Books to Grow Leaders: Part One


Collecting texts to teach the Seven Habits of Happy Kids isn't always something that comes easy. 

The Leader in Me school I was a part of had a "book of the month" for the whole school, and we usually connected it to the 7 Habits of Happy Kids. The challenge soon became finding a text that was engaging and appropriate for kindergarten through fifth grade. 

As a third grade teacher at the time, I found myself in the "sweet spot" - we could make just about anything work for us. But I kept hearing from my upper grades co-workers that they needed something a little more on their level. And when I transferred to another school to teach fifth-grade last year, I found out exactly what they were talking about! 

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means I get a small commission from the items you purchase through these links. It keeps the blog on! :) 


The first three habits are known as "the private victory" - the idea being that they change a person from the inside out. The Leader in Me principles teach that it's hard to practice the last four (five) habits effectively without the first three solidly in place. We spend a lot of time focusing on the first three habits, especially during the first half of the school year. 

One of the ways I do this is through read-aloud. As I worked more in upper grades, I saw more opportunities to do this with class novels or in guided reading. Today, I'm sharing with you my favorite texts for promoting the first three habits (and paradigm shifts - but we'll get to that in a minute 😊). 

For each habit, I'm including three novels and one picture book. I've poured through my own collection to ensure a good mix of diverse texts and genres. I would love any suggestions you have as well! I hope these are helpful! 


Each of these titles features a character who has to learn that he (or she) is in charge of his (or her) own actions - no one else. They also become more aware of how their actions impact others. Or, in the case of Dream Big, they learn that they are in charge of their destiny. 

Links to Habit 1 Texts: 

Restart by Gordan Korman


These books all focus on a character with a plan who is determined to see it through. There are often obstacles - socio-economic status, race, tragedy, etc. - but each character learns to persevere in his or her own way. 

Links to Habit 2 Texts:

Ron's Big Mission by Rose Blue

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (This is the first book in a 4-part series. SO INCREDIBLE.)

The School Story by Andrew Clements

Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm


This is probably a teacher's favorite habit --- "Work first, then play." 😂 Luckily, there are more than a few books out there to help us teach our students about the reward of relaxing once our work is done, and done well. There is also huge value in our students learning to say no to things they know they should not do! 

Links to Habit 3 Texts:

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (One of my annual FAVORITES)

The Hero Two Doors Down by Sharon Robinson 

The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola

Several of these texts (Dream Big, The Hero Two Doors Down) were FREE as part of my Kindle Unlimited subscription, so I plugged my iPad into my Smartboard "dongle" and projected the texts. We were able to close read several sections and "mark up" the text as well. It was a really great way to dig into the book!

I also have two sets of leadership story sorts that I use to teach and review the habits throughout the year. The primary version is best suited for kindergarten through third grade, as it provides more visual support. The intermediate version uses more detailed stories for students to sort into examples and non-examples.


A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in the way we think or behave. We have paradigm shifts because of events in our world (September 11th), in our lives (a new baby, the death of a loved one), and because of our relationships with others. These are often "internal transformations" so I'm including them in this group of texts to share today. 

These books show characters who undergo their own paradigm shift for one reason or another - and they provide incredible opportunities for rich conversations with our students. 

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

Smoky Night by Eve Bunting

The Janitor's Boy by Andrew Clements 

As a school, we adopted five paradigms for reaching and teaching our students. 

1. Everyone can be a leader. 
2. Everyone has genius. 
3. Change starts with me. 
4. Educators empower students to lead their own learning. 
5. We develop the whole person.

Find Part Two by clicking on the image below!

On a final note, I turned those paradigms into a set of posters! If you'd like to use them, sign up for my email newsletter below and download them for free! You'll also get access to exclusive content, freebies, and more! 

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No Classroom Rules = Better Classroom Management


Before we get any further into this post, let me assure you my kids definitely *think* there are classroom rules. 😉 But, I don’t call them that and I haven’t for a long time. By the time they get to fifth grade, even the most well-behaved students are OVER the long lessons on classroom rules. I started using "Work Hard" and "Be Kind" after reading There Are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquith.

