I had a forum on this site for almost a year and a half, but in all that time, only one topic has ever gotten any traction: the one titled “Is the Leader in Me All It’s Cracked Up to Be?” I originally posted the question to see what teachers and parents were experiencing in schools that had adopted the Leader in Me program. As a parent whose kids go to a Leader in Me school, I was initially impressed by the program, but then started to have some doubts. I wanted to hear from others.
I have now closed that forum because I want to move the discussion here, so more people can talk about how this program has impacted their school and whether, in a time of fiscal belt-tightening, it’s worth the high sticker price.
What is the Leader in Me?
The Leader in Me is basically a philosophy that schools are taught to weave into every aspect of the school day. It’s not a curriculum or an instructional method, but rather a school culture model in which students learn Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Happy Kids, a spin-off from his original book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The program also encourages students to set and track personal goals and to take leadership roles whenever possible. In Leader in Me schools, students are often the ones who run the assemblies and programs, give guided tours around the building, and generally take on many of the responsibilities that were once the exclusive domain of teachers and administrators.
It sounds great, right? In theory, yes. “Overall, I love the concept of this program,” wrote forum commenter 2Sprouts. “I support anything that encourages and teaches kids to take personal responsibility, as well as how to effectively communicate and work with others. It was introduced to our school not long after the Sandy Hook school shootings and I couldn’t imagine a better thing we could do to try to prevent things like that happening.”
But others aren’t so sure.
Problems with the Leader in Me: An Overview
Objections to the program have risen for a variety of reasons. Here are the most common ones:
1. Cost. Franklin Covey is careful not to publish any pricing for its Leader in Me training; scroll all the way down in the Q&A section and you’ll see a non-committal response to the question of cost. They encourage people to call to receive a price quote, what they call an “investment summary.” But the most common figures I’ve seen hover around the $50 thousand mark for the basics. If a school wants to attain Lighthouse Status, they will need to pay for additional training and coaching. When schools are laying off teachers and cutting funding for many programs, the decision to pay for high-priced training definitely raises eyebrows.
2. The feeling that the program creates a brainwashed, cult-like atmosphere. The book that teaches the Leader in Me process recommends the “ubiquitous” approach, where the language of the Seven Habits is inserted into the day’s routine in any way possible: A lunchroom supervisor who sees a kid eating cookies before his sandwich might remind him to Put First Things First. A history teacher might ask students if either side in an international conflict was looking for a Win-Win solution. For some people, this approach feels forced. “At first, I thought people were kidding when they were working the language into every single conversation I was having at work,” wrote teacher KKB in the forum, “I was hearing things like, Well, if we begin with the end in mind, then that will be a win win for everyone, so let’s be proactive and put first things first, and then we’ll really be able to synergize. Seriously. People were saying these sentences. Then I realized that the language was so cliche’ and could be applied so broadly that there was no deeper conversation happening.” Another commenter by the name of 2x2x2 Mom, wrote, “It seemed to encourage everyone into black and white thinking about everything.”
3. The question of efficacy. Another objection is the lack of third-party research about the program’s effectiveness. “The results of this program have never been tested and proven scientifically,” writes mmbaldwin. “However, most schools give glowing reviews.” And some who work with older kids report that the approach is actually less effective than it is with younger students: “It’s way too cartoony and repetitive with the language for 4-6th graders,” writes 2sprouts. “Teachers and kids (and parents) are burned out with the language repetition.” In my own experience, my three elementary-aged kids simply roll their eyes anytime my husband or I use the language of the Seven Habits with them. And although they have been given some neat opportunities to present publicly, apart from that I haven’t seen the program have much of an impact on them. They certainly don’t stop arguing in order to seek first to understand, and the only one who seems to really care about them putting first things first is me. I think the underlying principles of the habits are sound; I just haven’t seen much evidence that they are sinking in with my own kids.
4. Corporate ties and corporate “vibes.” Some who question the program, like commenter mmbaldwin, are bothered by the fact that the training is being “pushed” on schools by local Chambers of Commerce. “The Chamber of Commerce is a big supporter of Common Core/PARCC testing in our area and we are NOT fans of either.” Others dislike the way the program’s structure tends to mimic other corporate models: Molly, a Redmond, WA, parent who protested her district’s implementation of Leader in Me, objected to the fact that part of implementation required promoting the program to other schools, which she said, “screams of pyramid marketing.”
5. Some see the program as culturally biased. “We are implementing it in incredibly culturally diverse schools largely without regard to the fact that these concepts and this language will run contrary to the backgrounds of many of the students,” wrote KKB. “A student from a tribal culture may generally be uncomfortable with the concept of ‘leading’ in the western sense of the word, and is it our job to try to make them comfortable with it?”
6. Finally, some concern has surfaced that the program has religious roots. Commenter elidyr wrote, “Without a doubt it is an indoctrination of our children with Stephen Covey’s Mormon faith teachings. While the habits seem innocuous by themselves, when you start studying Covey’s work you find the deep religious aspect hidden in the habits.”
What’s Happening at Your School?
I have attempted to summarize the issues with the program here, but I’m interested to hear your stories. Is the Leader in Me program showing clear positive outcomes on student learning and behavior at your school? Tell us about it. Have you had negative experiences with the program? Let’s hear it. Without an open discussion in a space that’s not sponsored by any of the interested parties, we’ll never see the whole picture. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. ♦