We are thankful for the opportunity to work with 25 schools in the Cedar Valley region. This month’s school feature is Hoover Middle School which is a part of the Waterloo School District. Each month, we have the opportunity to ask questions to schools in our region about the impact of Leader Valley and Leader in Me. Thank you so much to Principal Ralph Bryant for taking the time to share this information.

Hoover Middle School was the 1st Lighthouse Middle School in Iowa and the 5th in the world! Leader in Me has transformed their school into a strong leadership culture where student empowerment and engagement are at the forefront. Hoover Middle School serves as a beacon for this work at the secondary level.  

What paradigms are integral to creating a leadership culture at your school?

The paradigm we are most centered on is “Change Begins with Me”, which really speaks to the idea that change is happening all of the time, but the only thing we can do with that change is to respond to it. It is especially important this year, as change is all around us and has been for 8 months. We really have to focus on what is within our circle of influence during this time and get clear on where we can put our energy that will make a difference.  By focusing on what matters equipping ourselves to handle unpredictable situations, we hold the power to change. 

What are your school’s “big rocks” as it relates to creating a leadership culture? 

One big rock this year is the physical and mental well-being of all staff. We call this social-emotional learning (SEL). We know that we will be our best and strongest team if we are in-tune with ourselves and understand how we impact others and that for us to support student SEL needs, it starts at the core of each adult in our school. If we are going to be strong at the end of all of the things 2020 has brought us, we need to be aware of who we are working with and how we each are processing these experiences differently, yet together. 

Another key big rock for us is on our MTSS (Multi-tiered System of Support) system, which is focused on our achievement gap. Through MTSS, we take an individualized approach with students in smaller environments that allow for more responsive instruction in language arts and math. We meet students where they are at developmentally and include personalized goal setting and growth monitoring for each student as they develop their academic skill set. 

An ongoing big rock for Hoover is intentional conversations about implicit bias and race in professional development, as well as in the classroom. As we work to create a compassionate and inclusive community, we as educators must be personally aware of our paradigms and perceptions about race, as well as explore others’ paradigms. We strive to give everyone a voice and honor their paradigms. We are holding increased conversations in classrooms which gives targeted time in a safe environment to share and discuss important social issues impacting our students and their families. 

What are the results you have seen as it relates to leadership, culture, and academics?

Leader in Me is a value-add at Hoover. It is providing students valuable life experiences that will prepare them for life and the 21st-century world. We are helping students develop into effective caring citizens in their current world and beyond. We know that regardless of where they go, being part of a leadership culture like Hoover’s is arming them to be more empowered and prepared. An example of preparing students for life is when we hold 8th-grade mock interviews. Students prepare their resumes and community leaders to come to school and provide multiple authentic interviews for each student. 

From a cultural standpoint, despite Hoover’s size, there is a sense of community with a feel for inclusivity and really valuing people for who they are and their unique gifts. Students, staff, and families are more compassionate when working with others. We are seeing more positives and possibilities in each other. For example, a student with special needs who had never been on the football team was approached by a teacher/coach to join the team. He began practicing with the team and then coming to school with his jersey on, a signal of belonging to something he previously hadn’t. There has been a growing sense of pride on the part of this student, but also a growing sense of inclusion and acceptance. 

Prior to COVID-19, we had students engaged in authentic leadership roles all over our school all day long, making a difference in our school. This year, we are feeling our way through how to create leadership role opportunities with student safety at the forefront. We are getting creative and have already launched a few roles in a modified way. For example, one class is spearheading the recycling project and another class is taking the lead on the “Adopt-A-Family” project. 

What are a few key stories that illustrate the impact of Leader in Me for students?

One specific example would be Mayla, our 8th Grade student, who was just diagnosed with cancer. Her volleyball team, and Coach Karen DeSerano, a breast cancer survivor herself, started a fundraiser to support her and her family. They went to her house and presented her with a box of favorites to show her we are rallying for her. 

Hoover Middle School Leader Valley

Last Spring was our first-ever Black History Month Program which showcased student performances including traditional African dance and attire as well as the Civil Rights Movement. This experience was created and presented by students. It was fantastic. 

Friendship Village – we have a group of students who pen pal and lunch with members of the retirement home. Throughout the year, they develop writing skills and communication skills. Although it looks different this year, the conversations they have had in person are warm, friendly, and sincere. The ability for middle school students to have conversations with the older generation is amazing and both parties learn from one another while sharing life experiences.

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