I had a major paradigm shift in the way I handled discipline and spoke to my students, which in turn had a big impact on my classroom management. Rafe has written several books and has been a huge influence on me personally, but that's a story for another day. 😊

So exactly how does that affect my classroom management? What do I do instead? I’m excited to share a part of that with you today!

(side note: There are affiliate links throughout this post. That means I get a small commission when you make a purchase through those links. It helps keep the lights on over here! )


It sounds so primary, doesn’t it? Almost preschool-ish! But it has worked so well for me I can’t really describe it another way. Our kids know better and can choose better – but they need us to remind them sometimes. 

When my students come in on the first day, the first thing they see is our door. 

After morning announcements, our first order of business is our inaugural morning meeting. I like to start it off by saying…

“WE are going to do two things in here all year long. We are going to WORK HARD and we are going to BE KIND. Who can tell me what it means to WORK HARD?”

Right off the bat, the kids recognize that there are plenty of "rules" that fall under our two guiding principles. Like... pretty much all of them! 

We make a t-chart and describe what it means to work hard and be kind in the fifth grade. We discuss what it looks like and sounds like when fifth graders are NOT working hard or being kind. Don't skip this step! It's incredibly powerful, and it really sets the tone for the expectations I have for them this year. 

I still wanted to dig a little deeper with my students so I pulled out some of my "old tricks" from my time at a Leader in Me school.


Part of determining our guiding principles as a class is going over what it means to “Be Kind” and “Work Hard.” Those are the values I stress to them throughout the year. I also spend time talking about the 7 Habits of Happy Kids and what it means for us (as fifth graders) to use them. 

I’m not at a Leader in Me school anymore, but several of the things I practice daily in my classroom are carryovers from my six years in a school with a strong LIM program in place. 

If you’re in a kindergarten through third-grade classroom, you might want to investigate using The 7 Habits of Happy Kids to introduce the leadership habits to your students. We focus on one habit a day until we’ve gone through all seven. 

For fourth and fifth grade teachers, this book can feel a bit primary. I ended up writing my own stories to go along with each of the habits, and we turned it into a group activity. 

For each habit, I’ve written eight stories – 4 examples and 4 non-examples of the habit in action. Students work in small groups to determine whether the children in the story are using the target leadership habit or not. When they have their answer, I ask the teams to describe to their classmates why (or why not) the story does (or doesn’t) use the habit we’re discussing that day. There are also templates for students to write out their own scenarios. We usually focus on one habit a day until we've reviewed them all, so this is a a great writing activity for the first week or so.

I also have a primary version of the sorts. The students will use them a bit differently, but the ideas are the same. There is more visual support in this set (and YES, the stories are different), and I've also included an "If... Then..." scenario sort for students to complete as you study each habit.

Now for one of the questions I get the most often - HOW do you fit it all in????


I want my students to emulate the leadership habits I’m modeling and teaching. The habits should feel as though they are a part of who we are. It’s NOT instantaneous, but it does feel more natural to look for and talk about the habits throughout our day as the year goes on.

For example, we might talk about how the countries that made up the Allied forces could have been more proactive prior to the start of World War II. We examine historical figures and talk about which habits are a part of their legacy.

When we’re doing read alouds, we look for ways the characters are using the seven leadership habits.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is our first read aloud and it's FULL of places to stop and talk about how Joey (and the adults in his life) could have really used the seven habits. Look for those everyday moments!

We also connect the habits to current events and our everyday lives in and out of the classroom.

For more ideas on making those connections, make sure you're following my 7 Habits pinboard!

There’s so much more to talk about, and I can’t wait to continue this conversation with you. I'll be back soon with a post on books that I love to use to teach each habit, as well as some new leadership freebies! Make sure you’re subscribed to my email list so you’ll be the first to know when a new blog post is out, or if an exclusive freebie is headed your way!

If you sign up today, I have some TEN FREE PAGES of common and proper nouns activities for you! 

