The visitors streaming into Priceville Elementary didn't raise Taylor Dean's suspicion until shortly after noon Thursday, when two buses carrying almost 100 educators from across the state rolled onto campus.
"I started to think, ‘Maybe we're going to get it,' " the student ambassador said.
Her thoughts were confirmed when Principal Anne Knowlton interrupted classes and announced Priceville Elementary had become the 34th school worldwide to receive the Leader in Me Lighthouse designation.
The school is the first in the Morgan County school system and the third countywide to receive the honor. As a Lighthouse school, Priceville meets criteria that designate it as a model for the Leader in Me program.
In fewer than three years, teachers at Priceville transformed how they teach by incorporating "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," from the best-selling book by Stephen R. Covey, into the curricula.
"Essentially what we have done is empower our students to be leaders by being proactive and taking responsibility for their actions," Knowlton said.
The seven habits gave teachers a common language that students start hearing in kindergarten, she said.
"We're telling them to be proactive and that they are in control of their actions," Knowlton said.
Lighthouse schools must meet standards in nine areas, such as establishing a leadership environment for parental and community engagement. The process usually takes three years.
A decline in discipline referrals is an example of how Priceville has benefited from the seven habits.
Knowlton said that when students come to the office, they generally are trying to figure out what they have done wrong, which is a lesson in habit one: Be proactive.
"About 90 percent of the time, they tell us what they have done," she said. "We turn it back on them to help find a solution to the problem."
Knowlton said the old way of punishing students has an impact for a while, but "teaching them in these situations lasts a lifetime."
Priceville's road to Lighthouse status started in January 2010 with a faculty workday. Knowlton gave teachers Covey's book with instructions to master specific habits. Five months after the initial meeting, the faculty met again to discuss Lighthouse requirements. The school was in what Knowlton called "full force" when classes started for the 2010-11 academic year.
Priceville established a Lighthouse team that included the principal and five faculty members.
Laura Lamb, a fifth-grade teacher who has been at the school 11 years, was part of the team. She said the benefits of teaching the seven habits were immediate.
"We had tried things like character education programs, but they didn't stick," Lamb said. "The biggest benefit of using seven habits is that it talks about being responsible."
She said every teacher is sending two messages: be leaders and be proactive.
"They hear this in everything we are teaching," Lamb said.
A Lighthouse review team made an unannounced visit to the school at 7:15 a.m. last Tuesday. The team stayed all day, and in addition to observing, team members talked with students, parents and faculty members. The group took lesson plans and a list of organizations Priceville had initiated since starting the process.
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"They told us they would get back with us in six to eight weeks," Knowlton said.
That's why she cried two days later when she learned Priceville had received Lighthouse designation. The announcement came during a symposium that Priceville's Lighthouse team was attending at Athens State University.
"I was very surprised, and it was an emotional moment," Knowlton said.
Dean, a fifth-grader who is president of the science club, suspected something special was coming when "so many people came to see our school."
The ambassadors welcomed educators from around the state, who had been attending the symposium, to Priceville Elementary. The visitors' schools are trying to gain Lighthouse status.
Letting students show visitors around is part of teaching leadership, Knowlton said.
"We're always looking for opportunities for our students to be leaders," she said. "Part of the seven habits is finding ways to let them do it."
Bus Leaders is another student-led program developed through teaching the seven habits. The students in this program help drivers maintain order by reminding students of the rules.
Howie Mansell, 9, a third-grader, is a bus leader.
"If students stand up when they are not supposed to, I ask them to sit down," he said. "I try to keep everybody out of trouble."
Mansell tracks discipline problems. He meets with the assistant principal monthly, and if a bus has no discipline issues, those students are recognized.
No matter where students are in the 88,000-square-foot school, there is some reminder of the schools' mission and the seven habits.
Knowlton said the ultimate goal is to make sure students have a "can-do attitude" when they are not at school.
"We want our kids to be good and productive citizens as well as good students," she said.
Deangelo McDaniel can be reached at 256-340-2469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Priceville, a K-5 school with about 720 students, is the 34th school in the world to get Lighthouse status. Thirty of the 34 schools are in the United States, one in Indonesia and three in Canada.
The five Lighthouse schools in Alabama are Moulton Elementary, Chestnut Grove Elementary, Somerville Road Elementary, Priceville Elementary and University Place Elementary in Tuscaloosa.
The Leader in Me Lighthouse program emphasizes a culture of student empowerment by applying “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
Priceville’s Lighthouse team includes Principal Anne Knowlton and teachers Laura Lamb, Bonnie Ozbolt, Jackie Teague, DeeDee Hendrix and Carol Stanford.
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