Bear Creek School features 'Habitudes' leadership program

Jen Nelson, advisory teacher at The Bear Creek School in Redmond, leads a group of ninth grade girls in a discussion about
Jen Nelson, advisory teacher at The Bear Creek School in Redmond, leads a group of ninth grade girls in a discussion about 'The Starving Baker,' a topic from a leadership program called 'Habitudes.' The Bear Creek School is the first middle school/upper school on the West coast to implement the program, which has mainly been utilized on college campuses.
— image credit: Mary Stevens Decker, Redmond Reporter

The Bear Creek School in Redmond is the West Coast's first middle/upper school to use a leadership program called "Habitudes."

They're in good company.

"Habitudes" author and Growing Leaders president Dr. Tim Elmore has spoken to more than 250,000 students, faculty and staff members at universities including Stanford, Duke, Rutgers, South Carolina and Florida State. He's also developed leadership programs for athletes such as the University of Texas football team and the Kansas City Royals baseball club.

Elmore recently visited the Bear Creek campus to introduce the "Habitudes" curriculum. Students have begun the lessons during weekly "advisory" periods.

At this non-denominational Christian school, studies of theology and church history are part of the regular curriculum. Advisory meetings are more informal venues to talk about "social needs, spirituality, faith, leadership, time management, emotional health, study habits ... or to share important news," explained Rev. Jeff Gephart, dean of middle and upper school students.


Each "Habitudes" chapter begins with a thought-provoking image and a short story with deep meaning. Habitudes publications come in two versions, either faith-based or for a secular audience.

"The principles are basically the same," Gephart noted. "The faith-based (used at The Bear Creek School) has the faith dimension made more explicit." For example, Bible readings reinforce key points.

Gephart revealed the message behind an image of an iceberg: "Ten percent of an iceberg is above water. Ninety percent is below. .... Ninety percent of our life is what's inside of us. It's our character that can sink ships or make us solid."

Thus, people with unshakable core values will be better leaders than those who are "all show" and lack integrity.


Jen Nelson's advisory group of ninth grade girls explored a "Habitudes" chapter called "The Starving Baker" during our visit to the Bear Creek School.

The image and story centered on a gifted baker who couldn't keep up with demand for his products. He was so busy serving bread to everyone else that he forgot to feed himself. He became gaunt, fatigued — and ineffective in his work.

A secondary story told of two lumberjacks who competed to see who could chop wood the fastest. One rushed into his work, swiftly but haphazardly taking down trees. The other slowly and carefully sharpened his axe — and at the end of the day, chopped down more trees than his friend, because he had used the superior tool.

A quote from Scripture accompanied that anecdote: "If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success," – Ecclesiastes 10:10.

The students agreed that it makes sense to "work smarter, not harder," to achieve their goals.


Nelson launched a discussion, asking, "Do you ever feel like you give so much, by the end of day .... that you feel drained?"

The girls talked about hectic routines, going from classes to volleyball practice or a canned foods drive, doing homework, stealing a few hours of sleep — and getting up early the next day to do it all over again. They've seen parents burning the candle at both ends, too.

One girl brought up "those stay-at-homes that you see on 'What Not to Wear,' who love their kids so much and do so much for them, that they let themselves go, become disheveled."

Students talked about pressures of friendships, too. They said they wanted to support their pals when they were down. But chronic complainers brought them down and sapped all their energy.

Nelson agreed, "The more you help, you more you get known as a helper and the more you get asked. It becomes hard to balance, with all you're asked to do, to get enough sleep, to be functional. ... Is it selfish to take time for yourself? What happens when you don't? You spread yourself too thin."

The students brainstormed about ways to unwind, simplify life and remove "mental and physical clutter."

Ideas included meditation, prayer, going for a jog, chopping salad, taking a long, hot shower or singing/dancing with an iPod.

Nelson requested, "Before the next time we meet, I want you to try at least one of those things."

Next year, middle/upper school students at The Bear Creek School will move on to another volume of "Habitudes." The plan is to keep the momentum going, eventually training seniors to be mentors to younger students as they reflect on the character-building habits.

To learn more about "Habitudes," visit

For information about The Bear Creek School, visit

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