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Take Five for...

Finding the Right Words to
Motivate Your Staff to
Tackle Difficult Issues


In a school for at-risk middle schoolers, principal Dee Manitzas addresses the failure theme at the start of the year. "I encourage my staff and teachers to look at our students not as failures, but as students who haven't reached their potential. I tell my staff 'Don't dwell on last year's problems. Treat every student as a new student without baggage.' I remind them that they ask the same thing of me."

"I encourage my teachers and staff to take risks. I emphasize this in the beginning of the school year, but the message is extended repeatedly throughout the year at staff meetings and in weekly bulletins and individual conversations. Encouraging risk-taking suggests it's alright to try something new or different without fear of administrative repercussions if it doesn't work. The world has changed and so must we. If we don't seek alternative or various ways to improve instruction and learning then we will not grow as the resourceful individuals we are intended to be." (Lucie Boyadjian)

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Have you had success getting teachers to work together to make change happen? Have you had success at getting teachers to rise to the occasion and solve a difficult problem? How did you rally the troops? What approaches did you use? Click to join the conversation. Share your thoughts and ideas so others might learn from your experiences.

Sometimes a quotation from someone else can "say it all." Famous quotations can be excellent tools for starting challenging conversations, says retired principal Dr. Peggy George. This quotation from Mary Parker Follett might be offered at the start of a staff brainstorming session:

"I do not go to a committee meeting merely to give my own ideas. If that were all, I might write my fellow members a letter. But neither do I go to learn other people's ideas. If that were all, I might ask each to write me a letter. I go to a committee meeting in order that all together we may create a group idea, an idea that will be better than any of our ideas alone, moreover, which will be better than all of our ideas added together."
--- Mary Parker Follett

In his pre-opening remarks, principal Gary Cardwell encourages his teachers to look for the positive attributes of every child and to realize that children learn in different ways. "One must remember that you teach children a subject and you do not teach the subject," he says, adding, "I stress that education is the cornerstone of the modern world and that teachers are the architects of the future. When you teach one child, you touch future generations forever."

Principal Ron Tibbetts encourages every member of his teaching staff to take the lead -- or share in that task -- on some issue that they feel strongly about. "Don't expect George to do it!" That anonymous-George philosophy was formed early in his career when a former superintendent challenged him by saying "If there is a topic that needs to be explored, or a direction for curriculum that needs to be investigated, or anything else that needs to be accomplished, don't wait for someone else to do it. Do it yourself. Don't expect George to do it!"

Take Five more to read this entire article from Education World's "Principal Files" series:
"Principals Search for Words to Rally the Troops"
(Education World -- August 17, 1998)

Take Five more to check out more great ideas for planning meetings in which difficult issues will be tackled:

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