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Living your leadershipMediationTurn the cubeLiving your life
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True Story: As the structure and format of the Turn The Cube curriculum was being developed, a middle school expressed its willingness to allow both the staff and student curriculums to serve as a pilot project. As an introduction to how students explored issues, we were asked to observe a grade-wide activity addressing “harassment.” After a presentation, students were given materials on this obviously important matter and given a considerable amount of time to make posters. The very large room was abuzz as hundreds of students enthusiastically constructed their warnings and condemnations of this ugly, hurtful, and often hard-to-detect-by-adults behavior on the poster boards provided. Afterwards, the students proudly paraded their posters inside and outside the building.

Approximately a week later, in a private meeting, the principal disclosed that a letter had been received from the parents of one of the participants in the harassment project. The letter conveyed an account of alleged harassment of their child throughout the activity. The letter also gave notice to the principal that a lawsuit was being considered. Given that both parents were attorneys, the principal could not comfortably dismiss the communication in the moment.

The point of the story is that no one time activity—no matter how well thought out and pertinent—is likely to affect behavior in a sustained way. If you want to change behavior, you need to change the culture of the setting. To change the culture of the setting, you need to systematically apply the values articulated for the setting. Values in more corporate settings are frequently expressed in a “mission statement”; in school settings, overarching themes are indicated through “core values.”

Living Your Leadership is a year-long, applied learning program for the final year of middle school. It can be taught on a stand alone basis or it can be integrated with an existing health/ social development course. It is also the natural companion of the 8th grade Living Your Life curriculum.

The curriculum has both social and academic goals. The social goals of the Living Your Leadership are:

Support and strengthen a sense of community within the school

Stimulate a mindfulness of the importance of looking beyond oneself

Support social diversity/inclusion while undermining the exclusivity of cliques

The academic goals of Living Your Leadership are:

Introduce the student to the complexity and nuances of leadership

Promote the understanding that leadership starts with self-directed behavior

Promote the development and application of leadership skills and attitudes

The structure of Living Your leadership is grounded in a classroom experience and a student's membership in a small group. The group is strategically pulled together by the school's staff to reflect diversity in every way imaginable. Each group assumes a collective responsibility to have a positive school year and to see that each member's middle school career ends on a “good note” if at all possible.

In exploring the attributes of leadership (e.g., acts collaboratively, sets realistic goals, seeks positive outcomes for others, and values information/data in decision-making), the program has each student participate in small group activities, school-focused activities, and family-based activities as well as carrying out individual tasks. Twenty four leadership attributes are examined through this process and each leadership attribute has its own assignment sheet to be completed and turned in. For optimal results—that is to say that each student thoughtfully engages each task—the attribute assignments are staggered—in a prearranged order—so that very few, if any, students are working on the same assignment at the same time.

Each student has a personalized binder to archive his or her efforts. Since the program begins and ends with group pictures being placed in a student's binder, the school must have the capacity to take and produce photographs in a timely way.