A few staff members from my school were invited to the Leadership Event that another school held when it was working towards becoming a Lighthouse School. One of the criteria to become a Lighthouse School (something the Covey Institute holds up as a higher status for any Leader In Me School to achieve) is that you sell the program to other schools in the community. Our school counselor attended this event to learn about The Leader In Me. Because she went through the 7 Habits business training a few years ago, and found it very helpful to her personally, the Leader In Me program really resonated with her. She encouraged our principal to look into bringing the program to our school.
The Program is Expensive
The Leader In Me Program is a 3 year program which costs upwards of $75,000 to bring to a school. It includes student and teacher workbooks for every grade level, posters, a storybook, and many days of teacher training. Our school contacted the Covey Institute about the program, but was then unable to get the funds from our school district or our PTA to bring this program to our school.
The Covey Institute decided to help. They work with a number of companies who are helping to promote The Leader In Me program. One of these companies is Panda Express. The Covey Institute contacted Panda Express on our behalf, and Panda Express agreed to give our school a grant so we could bring this program to our school.
Consider if you will what the motivations are here. Panda Express is not an expert in educating children. They did not perform an academic or educational review of the materials for their appropriateness for use in a public school. As far as I can tell, there are 2 reasons that Panda Express wants to give out grants for this program:
1. Panda Express looks good for giving donations to schools.
2. The owner of Panda Express is a huge believer in The 7 Habits curriculum. He asks all of his employees to go through the 7 Habits training. For more on this topic, see, The inner Leader and General Tso, Meet Stephen Covey. Also note that Andrew Cherng is a proponent of many self help genres, including Landmark Education.
(12/1/17: Both of these Panda Express links have been removed/put behind pay walls. Here’s a more recent article about Andrew Cherng’s interest in promoting Stephen Covey’s work. Also, according to The Leader In Me website, Panda Express has given grants to 880 schools so far – the biggest provider of grants by a factor of 80, and accounting for about 30% of the schools using The Leader In Me program.)
It would be different if Panda Express donated money to schools and allowed professional educators to determine the best way to use that money to help kids. Instead, by giving our school a grant for one specific program, Panda Express is dictating what program will be implemented in our school.
Yes, our principal and school counselor sought out this program. But look at the chain of events:
1. Franklin Covey asked a neighboring school to advertise this program to my school.
2. When my school couldn’t afford the program, Franklin Covey provided us with a grant.
Maybe The Leader In Me program is a great program. Or maybe my school principal and counselor got hoodwinked by a very smart marketing scheme that promised to improve our test scores and decrease our behavioral problems FOR FREE. Note that our school was already a very high-performing school, with very few behavior problems. We live in an upper class neighborhood. Won’t our school look great on the list of Lighthouse Schools on the Covey website?