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Clarke Elementary becomes ‘Leader in Me’ school

It’s never too early to begin learning leadership skills, said Clarke Elementary Principals Brandon Eighmy and Randy Bolton.

Clarke Elementary is implementing “The Leader in Me,” a “whole-school transformation model that acts like the operating system of a computer — it improves performance of all other programs.”

“The Leader in Me,” book and “process” is based on work done by Stephen Covey in the 1980s. The goal is teaching children Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

According to the The Leader in Me’s website, the process “produces transformational results such as higher academic achievement, fewer discipline problems, and increased engagement among teachers and parents. “

The process also equips students with self-confidence and skills they need in the 21st century, said Eighmy.

The process of becoming a Leader in Me school involves implementing these seven habits and “living them” throughout the day inside and outside the classroom, said Bolton.

“It’s ubiquitous,” said Bolton. “It’s not something you spend 30 minutes doing every day. It’s integrated within the classroom. It’s how you interact in the hallway, at recess, in the cafeteria.”

Clarke will be one of about 724 schools in the Leader in Me process.

The Seven Habits

The seven habits are about moving people from dependence to independence. The first habit is be proactive. It encourages participants to take initiative in life and responsibility for choices made.

The second habit is begin with the end in mind. The goal of this habit is to clarify important character values and life goals. The third habit is put first things first and states that participants should plan and prioritize the week’s tasks.

Habit four is think win-win and encourages participants to strive for a mutually beneficial solution or agreement for all relationships. Habit five is seek first to understand, then to be understood is about being listening and being influenced/influencing.

Habit six is synergize, which means combining the strengths of people through positive teamwork instead of doing something alone. The final habit is sharpening the saw, and is about learning to balance and renew resources, energy and health.

How Leader in Me

came about

Each year Clarke Elementary faculty and staff conducts at least one professional book study. The studies focus on building culture and instructional strategies, depending on the needs of the building, said Eighmy.

Eight months ago the staff began reading “The Leader In Me.” The book peaked their interest and the stories “hit home,” said Eighmy.

“As we were reading the stories of these other schools, we recognized straightaway that these schools were a reflection of who we are,” Eighmy said. “A lot of the kids they talked about, the demographics of the students matched the types of students we serve at Clarke. It became very apparent as we were reading these stories they were talking about the potential in Clarke.”

The administrators began searching for other Leader in Me schools in Iowa. They talked with administrators in Muscatine and Cedar Falls. Eighmy and Bolton also contacted a school in Liberty, Mo.

A parent book study-group was established to evaluate the book and included parents, future parents, faculty members and staff. The group recognized this process as something the students deserved, said Bolton. The school board also began reading and discussing the book at school board meetings.

Faculty and staff attended a leadership day at a Leader in Me school in Missouri. According to the Leader in Me website, events like these are held by elementary schools going through the process. The schools open their doors to the community to let others see the transformations taking place. It gives students a chance to showcase their leadership habits.

“Not a single adult spoke the entire time,” said Eighmy. “It was all completely led and organized by the students. Students had ownership of the school. It was their school. It was their moment.”

Students showcased the various leadership habits through chants, speeches, skits and cheers.

Leader in Me in the classroom

As a Leader in Me school, Clarke students will be provided with leadership roles and responsibilities in their classrooms. For example, when a visitor walks into a classroom they will be greeted at the door by a student.

Clarke County State Bank, which is sponsoring the program through its foundation, shared a story of one of its employees going to the school.

“The second-grader shook her hand, made eye contact, welcomed her to the room and thanked her for coming,” said Amy Lampe with CCSB.

Clarke administration said they want the students to feel comfortable about themselves enough to look another person in the eye and feel confident to express themselves.

In addition, the students will be setting their own academic, social and attendance goals in order to take ownership of their education. Some classrooms have already begun the process and are collecting the information in data binders. This will allow the students to monitor their progress and growth regularly over the course of the year, said Eighmy.

Leader in Me will also teach students to collaborate with one another and be adaptable. Eighmy said students will learn how to communicate more effectively through written and oral communication. They will learn to be better problem solvers, Eighmy said.

The process

Once a school becomes a Leader in Me school it undergoes a three-year process. Earlier this month, the school had a vision day with the Franklin Covey Foundation, which implements Leader in Me. Teachers and administrators learned what it means to be a leader, a Leader in Me school, and how to practice the seven habits in a school setting.

“Essentially the objective is to help all stakeholders envision what their ideal school would be,” said Eighmy.

All staff will be taught the seven habits. This training will take place during upcoming professional development days. The habits will be taught to the students. Some classrooms have already begun implementing the habits.


Clarke County State Bank, through the John T. Vucurevich Foundation, received a $33,000 grant for Leader in Me. The foundation was established in 1989. Vucurevich owned CCSB at one time. He made a living buying and selling banks. Through this process the foundation was established. There are five banks, which are owned by the foundation through the holding company that provides dividends to the foundation so money can be given back to communities.

The foundation looks for projects that primarily center around youths. Bank President Dave Selene learned about the program during a conversation with Bolton.

“It was a combination of the goals that they wanted to accomplish at Clarke Elementary, along with Brandon and Randy wanting to champion the Leader in Me program for the elementary that gave the bank the impetus to facilitate the application to the foundation,” said Selene.

Selene said the program is in line with the bank’s position on developing leaders in Osceola and Clarke County.

The bank sponsors the Dale Carnegie Generation Next program, a leadership program for local youth. CCSB also supports the Dale Carnegie program and has had a number of employees participate in the Clarke County Leadership Academy.

Selene said they offered a challenge to the elementary administrators.

“We want to see this continue through the other grades, including middle school and high school,” he said.

Bolton said the goal is to teach the skills to the children when they’re young so it’ll be an easier transition into middle school.

“Ultimately, the goal will be for every person who comes in contact with Clarke kids to be trained in the seven habits so we’re speaking the same language,” said Eighmy.

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