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How 7 Habits training is changing Waterville schools

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WATERVILLE — In yesterday's column, I wrote about the intriguing program

in place in the Waterville School District that teaches kids (and adults) how to use the principles of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to engage students in taking charge of their education and giving them the tools to reach their highest potential.

  I learned there was some initial skepticism among staff members who worried that this would be another "flavor of the month" effort and increase their workload. Those are legitimate concerns, given the endless demands put on teachers by policymakers in Olympia and Washington D.C.  

But the folks in the Waterville School District say this the 7 Habits approach creates a framework within which teachers can drive academic and personal success and create habits that will help students succeed for life. Think of it as new operating software for schools.  

It tells you something when 91 percent of the students surveyed found the program useful and 84 percent said they were using the habits in their lives outside of school.  They also surveyed parents and of 131 responses (versus the handful they usually get), 129 were supportive. Obviously, something pretty unique is happening.  

The program "challenges us to find (a student's) areas of strength and interest," said math teacher Jody Flaget, a Waterville grad and former Marine. "It's not character education — it challenges everyone. It inspires me to be a better person for my students." It has shown educators and staff and the community that every child can be a leader in things they are passionate about.  

That leadership shows up in many areas, including parent-teacher conferences.  Students are now in charge of leading the conversation that focuses on their personal, career and academic goals. They're asking for the support they need.  

We heard 3rd grader Cole Borden talk about using the planning tools of the program to help him achieve his goals. He said he wants to be a chef and run his own restaurant some day, which apparently was news to his parents. Check out his explanation in a video on our web site ( He's a focused, driven youngster.   

Justin Grillo, who happened upon the "Leader In Me" program several years ago, said he's learned new skills that have helped him improve his coaching.  

Just like in academics, the students set their goals and the coaches are there to help them achieve their dreams.  So how does this program mesh with the need to keep up with assessments and Common Core Standards?   

High School Principal Tabitha Mires said the program creates the foundation for the school to meet those standards and that it's not just another add-on.   

Michael Forsyth, who works for Franklin Covey and and supports the Leader In Me effort, said something amazing is happening in this community because of the way it is integrated into all of the grades and the connections it is creating with the community. The 7 Habits model is guiding teachers, students and increasingly, community members. The flywheel is spinning and momentum is building.  

So get ready for "Destination Waterville," in the words of Flaget. This school district is going to be a Mecca for communities who want to see how educational transformation can succeed by building on the strengths of students and giving them the tools to thrive.

In the words of Superintendent Nelson, "this is the real deal."