Small People, Big Leadership!
Guest blog post by Mindy Dablow, Principal of Clarksville Elementary School.
The incoming 4th grade class of the Fall of 2016 was one of “those groups”. You know, the grade level with the largest classes (we had 30 students in each class that year), the most discipline problems, the most special needs students, and the most academically at risk students in our school. As I met with our 4th grade team to do some planning for the upcoming year, I thought to myself, “We’ve got to do something to motivate these kids so we all make it through this year.”
We wanted to find a way to empower these students to truly become leaders in our school since they were the oldest. We wanted them to learn what an awesome responsibility it is to be a positive role model for our younger students. We wanted them to see for themselves what a great feeling it is to help others. So, we developed the CES 4th Grade Leadership Academy.
Each 4th grade class is assigned one day per week as their Leadership Day. 30 minutes of 4th Grade Leadership time is scheduled each day. Teachers and staff in our building host 4th graders each day who are able to help out with a variety of tasks. The 4th graders work with younger students on sight words, math facts, make up work, etc. They put up and take down hallway displays and bulletin boards. In the office, the 4th graders help with making copies, delivering items to classrooms, walking preschool and Kindergarten students to class, and anything else that is needed! However, this special Leadership time must be EARNED. Students can only participate in Leadership time if they have completed all assignments for the week and have not had any discipline referrals. We talk to the 4th graders about the importance of setting a good example for our younger students, and if they are not putting forth excellent effort in the classroom and consistently showing REACH (Respect, Empathy, Attitude, Cooperation, and Honesty- this is our PBIS acronym), then they are not showing leadership. We found that the students really wanted to participate in their Leadership days, and worked hard to meet the criteria to do so. Students who struggled with behavior and work completion were motivated to stay on track so they could participate.
We also purchase special 4th Grade Leadership Academy shirts for the students and 4th grade teachers to wear on designated days each month if they earned this privilege. Additionally, we added a BIG incentive for our 4th graders….a field trip to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum at the end of the school year! This is a big deal for our kids as many of them have never been to Indianapolis. We take coach buses and also stop for dinner at the Golden Corral on the way home, so it’s a pretty special day. The 4th grade team and I set a strict criteria regarding classroom effort, work completion, behavior, and attendance that must be met in order for the students to be eligible to attend the trip.
Our 4th Grade Leadership Academy has been in place for four years now, and has had such a positive effect on our school culture. Our younger students definitely see the 4th graders as role models and leaders. They look forward to becoming 4th graders themselves so they can be part of the Leadership Academy too! As a staff, we find ourselves saying, “Let’s get some 4th grade leaders to help!” quite frequently! This year, 4th grade leaders have also been assisting with providing tours of our building, and they do a fantastic job. They are so proud of our school, and visitors are always impressed with their leadership. The CES 4th Grade Leadership Academy has given our 4th graders the opportunity to shine as student leaders as well as to participate in service learning, and these are lessons that cannot be learned from a textbook.