Leadership academy will thrive on partnership

Business leaders in Wisconsin have offered to help fund a leadership academy that would “develop a servant leader-minded workforce.”

Festival Foods Board Chairman Dave Skogan asked more than 50 business and community leaders and high school superintendents in the Coulee Region for pledges totaling $600,000 to pay for a character-building curriculum.

The Character Lives curriculum arose from a 2013 survey in which more than 700 employers said they had trouble finding recent grads to hire because, although technically competent, the applicants lacked adaptability, as well as the communication, decision-making, and problem-solving skills needed for the job.

Character Lives brought in John Norlin, co-creator of the CharacterStrong curriculum on which Character Lives is based, to introduce students to the concept and to train teachers. Part of the $600,000 will be used to pay Norlin, a Washington state-based motivational speaker, whose goal is to train 120 teachers before May.

Research shows that if schools teach students only for test scores, they will learn only one-third to one-half of what they need to know, Norlin told the Wisconsin community leaders. He said students can engage in five different conversations on six different platforms on a cell phone, but many are lost when it comes to face-to-face conversations.

“If you ask them to meet someone and talk, it’s like a death sentence,” he said.

Norlin said Character Lives teaches students to relate to each other and develop character, the foundation for improving the community and the world. The idea that leaders are born and not made applies only to a few and lets everyone else off the hook, he said. “We all have skin in this. Personality is a gift. Character is a habit.”

Can an initiative such as Character Lives make a difference in the lives of students? Possibly, answers Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture founder James Davison Hunter, in The Tragedy of Moral Education in America. “[E]vidence suggests that character education programs can work better if children work and live within a moral culture that sets boundaries and offers ideals and makes the moral demands seem to be the way the world is.”

The public-private partnership represented in the proposed leadership academy is one way to help set those boundaries and offer ideals, such as that of servant-leadership for young people.

The Character Lives website, where teachers can learn more about the program, says, “Schools can’t do it alone.” They’re right. It is always the work of a community.