Teacher Leader Reflections on Covey’s 7 Habits

Last week our Teachers As Instructional Leaders Seminar Series met at the SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Branch Campus to review Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We’re a small group of eight creative, self-directed teachers seeking strategies and understandings to grow our skills as teacher leaders and better serve their students and schools. The Covey session was not originally listed in our six-session Series, but was added at the group’s request following a brief discussion about Covey in an earlier meeting. After a quick review of the habits, we brainstormed simple examples of what the 7 Habits look like for teachers and teacher leaders.  I then asked the group to look at the habits through the lens of school reform. See below for minutes of this thoughtful group. Enjoy.

Habit One: Be Proactive

  1.  A proactive teacher leader would act upon education rather than being acted upon by the educational process.  We would be a driving force as part of the change because we have already identified the need for changes in our classroom/curriculum  and understand those goals most clearly.
  2. We would be the voice rising above the educational chaos and jargon, the leaders saying follow me because I know what I’m doing, and you have nothing to fear, we will achieve this together.
  3. We would not wait for the educational standards to arrive, we would be the educational standard everyone is trying to achieve. Ahead of the changes, always on the cutting edge of the next educational opportunity for our students.  We would see and realize the change even before it arrived.  
  4. Ask ourselves how we can implement the common core by working together. We need to implement them, so let’s take the initiative and make it work for everyone.
  5. To be successful, you must be proactive. I don’t want to react to something, but rather study it, fix what needs fixing, and then go with it. Prepare for success. 
  6. The failures of my students to meet the standards are my failure. If it isn’t working, it’s due to something I did in the classroom.
  7. Common core standards are an improvement over past standards, and a work in progress. We must figure out how to get everyone to accept and use the standards.
  8. Using midterms and finding strengths and weaknesses for students to learn their strengths and weaknesses. Helping others see the value of such assessments. Matching up students’ predictions with the actual results.
  9. Using KWLs so I don’t spend time on boring stuff they (students) already know or are uninterested in. I can take what they want to know and work it into the curriculum.
  10. Ask colleagues for topics to discuss at department meetings. I am not their boss, but do organize and prioritize their interests into the agenda.
  11. I try to think of the APPR as an opportunity to make my teaching and my classroom better. To use it for my own advantage and not something imposed on me.
  12. Student excuses. If I take responsibility for not getting their homework graded on time, I can honestly tell them I made a mistake. I am going to model proactivity and responsibility.
  13. School Reform: Give it a chance. Keep an open mind.
  14. School Reform: Get the facts straight and don’t make assumptions.

Habit Two: Begin With The End In Mind

  1. Think of the footprint of your career. What do you want said about you at the retirement dinner.
  2. When planning, I want to anticipate where my students are going to struggle.   
  3. Thinking about what my students will need when they leave my class for middle school. Being mindful throughout the year about those needs.
  4. At the high school level, being mindful of what students will need for career or college success.
  5. Curriculum. What are your exit outcomes and ensuring students realize the goals. Planning a given unit. Working backwards from the major assessments.
  6. As a teacher, thinking what you could learn to make you a better teacher for the following year. Reflective thinking.
  7. Working with students with disabilities and determining reasonable goals during IEP prep followed by purposeful planning to close the gap in their deficits.
  8. I don’t worry about attendance, I worry about the students in my class. I don’t worry about SLOs or the proper paperwork. I run with the good ideas when they arise.
  9. School Reform: Look at how the reform could be a positive (the district goals).
  10. School Reform: How do you want your school to be perceived (reputation).

