“All of our character words we were using before are still here, like responsibility and perseverance. ... We’re not doing away with Character Education. We are putting it under the umbrella of leadership,” supervisor for elementary education Sheena Newman said.
“Leaders for Life: Voyage to Greatness” uses a ship theme and sailing terms to describe character traits. For example, teaching students to be the captain of their ship focuses on setting goals. The voyage to greatness focuses on students taking the lead in projects and assemblies.
Although the program was presented to the Bradley County Board of Education last October, Newman said this is one she has long wanted to implement. In preparation for its implementation, Newman, along with principials and teachers, visited schools with a leadership focus in Alabama and North Carolina.
“It’s rare that you see it in the elementary schools — it’s usually a middle school, high school thing where you see leadership pieces,” Newman said.
The program is designed to prepare students for life beyond school and help them become lifelong leaders in society.
“It’s not really a curriculum, it’s just a different way of looking at children,” Newman said.
Newman said the program works to develop each student’s individual talents and give students a leadership role at school. She said the leadership focus incorporates life skills that local businesses and parents have said would be beneficial to students.
“You’ve got the academic side, you’ve got character and you’ve got life skills. So, this program kind of puts them all together,” Newman said.
Three elementary schools began working to implement a leadership component last school year. Taylor, Charleston and Park View elementary schools focused on goal setting by having each student keep a notebook of academic and personal goals and their progress toward achieving them.
The school system is also making an effort in the community to educate parents and other community leaders of the new approach. Part of this approach involves mission statements written by the students for their classrooms.
“I think its a powerful thing to let kids write a mission statement for their classroom, and then they sign it,” Newman said.
The approach also focuses on students working together well in groups and knowing when they need to lead and when they need to follow.
“I think there are so many things that are not measured on an academic test that are really important,” Newman said. “And without this side, without these skills, the character and the life skills, you won’t be successful.”
The data notebooks, also called Leader Ship logs, will be used at every elementary school next year. In addition to helping students measure their progress, the notebooks will also get parents involved by having them review the books with their children. Parents will also be encouraged to help their children develop leadership skills by giving them opportunities to make decisions.
Newman said she hopes students will also start attending parent-teacher conferences.
“What we are trying to do is give the child more involvement in their education,” Newman said.
Newman said the approach also seeks to give students ownership of their learning.
The new leadership approach is also being incorporated into the Accelerated Reading, by encouraging schools to choose a leadership theme for the AR theme.
“I think this has the power to change kids’ lives because it builds self-confidence and it gives them skills to speak,” Newman said.
Funding to provide each student with a data notebook is being provided through a grant from the Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation.