January 29, 2016

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Unique process ‘enhances Catholic teaching,’ develops leadership skills

In this Jan. 6 photo, pictures of kindergarten classmates with caps foretelling their graduation from St. Pius X School in Indianapolis in 2024 serve as an example of one of the seven habits the school promotes in it’s “The Leader in Me” process: “Begin with the end in mind.” (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

In this Jan. 6 photo, pictures of kindergarten classmates with caps foretelling their graduation from St. Pius X School in Indianapolis in 2024 serve as an example of one of the seven habits the school promotes in it’s “The Leader in Me” process: “Begin with the end in mind.” (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Alison Stevens puts first things first, making sure her homework is done before she plays.

Danny O’Gara begins with the end in mind, knowing that everything he does is toward the bigger goal of getting to heaven.

Lucy Clark likes the synergy in her school, seeing how students work together to accomplish goals.

And Patrick McPherson now seeks to understand others, developing a friendship with a classmate he used to have trouble accepting.

These are just some of the impacts the four students of St. Pius X School in Indianapolis noted about their school’s “The Leader in Me” (TLIM) initiative, three years into the process.

The Leader in Me is a school-based process created by the FranklinCovey company. Based on Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it is designed to teach students how to be empowered leaders not just in school but at home, in the community and—as St. Pius X School implemented it—in their Catholic faith.

‘The big goal is that you want to get to heaven’

The idea for implementing TLIM at St. Pius X emulates the first three of the seven habits: “be proactive,” “put first things first” and “begin with the end in mind.”

The process started four years ago, when then-principal Bill Herman read Covey’s book. Thinking proactively, Herman “wanted to start reading it with eighth-graders to have them be leaders in the school,” said Keith Yost, the school’s director of student leadership and physical education. “That led to, ‘Why wouldn’t we want this for all our students?’ ”

Several teachers and administrators attended a TLIM summit in Ohio, conducted research, and spoke to leaders at St. Joan of Arc School in Indianapolis, which implemented TLIM in 2012. The most important question of the St. Pius X School team revolved around the end goal of the school: to create students who know, live and love their Catholic faith.

“Could we do this for our school to enhance Catholic values?” asked Yost of the administration’s litmus test for implementing the process. “That’s our biggest focus. We wanted to use it as a tool to enhance Catholic teaching.”

With St. Joan of Arc School’s examples and ideas, the St. Pius X administration saw clear connections between the seven habits and living the faith.

For instance, hanging in the main hallway of the school are canvases painted by students, listing the seven habits and the beatitude each represents.

The connection between the habits and the Catholic faith is clear to Danny, 12, who is in the sixth grade.

“Two of the habits that connect with the Catholic faith are ‘begin with the end in mind’—the big goal is that you want to get to heaven—and ‘put first things first,’ meaning putting God first,” he said.

In terms of school and family life, the four students interviewed by The Criterion noted how they’ve implemented putting first things first by setting a daily goal to do their homework first when they get home from school.

“I always want to get on my iPad or watch TV when I get home,” admitted 11-year-old fifth-grader Lucy. “But I know I have to do my homework first, or I won’t get it done and won’t get good grades, so I have to put first things first.”

Creating ‘win-win’ situations and ‘synergy’

One of the ways in which TLIM has been implemented at St. Pius X School is a great example of habits four and six: “think win-win” and “synergize.”

Each child, staff member and even some parents are members of at least one of 25 kaizens, “a Japanese business term that translates roughly to continuing to improve oneself or another,” Yost explained. He said the school’s kaizens “focus on continually improving oneself, the St. Pius community and the outside community. They’re very service-based.”

Alison, age 11 and in the sixth grade, is a member of the leadership kaizen.

“We plan the canned food drive, we plan our Leadership Day, we approve grants to other kaizens when they need money for something,” she explained.

The four students interviewed were all part of the lighthouse kaizen, whose goal is to be the voice of the student body “to make the school better,” said 10-year-old fourth-grader Patrick.

One of Danny’s favorite kaizens is Challenger Kickball, which works throughout the school year with physically and mentally challenged community members.

“They have sports games at the end of the year where one person helps someone with a disability in the community play a kickball game,” Danny explained. “It makes me feel humbled to help someone else. It makes me think how God has been good to me, how I’m strong and able to help them.”

The kaizens pose such “win-win” service situations in which the recipient wins by receiving help of some sort, and the giver wins by learning values and leadership skills.

The groups also develop a synergy in the school, with kaizens and classes working together to help each other. Lucy described how the natural habitat kaizen planted gardens with butterfly-attracting fauna to support the butterflies that her class raised and released as a science project.

She also described how her mom, a member of the parents’ lighthouse kaizen that informs other parents and the community about The Leader in Me, created “synergy” at home.

“We would always fight over who had to do the dishes,” she said. “Then my mom created a list of who had to wash, who had to set the table, who had to clean the countertops. It created synergy at home.”

‘The parents are impressed by the kids’

Assistant principal Deborah Reale is a strong supporter of TLIM.

“I love what it does here,” she said. “It’s such a positive thing.

“If I have someone in [my office] who is having issues, I can say, ‘Let’s talk about the habits. Which habit could you have used to avoid this?’ ”

Reale spoke of a visit by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin to celebrate Mass for the school.

“When it was over, he went on a tour [of the school] with a couple of our students,” she said. “He said they were amazing, and the fact that they were connecting the seven habits to their faith was a really wonderful thing. We felt really good about that.”

Students leading school tours is one of the new ways in which youths get to practice their leadership skills, Yost explained.

“We thought letting the students give tours to parents [of prospective students] was a great idea,” he said. “They really like to show off their school, and the parents are impressed by the kids.”

Such student participation is one of the benefits Yost has seen through the TLIM process.

“Before, I used to have to seek kids out [to be involved in an activity],” he said. “Now I have kids come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I heard you have this going on. I want to help.’ ”

Staff members aren’t the only ones seeing fruits of the TLIM initiative. Kassy McPherson, Patrick’s mother, has witnessed the impact it has had on her children.

“[The kids] take the tools they learn here and make things more manageable at home with their chores and homework,” she said. “They definitely put their faith first. I see them doing that in their daily life.”

Reale also hears positive feedback from parents after they’ve attended a student-led parent-teacher conference, a process the school started two years ago.

“The kids have binders where they keep track of their grades and victories both inside and outside of school,” she explained. “With the teacher there, the students go over their binders and tell their parents how they’re doing, where they think they might need help or to improve. The parents are really impressed.

“I think [TLIM] has been a really good thing for our kids. I would recommend it to any school.” †

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