this past Fall and told me about how he was able to share some of his Habitudes in one of his English classes. It’s amazing how the principles stuck with him enough that he was able to share it in college with fellow students.

The thing you hear about Habitudes, over and over again, is how applicable they are. I know I can teach a Habitude, and they feel they can go out and do it. We teach the Habitude, Hot Air Balloons, and the kids all will write three little positive notes and stick them in a teacher’s mailbox. Just this week, our Assistant Principal got a card from one of the kids in leadership class thanking him for the time he spends with kids.

Concluding Thoughts:

It’s been incredible to see some of these stories and see a culture slowly start to change with how students treat each other.

I tell colleagues that if you truly want to be successful, you have to do this.