Habit Three: Put First Things First

  1. Comfortable environment for the students. No drama. No gossip. No negatives.
  2. Meeting students where they are at and guiding them to where they need to be. We’re not going to have a half hour fight over whether they have a pencil or not.
  3. Putting together my evidence binder. The not urgent paperwork that is important. The budget. The field trip paperwork….
  4. Parent letters. Not urgent, but very important to send home periodically. Lowers parents’ anxiety.  At elementary, letters go out regularly.
  5. Unit planning. Getting the plans organized.
  6. Next Generation Science Standards. Taking time to learn them in preparation for their pending arrival.
  7. Attending professional development when available. To improve your skills—curriculum development, common core,.….
  8. Using department meetings and common planning time to do important work.
  9. Faculty meetings have fallen into the urgent but unimportant category. They can be a horrible waste of time. Help principals make better use of such meetings.
  10. School Reform: Student-driven. Students must always come first. Even when an IEP says a class of two.
  11. School Reform: Prioritize. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Make the change that’s really needed. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. Let things roll off your back.

Building Up The Emotional Bank Account

  1. Going to outside school events to show support. Dance recitals, soccer games, science symposium, horse shows, plays, music events, concerts, art shows, fiber tour, Washington county fair, 4H events, FFA events, winter Olympics, charities
  2. Being on time and attending all meetings with undivided attention (cell phones off)
  3. Listening to your colleagues and your administrators and students. Listening to what’s not being said. Being aware of the nonverbal. Trying to see things on their side. Walking in their shoes. Thinking about them while driving through the neighborhood and passing their homes.
  4. Clarify expectations. Write objectives on the board. I tell them there will be surprises such as pop quizzes.
  5. Sticking to a routine. That stability piece gives students a sense of clarity. Model integrity.
  6. Giving out a golden broomstick award (Witches) for students who went beyond the expectations of the classroom. Giving out stickers that work towards a party day once a month. They can play a game that is math related and a treat they select (apple cider, Christmas cookies….)
  7. Bucket fillers. Elementary are so much better at praising students and recognizing their accomplishments.
  8. When I make a mistake, I promptly apologize.
  9. It’s important to say when we don’t know. It builds trust when we admit we don’t know the answer.

Habit Four: Think Win-Win

  1. Sharing ideas with your colleagues.
  2. When focused on decisions, make sure the decision is student-centered, not teacher-centered. It’s not personal. It’s about the students, even if it means sacrificing. It’s professional, not personal.
  3. You should like everyone else’s idea for at least 15 minutes.
  4. Realizing that your big ideas may negatively impact others and being aware of such impacts.
  5. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes when making decisions.
  6. Being with administrators or colleagues in a team (there’s no I in team).
  7. School Reform: Work together. Parent-Teacher-Student-Administration-Community relationships. Make the school the community and the community the school.
  8. School Reform: Offer the proper continued support for everyone involved with the reform. Professional development, time, resources, and recognition (private or public) are essential. Ensure there is follow through.

Habit Five: Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood

  1. With students or colleagues, ask questions first. What would you do, what do you think.  Then offer your ideas.
  2. When a student is seated at their desk and not doing something, try not to take it personal but instead think how to get them back on track. Don’t assume.
  3. Try not to be judgmental. Don’t judge a book by its cover. People have different moral compasses. Correct behaviors, not judge them.
  4. Use the ten-second rule. You can’t respond for ten seconds.
  5. Ask and listen.
  6. School Reform: Think about the school’s needs. Community forums. Fully understand the purpose of reform before offering your thoughts or input.
  7. School Reform: Fully understand what the implications would be for students, teachers, staff, community…

Habit Six: Synergy

  1. Find the strengths of all students and exploit those strengths. It empowers them to do great work. We all have special talents which together make us more powerful as a department, school, and community. Our school and community are almost like one. This begins with our administration.
  2. Let students know this isn’t the only way to do something. I teach math, and they need to recognize there are other solutions to a problem.
  3. Apply for a grant with a group of people or a fellowship with a colleague. It creates great synergy.
  4. Focus on your strengths and manage your weaknesses.
  5. You can’t force synergy. You have to want it.
  6. School Reform: Have every person involved. Use their strengths. Everyone has a role. Everyone owns it.

Some of Our Teacher Leader Contributors:

Nicole Dixson, Rebecca Harke, Gwynne Cosh, Nicole Fortier

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