Training kids to be in charge of their cyber-powered lives

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Kathy Lord (right) Principal of North Country Elementary School in Antelope, Ca. with Jason Farrel, Assistant Administrator rolled out The Leader In Me this fall.

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Read more about Twin Oaks Elementary in Rocklin

Last spring, Kathy Lord, Principal at North Country Elementary School in Antelope, California, sat down with her staff to address the problem of educating a student body distracted by real world problems (unrest at home, financial stress, anxiety, etc.).

“We are a Title One school,” Lord told me, “And we realized our traditional approach to educating the students was not working. So we made a list of the things we could change, and the things we could not. Quickly we accepted that one of the things we could not change is parental involvement. And one of the things we could change was our approach with the students themselves – taking this situation and seeing it differently.”

And it was in this context that the entire staff at North Country Elementary made a commitment to embrace a model of education that led by example and then put the child in the driver seat with immediate results. “We have experienced declined incidences of disruptive behavior and reduced time spent on disciplinary matters,” Lord said. “And it is our hope that this will eventually translate into more learning and improved academic scores.”

Thanks to a grant through the I am a Leader Foundation  (in partnership with the Panda Charitable Fund), this fall after committing their summer personal time (without pay), the entire North Country Elementary staff rolled out “The Leader In Me” program, based upon The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, with a gusto that radically transformed the staff and student body. The Leader In Me program includes a book, instructor training, and material to facilitate implementation.

Jason Farrel is the Assistant Administrator for North Country Elementary.

Every classroom at North Country Elementary created a tree representing the seven habits.

“First we had to drop the labels, and we had to accept that the ‘typical student’ of previous generations no longer exists,” Farrel said. “We had to relate to the students without preconceived notions.”

And then Farrel said he found that the handful of students who took up most of his time with discipline issues, required less attention and were becoming more high functioning in the classroom.

So how can this be?

Self-governance offers a measure of peace

According to Farrel they helped the children appreciate that every individual matters – every action, every decision each person makes impacts many others.  “Recognizing this power, we were able to encourage the kids to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own actions.”

Lord and Farrel took me on a tour of the campus from Kindergarten to the 6th grade. In every classroom, we were greeted respectfully by a student (whose assignment was ‘the greeter’), and invited in. The rest of the students stayed focused on their work and when the teacher acknowledged our presence, the students greeted us as a group.

“Kids want to shine,” Lord said. “And so we created leadership positions for children.” Some of these positions, in addition to the classroom greeter, include: delivery of announcements on the broadcast system, student council, band leaders, safety, technology mentors, and tutors.

Farrel is convinced this leadership approach is a very effective way to educate children. “Our job as educators is to find that leadership quality in every student. It is a school-wide effort. We try not to allow any child to be overlooked.”

“The first habit is Be Proactive. I use this at school whenever I get frustrated and mad. I think of calming down. I stop and think, ‘Am I wasting precious time?'”- David Pascalau, 4th Grade, North Country Elementary

On our tour of the campus, Lord and Farrel introduced me to David Pascalau, a fourth grader who was very modest. “We sought him out,” Lord said. “We asked him if he wanted to make a presentation to the school board meeting this evening about how he uses the seven habits. And to our surprise, he was very enthusiastic about doing it.”

Here is David’s presentation to the Center Unified School District Board , published with his and his mom’s permission:

David Pascalau, 4th grade, presented how he uses the Seven Habits – North Country Elementary School in Antelope, Ca. – October 2012


David K. Hatch, Ph.D. is the Global Director of Strategic Initiatives for the FranklinCovey Education division.  According to Hatch since 2008 when the book launched, there are 1,000 schools in 14 different countries implementing The Leader In Me.

“The biggest part of success with this program is first modeling the behavior,” Hatch said. “So this program works when the teacher adopts the principles first, and then integrates them into the lessons. Eventually the students come to appreciate: hey you are not a test score, you are an important human being with talents and skills.”

So what does The Leader In Me offer parents?

Our children are given cyber-powered tools, which is like handing them the keys to the car. And yet they have not been trained on how to live a happy and secure life. In this digital age, our children need to be self-governing at earlier ages in order to resist the pressures of cyber-powered popular culture and peer communities.

The principles of  The Leader In Me offer a great model to experience our inherent  authority as individuals to lead with kids in a world that tells them everything they need to know they can “Google”.

(For more on inherent authority and parenting in the network culture go to: The Authority In Me).

The Leader In Me training taps the innate desire of humans to steer their own ships, and when we are not feeling like someone else is in control of our life or oppressing us, we can be at peace. When we are at peace and in control of our own thoughts and conduct, regardless of what is happening, and then we can choose to learn.

The kids brought the seven habits principles home and there are stories of how parents learned how to apply the principles to make home a better place. “Parents have reported to us how this program when the kids brought it home and shared it, changed their lives,” Farrel remarked.

Scott Loehr is the Superintendent of Center Unified School District. “It is remarkable how the entire staff of North Country Elementary school gave 100% participation in order to try something different. We needed to be able to reach the students,” Loehr said. “Out of this effort there are many stories of conflict resolution on campus, as kids are using their own problem solving skills. This is very encouraging to the staff.”

Loehr also sees an opportunity to engage parents. “With the seven habits discipline, we are learning from the experience,” Loehr said.

How can parents apply this approach?

Learn the seven habits and consider incorporating them in your home.

In applying the seven habits principles you can create a more productive learning environment wherein children learn how to be secure cyber citizens, as described below:

  • Be proactive– every individual has to be prepared to take responsibility for their on-line conduct and think correctly. Ultimately the first line of defense for cyber security is a well-informed responsible user.
  • Begin with the end in mind– being purpose driven means that you are aware of how you use the technology and the impact on your life and relationships.
  • Put first things first– keeping a focus on what matters.
  • Think win-win– your actions have consequences for you and your family. If you post too much personal information and are careless about clicking on links, then you put yourself and your family at risk.
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood– before you fire off an angry response to a text or post, think about the message beyond how you are offended by what is posted. You might learn something about yourself and the other person.
  • Synergize– when a family adopts and embraces cyber safe rules, there is a bonding around family values that enhances your own personal identity as a part of something bigger and more important and helps build individual resiliency.
  • Sharpen the saw– be alert and communicate new developments in the applications you and your family use, and be aware of how much time you are spending in cyber space; keep in mind your personal relationships are more important.

Have confidence in our children to take responsibility for their own feelings and their capacity to be good citizens.  Kids today are conditioned for authoritative leadership, rather than authoritarian edicts.

The authoritarian says: “Because I said so, now do it!”

The authoritative leader says: “I have confidence in you and here is the quality of thinking and standard of conduct we expect from individuals.”  And then you walk the talk. You do the things you are expecting of your child.

Discipline and learning go hand in hand. And we cannot make someone learn something. They have to be motivated to do it. So this approach appeals to the best of human nature and our children when given the chance will apply it with gusto.

Related story: Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner: How ‘The Leader In Me’ reinforces good cyber citizenship  featuring Twin Oaks Elementary in Rocklin, California.




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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna ( and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.