Back to School: Reading to Big Kids


Walking into my classroom as a fifth-grade teacher was a bit nerve-wracking. I'd never taught fifth grade, swore I'd never teach fifth grade, and did everything I could to avoid getting moved to fifth grade. And yet, here I was... teaching fifth grade. 😏

I knew how to get little people excited about books. I knew all about building them up and helping them bridge the gaps in their learning so that they could fall in love with reading. But big kids? That was unknown territory.

Here's the thing about fifth grade readers. If they aren't a reader, this is one of the last chances an adult has to turn them into one. And middle grades fiction?? That was a whole new universe for me. (ALL THE 😍😍😍, by the way! My absolute favorite thing to read.) I knew every book had to be intentional. Every read aloud needed to pull at one of my non-readers and bring them over to the "dark side." 😂 When I looked back on my year, I realized there were three ideas I kept practicing with my choices. It's certainly not foolproof, but it worked for us!

(side note: There are affiliate links throughout this post. That means I get a small commission when you make a purchase through those links. It helps keep the lights on over here! 😉)


When in doubt, pull out something funny. Do the voices. Make the faces. Get into it!

And when you're reading something for the first time, try to look at it through the lens of a ten-year-old. Would they giggle? Break out into a guffaw? If your inner ten-year-old would burst out laughing chances are they will too.

My first-week-favorite-funnies are If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, DON'T! by Elise Parsley and Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos.

Joey Pigza is a hysterical and all too real character that my students find themselves rooting for. It's a short and easy read aloud that lends itself to LOTS of good discussions about behavior expectations, how we treat others, and an awareness that you don't always know everything that's going on with your classmates.

Magnolia in If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator... is my favorite first day read-aloud because she always helps me break the tension. We can't help but laugh at the alligator's antics. It's like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie met Animal from the Muppets. 😂😂😂 I'm not a teacher who subscribes to the idea that "you can't let them see you smile until October." If we aren't laughing on Day 1 in my room, I'm worried!


The next two books are in new places on my "must read aloud" list. Because of Mr. Terupt usually follows Joey Pigza. However, in a time where more and more of my students are on social media, I feel like Posted needs to move into that slot. Posted explores what happens when cell phones are banned at a middle school. The kids come up with a new way to communicate, and just because it's on paper doesn't mean it's any easier.

I'll probably save Because of Mr. Terupt for my third novel of the year. It's an awesome look at an entire year in a fifth-grade classroom, with tragedy right in the middle of it. Rob Buyea explores friendships, stereotypes, family crisis, and the importance of a good teacher.

Both of those books are pretty lengthy, so we should be set until just before Christmas break. 😉 But I've got one more tip for you!


Do you remember sniffling with your teacher while she read Where the Red Fern Grows? Or Charlotte's Web? Or laughing over Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing with your fourth grade teacher? All of those experiences are vividly locked away in my reader's memory. I remember every word. If we want big kids to fall in love with books, we have to find those life-changing texts for them as well!

I cannot remember the last time I read a book like this and grieved for days afterwards. Ethan's story is gut-wrenching and wonderful all at the same time. As a class, we listened to the first two chapters when I was modeling how to use some online resources. We were all enthralled.

One of my kids even asked, "Mrs. Spann - why do I feel so sad after hearing that? Nothing even really happened yet!" I smiled at her and said, "That's how you know it's going to be a book that sticks with us. We are twenty pages in and already experiencing big feelings. That's not easy for an author to do!" And it has! I'm still talking about The Ethan I Was Before and recommending it to anyone who will listen. This will probably be the book we start after Christmas break.

I don't have a set-in-stone plan for anything after this, and that's ok. I want to get to know my next bunch and figure out what they need as readers. Which brings me to my last book recommendation.

Miss Brooks Loves Books! (And I Don't) is another text for the first week of school, and I always bring it into my Reader's Workshop lesson on finding good fit books. (Yes, big kids need that lesson too!!) Barbara Bottner is another one of my favorite authors, and this book did not disappoint. There are kids who walk into our classrooms every year who HATE reading. Man, it hurts my heart just to type that.

It's our job to help them find their "gateway book" --- whatever genre or author they need, it's up to us to help them find it. And when they do?? It's the BEST FEELING EVER.

