GLASGOW – Three educators from North Jackson Elementary helped write and modify lesson plans for a new teacher's edition of Franklin Covey's “The Leader in Me” curriculum.
This new version of the book not only includes lesson plans, but each lesson has modifications to accommodate students with disabilities.
The Leader in Me program is a “whole school transformation process” that teaches “21st Century leadership and life skills to students and creates a culture of student empowerment based on the idea that every child can be a leader,” according to the program's website.
Heather Ashby Marr, a kindergarten instructional assistant at NJE, wrote lessons for the kindergarten section of the new teacher's edition, while NJE Exceptional Child Education (ECE) teacher Christa Middleton and Molly Caswell, a Moderate to Severe Disabilities teacher at NJE, wrote modifications to lesson plans for all of the K-6 grade levels.
When this process first began in early 2015, Marr was a kindergarten teacher at A.B. Combs Leadership Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C.
Marr said A.B. Combs was the very first Leader in Me school, although she was not there when the program was first incorporated.
When creating a new teacher's edition, Franklin Covey “realized they wanted to get more teacher input to make it more practical in the classroom setting,” Marr said, adding that they wanted real teachers to create the lessons.
“So I was actually on a team that helped create the kindergarten portion,” Marr said, adding that she was then invited to the Franklin Covey headquarters in Salt Lake City to help piece together all of the lessons from teachers around the country and make a book.
Meanwhile at NJE, Middleton and Caswell were drawing attention because they were creating modifications for The Leader in Me lessons.
“Other teachers from other schools were coming to see what we were doing,” Middleton said. “How we were adapting these for our students.”
Caswell said teachers from across Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana started coming to NJE.
“They wanted to know how we were doing this and how our students benefited,” Caswell said, adding that the news of their modification success reached Franklin Covey.
“We were contacted by Covey,” Caswell said. “But that was after they had been in our school and saw that we were adapting and modifying their curriculum for special needs students.
“That's when they really wanted to jump on board and make this work for special needs students.”
Marr said the lessons they created for the new teacher's edition were sent to Middleton and Caswell to be modified.
“They differentiated what we created for special needs students,” Marr said.
Middleton said she and Caswell went through all the grade levels, K-6, and wrote “differentiation options on every single lesson.”
“We tried to think about our own students and the limitations that the lessons may present for them and other students we may have worked with,” Middleton said, adding that the two teachers worked on these modifications from May to November in 2016.
Middleton said they received the lessons in a rough, draft-like format and that they learned a lot about the process because of it. Middleton said she and Caswell would independently look and the lessons, come up with ideas and then collaborate.
“Sometimes we would both look at each other and go, 'I've got that same idea!'” she said.
Caswell said they were constantly trying to think outside the box and ask how an idea could benefit their students.
Middleton said they focused on accommodating all students.
“When they have games where students are up and moving around, we try to think about students in wheelchairs,” Middleton said. “How are they going to be included?”
She said there was a lesson with an activity where students were supposed to pop a balloon, and that she and Caswell immediately knew that this would not be a good idea for students with sensory overload.
“So we gave them a different option for that,” Middleton said. “When there are physical games, we gave them table top games to do instead, so that all students are included because all students are important.
“They all need to be included. That was our passion and that's where our heart was at in every single lesson that we worked on.”
Caswell said teachers, especially special education teachers, are constantly taking home lessons to adapt and modify.
“You don't have to do that when you have this curriculum,” she said. “It's laid out for you right there.”
Anthony Frazier, current principal of NJE and soon-to-be director of pupil personnel for Barren County Schools, said these materials are going to be sold worldwide.
“And to have three of the creators of the materials from one school, I'm just so very proud of the school and the community,” Frazier said. “I just think our community is very fortunate.”
Caswell said she is extremely proud that there are now options for students with special needs, that all students can be included in the program.
“Just seeing this book in print is a great honor,” Caswell said. “To know that we all had a hand in it and that students will benefit from this worldwide.
“And to know that some of it came from southcentral Kentucky. We think that's pretty cool.”