The Leader in Me program has come a ‘Long’ way in Loreburn

October 31, 2018
By Jens Nielsen, Editor, Saskatchewan Bulletin

LOREBURN–Somehow it seems slightly bemusing that in a village of 107 (that figure has been unchanged for quite a few years), Loreburn Central School is, in many ways, at the epicentre when it comes to innovative practices.
While perhaps far removed geographically from what Stephen Covey envisioned when he first rolled out his landmark The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you can believe his foundational beliefs have come to permeate this K-12 school of 91 students, of whom only three are actually from Loreburn.
If you’re looking for a cheerleader for the program, principal Jill Long is your person. In her own words, the school’s commitment to this transformation has been “life changing” for her.
When espousing the virtues of The Leader in Me program, Long makes it unmistakably clear that the mantra is intended for everyone from teachers, staff and students, to those families who are willing to be on board.
Asked to encapsulate the thinking that has been adopted, Long is succinct enough. “It’s a matter of trying to encourage everyone involved to come up with solutions if there’s a problem, and we call these win-win arrangements for teachers and students. At its very heart, it’s about each of us being the best person we can be.”
Long was an itinerant teacher when the school first adopted the program in 2012 under the guidance of former principal Judy Brown. Long has been principal since 2013 and has eagerly maintained the original momentum and, by her own admission, tries to live it every day whether at home or at school.
She is well aware that the staff needs to model the behaviour in order for the students to buy in. As one of the five teachers (among eight) who are certified to teach the program, Long recalls when it was first introduced to staff, they had a six-month transition period before the concept was presented to the students.
“Right from the start we realized that as a staff we had to work together or this was never going to get anywhere. I think the fact it was bottom-up rather than top-down was a real plus,” Long noted, while adding that the basic philosophy has been integrated into every class and across the curriculum.
“That’s not to say it wasn’t hard for teachers to let go of some of the jobs they had traditionally done, but it is embedded in our everyday culture now.”
Alluding to how she has seen such a profound change in culture since the transformation, Long said that for her personally “it changed my whole paradigm of how I think, and how I see education. It’s been such an exciting journey.”
Looking back, she recalls when confronted with uncomfortable conversations with parents about their children, for example, that it would cause her considerable stress. Her barometer was that this would result in her getting cold sores, which has now diminished to almost nil.
“That is totally attributable to understanding my circle of control and influence and realizing what I can and can’t control. Those conversations come easily to me now. I want to hear the students’ stories because this is all about sharing and showing leadership.”
A central part of this implementation, via the aforementioned habits, is to recognize the importance of individualized learning as staff and students alike set their own Wildly Important Goals (WIGs). This means that students go through their grade-level expectations at their own pace and are empowered to ask for help from teachers or fellow students.
“Success looks different for everyone, and we celebrate each student’s own talents and uniqueness. We want our kids to recognize and appreciate their own strengths, and that’s all part of developing leadership.”
According to Long, fostering this sort of independence and confidence can be realized by the quieter students as well as the extroverts.
Consider, for example, Grade 12 student Abigail Graham who has been ingrained in this concept since the sixth grade.
“I personally really like it, and it has directly resulted in me becoming more confident in myself and my abilities. Most of the kids really like it and incorporate it into their daily lives. I think it has helped bring us together as a school.
“It’s a totally great opportunity for the future when you realize how a lot of businesses use this model, and so for us it’s a real advantage. It can change who you are if you’re willing. My parents took part in the original training, and they could see the benefits too.”
Graham’s comments amplify what Long speaks of when she refers to the numerous ways in which the staff looks for opportunities to empower students, including such student-led initiatives like the Lighthouse team, that sets ambitious goals 
and priorities.
An example of how this has actually helped alleviate some of the teachers’ heretofore workload is that students are routinely seen operating the photocopying machine, which brings a chuckle from Long. She concedes that initially some teachers were taken aback by this notion, as well as with students marking each other’s assignments.
“It’s kids taking more ownership of their own learning. You’re always going to have some kids who might baulk, but for the vast majority they are so engaged in this, and they know it is something we are trying to do together for their best interests. They [students] share in our goals and in setting our mission statement for the school.
“Some students might have reservations initially, but our philosophy is to make this a safe place for them to make mistakes. That’s how you learn, and so you try again until you’re successful. It has been interesting to see in parent-teacher interviews how students will own up to maybe having made a wrong choice. We expect a lot out of our kids,” Long said, while assuring the prying visitor that no, she would hardly consider herself a “hard nut.”
Based on her own experience, Long said it has become commonplace in recent years for visitors to the school to comment 
on the open, inviting vibe they experience.
Long added that she has had conversations with other principals in the Sun West School Division who have expressed an interest in adopting the program, although there is an annual fee of around $7,000 for coaching and materials. 
She indicated that it helps they have some major local donors.
“When I look back at our experience and think about how far we have come, it’s been just amazing how our culture has changed and grown. I would recommend it to anyone.”