Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Tommie Barfield Elementary is a ‘Leader in Me’ School

Rumination from the Rock and Beyond

You’ve heard the complaints; “My kids are so engrossed in their devices that they don’t even hear me when I talk to them.” “Kids today have no manners.” “Just look at what’s happening around us, guns and violence everywhere.” “What’s this world coming to?”

In Collier County Schools, there are positive messages and attitudes flowing into the schools’ culture and increasing students’ leadership. As part of the concern about social/emotional wellness of our students, the Buddy Bench was brought to each elementary campus. The bench enabled a student to go and sit if he or she didn’t have someone to play with at recess, or just wanted to sit alone on the bench. Class ambassadors would notice and take turns to include the student in a game or just sit and talk.

Motivational signs, found in the hallways around the school, tickle the funny bones of the TBE students and staff.

The benches are working. There is less isolation, especially if a student is new to the county or transferred from another Collier County School, because the benches are all the same vibrant blue color and recognized with a Buddy Bench sign. Getting back to the school ambassadors for a minute, they are selected by their peers as being good listeners, kind and helpful and that recognition helps inspire leadership. They go through a training with the school counselor and then go to “work,” if necessary, each day. As the year progresses, there is less use of the benches and more inclusion and communication between students.

Before the Buddy Benches and recently, there were several schools in Collier County that implemented Stephen R. Covey’s “The Leader in Me,” an off-spring of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” for adults. The LIM (Leader in Me) focuses on building skills as early as kindergarten so the end result is success academically and socially throughout life. As the program has evolved in the schools that have implemented the ideas, there is more demonstrated leadership, empowerment, healthy relationships and academic achievement.

“The Leader in Me” has seven habits. In order:

1. Be Proactive (You’re in Charge).

2. Begin with the End in Mind (Have a Plan).

3. Put First Things First (Work First, Then Play).

4. Think Win-Win (Everyone Can Win).

5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood (Listen Before You Speak).

6. Synergize (Together is Better).

7. Sharpen the Saw (Balance Feels Best).

Let’s look at a couple of these. “Be Proactive” (You’re in Charge) doesn’t mean that the student is a “know it all” and can “boss people around!” Proactive means positive behaviors, so if he or she see something that seems negative (for example, litter on the floor, lights left on when not in use, no one helping haul groceries into the house, unwashed dishes), the student should take charge and take care of it. How about someone being teased or worse, being bullied? Same strategy, even if you have to find a companion to help stop the behavior.

“Sharpen the Saw” (Balance is Best) has nothing to do with tools! Balance happens when you don’t do the same thing all the time – like video games, TV, building models. Take time to go outside and enjoy nature, kick a ball around, go to the beach and the diversity will help “sharpen” your abilities and achieve more “Balance.”

Frankly, I wish my grandson was in a LIM (Learner in Me) school in Collier, but that school hasn’t caught on yet to the benefits to students and teachers. They’ll come around. In the meantime, here’s another school that shows the leadership that expands with LIM strategies.

Highlands Elementary School in Immokalee is a recognized “Leader in Me” school and they help others to get on board. Students there make the posters and that hang around the building, determine their goals, track their goals, meet to determine how to decorate for special events and do the decorations, introduce special programs on stage, update the posters as needed, determine the topics to work on their “Balance” (one group decided on a card trick learning experience) and so much more. There is an air of positive independence, kindness and proactivity that is so rewarding in our schools, no matter where they are, on Marco Island or Immokalee. Be sure to visit a LIM school and see for yourself.



Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. 

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