To find all of these books in one place (and a whole lot more), I'd love for you to visit my Amazon Influencer page!

If you want to save this post for reference later, pin the image below!

Have a great year, bookworms! I'll see you soon! 

Leadership Jobs for Every Classroom

Does EVERYONE really need a leadership job? 

In short, yes. I know that most of us already have a set of classroom jobs in place. There might be ten or twelve kids doing those jobs. But what about the other kids? Do they feel like a part of our (your) classroom community?

The first time I wrote about using leadership jobs in my classroom, I was part of a Leader in Me Lighthouse School. That training created a major paradigm shift in my teaching practices. I no longer teach in a LIM school (sniffle), but so much of what I learned has carried over to my next adventure. Today I'm sharing a few of those carryovers with you. 

1. EVERY child has gifts, and EVERY child has leadership potential. 

Some kids are great at organizing. They will make great librarians. Other students love to oversee the handling of daily materials or the technology in the room. These could be your technology engineers and materials managers.  There are also kids who want to stay in the background, but they also want to feel like they are a part of something bigger. I love these students. They do the things I find the hardest to keep up with - checking homework, sorting graded papers, sharpening pencils. Ensuring that each child had a classroom responsibility was just another way for me to nurture their gifts for the 180 days I got to spend with them. 

2. WE know kids can do more than we give them credit for. Let them!

Tired of sharpening pencils after school? Let the kids do it. (We call it the Saw Master  😊 !) 

Forget to take the attendance? Let the kids do it

Do you struggle to find time to sort student papers after they're graded? 

Let the kids do it!!

Those are all REAL jobs in my classroom that happen every day. I am terrible at remembering to submit my attendance online. So, I created the job of Attendance Clerk, instructed them to bring me my laptop each morning so I could sign in for them, and let them take attendance. The secretary quit buzzing my room during math every day and my student felt important.

Did you read that?

My student felt important. 

3. Classroom jobs build classroom community. 

Everyone involved in a dramatic production or musical theater show is a part of something bigger. The same thing can be said for the football team, the marching band, and the yearbook committee. This is the same philosophy. It builds buy-in! 

I want my kids to know I value their talents, their time, and their input. After the first month or two of school, we sit down in morning meeting and talk about how classroom jobs are going. We discuss which leadership roles are working well, which jobs need to be eliminated, and if there are any we might need to add. 

These are fluid and flexible roles. Not everyone falls in love with the first job they have, right? Our students should be given the opportunity to try out different leadership roles as well. 

Questions?? Here are a few I get often 😊

·       How often do you change jobs?

We change once a month. The first month, we fill out applications during the first week of school. I go over my expectations for what their applications should look like and sound like. They give me their top three choices and I am almost always able to give everyone one of their top three.

After the first month, the application goes home for an overnight assignment. It comes back the next day and I begin handing out jobs!

·       What if you can’t give a child one of their choices?

The larger your class is, the harder this will be. So to be fair, I make sure to let the kids who didn’t get one of their choices know that they will get top priority during the next month. The following month, I have them put a star on their paper so I know to look at those first.

·       How do you make this work when you departmentalize?

Remember how I had the most amazing work wife? I did. We sat down once a month with the completed applications and handed out jobs together. The jobs were the same in each of our classes. We typed up a list for each homeroom and printed out a copy for each other. It was really nice to have someone to bounce job assignments around with.

·       Do you let students have the same job more than once?

Heck yes! Especially if the child does a great job, they want it, and their peers recognize their talent for it! Once I found two students that knew exactly how our classroom library ran, the kids all agreed that they needed to be our permanent librarians. If they need a break, I absolutely give them one. We all need a vacation – right? 😉

If you’re interested in trying out classroom leadership jobs with your kids, I’d love for you to check out the sets I have in my store!

There are also TWO editable pages for you to add any jobs unique to your classroom.
I’ve also included a primary and intermediate application, and a job tracking sheet for your data notebooks.

Make sure you save this post on Pinterest and follow my 7 Habits/Leadership board to find more great ideas!