The Leader In Me

By Mimi Klimberg, Julie Lambert,  and Valerie Mitrani

Mrs. Herman, the fourth grade science teacher asks her students, “How do you want to approach this experiment?” Ella, 9, raises her hand, “We need to begin with the end in mind. Based on our goal, we can plan all the steps we need to take to get there, as well as decide which resources to use.”

David, 8, and brother, Joseph, 7, vie for the same to basketball, grabbing it simultaneously. For most, this encounter would spark an all-too-familiar brotherly squabble. Instead, the two begin to speak calmly, listening to each other and negotiating an agreeable solution. David opens, “We both want to play with this basketball. Let’s switch off; you can go first.” Joseph responds, “I’ll take five minutes; then it’s your turn. That’s what I call a win-win!”

To most parents, these stories ring as true as fairy tales. Can children truly possess the leadership skills necessary to negotiate win-win solutions with their own siblings or prioritize and plan so effectively? By Mimi Klimberg, Julie Lambert, and Valerie Mitrani The answer is a resounding yes, if they live and learn leadership skills from a young age. What’s more, these important skills are vital to success in the 21st century workplace. Business leaders agree that today’s students need strong academics as well as the ability to prioritize, work in teams, negotiate, and set goals to succeed in the knowledge-based workplace. Fortunately, our Miami Jewish community recognizes future demands and is putting our students ahead of the curve.

Two years ago, the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE), the agency of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation that focuses on expanding and improving Jewish education, decided to take leadership seriously. Dr. Chaim Botwinick, CAJE President / CEO, explains, “We looked out-of-the-box for a program with proven impact.” Ultimately, CAJE forged a unique partnership with the internationally recognized leadership organization, Franklin Covey Co., which has trained business and government leaders in Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The benefits of this initiative are immediately tangible. Schools report a decrease in discipline referrals, a rise in student’s academic achievement; increased student accountability, and greater involvement of students, parents, and staff in the school community, all of which provide children with the confidence and skills to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

The Leader in Me™, Franklin Covey’s education process for teaching leadership at the elementary school level helps create a common language within a school, built on the proven principle-based leadership skills found in Dr. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. CAJE, however, envisioned something deeper. They imagined a program that taught children as young as five The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People through a distinctively Jewish lens, using Jewish texts, stories, and heroes. As no such program existed, CAJE—in partnership with Franklin Covey—modified the curriculum and created The Leader in Me: Ensuring our Jewish Future. Aside from learning about these leadership principles, students begin to sense the direct relevance of Jewish teachings to their own lives. For example, Habit 5, Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood®, focuses on listening to and understanding others before you speak. This same concept is discussed in Pirkei Avot, 2.5 “Don’t judge your fellow human being until you have reached that person’s place.”

Ariel Bentata, businessman, community leader, CAJE board member and Chair of its The Leader in Me committee, first brought the idea to CAJE. He feels strongly about intentionally training the next generation to be future leaders, noting “We must raise our children to influence, take initiative, visualize possibilities and inspire others.”
Thanks to Ariel and CAJE’s vision, The Leader in Me: Ensuring our Jewish Future now compliments the academic curriculum in four Jewish Day Schools in South Florida—Donna Klein Jewish Academy, Hochberg Preparatory School, Lehrman Community Day School, and Rohr Middle School.

We must raise our children to influence, take initiative, visualize possibilities and inspire others.

Each of these schools has embraced The Leader in Me: Ensuring our Jewish Future completely. The process begins with educating teachers, administrators, and all adults in the school about the 7 Habits through a 3-Day Signature Training Workshop. Teachers begin to adopt the skills into their own lives. Then the learning flows to students with age-appropriate workbooks, curriculum and lessons, reinforces each of the 7 Habits in multiple ways. Ultimately, the kids take the 7 Habits into their own homes, teaching it to their parents and siblings, as the common language becomes integrated into their lives and culture.

Program benefits are palpable as students take responsibility for their own learning with tools such as the data notebook. Children as young as five chart their own goals, determine action steps and graph their progress weekly. Whether it’s a kindergartener eager to master 70 sight words or a third grader determined to memorize the multiplication tables, students are empowered to direct and participate fully in their own success from start to finish.

Like tectonic plates shifting underground, institutions themselves are transformed through The Leader in Me. Students go from being passive learners to decision-makers within their schools. Karen Feller, Head of School at Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton, notes that “Leadership is developing in all grades and in all we do, from Jr. K through grade twelve. The Leader in Me: Ensuring our Jewish Future has further enriched our Jewish Day School environment in all areas of Jewish living, learning, and academic achievement.” At Rohr Middle School in North Miami Beach, leadership opportunities abound as students take the helm. Guests are greeted and taken on school tours by the Welcoming Committee. Student teams manage technology for teachers, plan and maintain school bulletin boards, and prepare and sell smoothies. Students even oversee fundraising for the 8th grade trip. At every corner, students are engaged in student life, leading and working in teams to better the school for all. Rabbi Pam, the school’s Leadership Coordinator puts it succinctly, “School is where you learn that you can be a leader, and you get to actually do it.”

Education4-3Principal of the Lehrman Community Day School in Miami Beach, Jodi Bruce observes more subtle changes as well. Teachers intervene less in student issues. Whether it’s on the playground or in class, “Students are working out their own problems more often, using the 7 Habits.” This sentiment is echoed across the board. Susan Lieberman, a third grade teacher at Hochberg Preparatory School in North Miami Beach, agrees, “My students have taken greater ownership of their conduct and responsibility for their actions.” “And since the program is integrated throughout the curriculum,” she continues, “the 7 Habits are becoming second nature; students employ these techniques frequently, naturally, and effectively.”

The benefits extend into the home. Parent, Jennifer Gross never wanted to purchase an electric guitar for her children, expecting it to end up in the back of a closet in a matter of weeks. However, when Natasha, 9, and Joseph, 8, approached her with a well devised plan, she couldn’t refuse. Natasha proposed, “Mom, what do you think of this? Joseph and I will each pay half of the guitar with our own money. We promise to take turns practicing and we will take really good care of it. Please, mom, it’s a win-win for all!” Jennifer agreed and, to this day, Natasha and Joseph proudly play on the guitar they bought for themselves.

How can you teach your own children these powerful ideas? Begin with “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids,” the New York Times bestselling book, authored by Sean Covey, which introduces young readers to the popular Covey 7 Habits through an irresistible cast of characters and entertaining stories. At the institutional level, The Leader in Me: Ensuring our Jewish Future is likely to grow as other Jewish Day Schools, both nationally and internationally, call upon Miami’s Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education for information and support. Queries from Israel to Argentina to Australia show that many are waking up to the fact that students need these skills to enrich their lives, set them on a path to success and brighten our collective Jewish future.

For more information on The Leader in Me

Ensuring Our Jewish Future, please contact Valerie Mitrani at CAJE, or visit CAJE will be holding a 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Signature Workshop on December 4-6, 2011. This training is only open to schools and organizations affiliated with CAJE. For more information, please contact Allison DiGiacomo,