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Inside a Georgia elementary school working to build a culture of success

Kids filled the auditorium at D.H. Stanton Elementary School last Friday, singing and dancing – and not, it was obvious, just because their teachers told them to sing and dance.


From pre-kindergarten on up, students were singing the way only kids can sing: Heads tipped back, eyes wide, on the border between a song and a shout.


And the lyrics were anything but shallow. The songs that floated through the auditorium on Friday focused on proactivity, on accountability, on positivity and leadership and success – and they opened a window for visitors to see how things are changing at D.H. Stanton.460.jpg

The Atlanta elementary school is one of several in Georgia using “The Leader in Me,” an innovative model based on Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” to build a culture of excitement around leadership and responsibility. On Friday, students showcased what they’d learned at a school-wide Leadership Rally attended by parents, community members, State Representative Margaret Kaiser, and State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge.


“We invited you here today to see how ‘The Leader in Me’ has been slowly changing the culture of our school,” Dr. Clara Taylor, the school’s principal, told guests. “This is a school where we’re raising happy leaders – happy leaders for the 21st century.”


The seven habits of highly successful people, pioneered by educator Stephen Covey in the late 1980s, are a set of common-sense principles designed to develop leadership skills: Be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize, and sharpen the saw.


On Friday, students described those principles in the simple cadences of kids – words they can understand and incorporate and blend into their lives, words that have been built into the pattern of their school days. They’ve become a part of instruction at every grade level, in every classroom.


D.H. Stanton is also a dual immersion school, so if you make a visit, you may hear kids talking about synergy and saw-sharpening in near-fluent Spanish. (In fact, you’ll hear plenty of Spanish, even when students aren’t being instructed to speak the language. On Friday, after one student said he was six years old, a classmate whipped his head around and said, with sharp astonishment and with the smoothly blended language of the almost-bilingual, “I thought you were cinco!”)


At Friday’s assembly, after providing a brief summary of what a state superintendent does and before granting an interview to a pair of intrepid first-grade reporters, Dr. Barge told students the seven habits were exactly the type of skills they needed to be learning.


“It doesn’t matter what job you do when you grow up,” he told them. “If you have leadership skills, you will be successful, regardless of the path you decide to go.”​