Focus on ‘7 Habits’ Makes for Happier Kids at Commack Road and Sherwood

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A far-reaching “7 Habits of Happy Kids” focus has taken root at both Commack Road and Sherwood elementary schools over the past several years, and this initiative has enhanced the students’ leadership skills, cooperation and school spirit.

The 7 Habits concept stems from Stephen Covey’s seminal work “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Covey’s son Sean wrote a sequel, “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids,” looking to develop leadership principles in children through the titular habits. The first three “private victory” habits – Be Proactive; Begin with the End in Mind; and Put First Things First – teach responsibility, planning and prioritization. The second trio of “public victory” habits – Think Win-Win; Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood; and Synergize – focus on conflict resolution, listening and teamwork. The seventh and final habit, Sharpen the Saw, encourages balance and self-care.

When Principal Chad Walerstein came to Sherwood, he introduced the district to the Leader in Me program, demonstrating how it could be woven into the schools’ character education programs.

“All of our teachers have access to Leader in Me online resources and I’ve asked them to try to carve out time each day for social-emotional learning,” Walerstein said.

Three years ago, Sherwood revised its character program, creating a common language around the building using 7 Habits-centered language. Last year, the school debuted a “Harry Potter”-style house system to promote the 7 Habits, inspired by a school in Georgia. All students and teachers are randomly sorted into four houses – Dignatio, Honestas, Respectus and Virtus –which include students from each grade and classroom. Every teacher gets tickets, and when the students exemplify one of the 7 Habits, they earn tickets for weekly raffles for bookmarks and other rewards. 

“We wanted to take it to a different level and involve all the students, really change the culture here to become more inclusive and make it more of a community,” Walerstein said. “It’s the ultimate public victory, because while you’re caught doing the right thing yourself, you’re ultimately helping the greater good because you’re helping your house.”

Commack Road is no less committed to the 7 Habits concept. During the 2017-2018 school year, Principal James Cameron bought the “7 Habits” book for every teacher in every classroom, then added follow-up readers for teachers to utilize. Last year, Commack Road embarked on a Leader in Me book study, restructured the building schedule to provide 20 minutes at the end of every day for social-emotional learning, and introduced the Leadiators club, a teacher-selected group of fourth and fifth grade students who exemplify good character.

“You have to make kids feel warm, welcomed, appreciated and loved,” Cameron said. “You can’t expect a kid to do something for you unless you invest in that child. Our focus with the 7 Habits is really building that time for teachers to invest in the social-emotional side of children. It creates habits that will make them successful long-term.”

Future plans include an expansion of the club to a Leadiators Junior version for second and third graders, finding ways to beautify the school, encouraging branding efforts, and a character breakfast to highlight students who demonstrated exemplary leadership.

The results at Commack Road have been impressive, according to Cameron. “The kids have taken ownership of everything being done at the school,” he said. “They come to me with different ideas and ways to make the school better. My role is to say yes and get bureaucracy out of their way.”

“Major disciplinary problems have virtually disappeared,” Walerstein said of Sherwood’s reaction to the 7 Habits initiative. “My ultimate goal is for this to become a sustaining system for years to come and eventually involve students and parents on our committees.”

On a districtwide level, Islip plans to bring the “7 Habits” initiative to the middle school and high school next year.