How a Great Leader Motivates

The story of a school principal whose outstanding motivational skills can teach all educators a lesson.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: What does motivational leadership look like when it’s done well?

Pedro Noguera:  Sure.   Not far from P.S. 012, which I mentioned is P.S. 028, which is **** the other side of Atlantic Avenue.  This is a school where over 40% of the kids are homeless and the principal there is 34.  It’s a highly effective school, a high performing school.  The principal there when I took a tour there last year she introduced me to her secretary.  She said, “I’ve trained my secretary to do most of my administrative jobs.”  I said, “Well then what do you do?”  She says, “I am the lead teacher at the school.”  “I’m in classrooms all day.”  “I work with teachers and I teach the kids that teachers don’t know how to teach because I want to make it clear to my teachers that I didn’t become a principal to escape the classroom.”  “I became a principal to be the leader of the classrooms.”  And I watched her as she interacted with teachers and it was very clear that she saw them as colleagues, as part of a team, that even though she was clearly the leader she was also there to support them and at what point I said, “Well how do you get along with the union?”  She said, “Let me introduce you to my union rep.”  And it was very clear that they were partners in this effort and working well together.  So you know what she has is something that is very difficult to teach, which is a high degree of social intelligence.  She knows how to work with people.  She knows how to bring the best of people.  She knows how to read people and understand their strengths.  At one point when I was visiting the school she said…  She took me to a small office where there was an older man counseling a little boy and I said…  She said, “You see that man there?”  I said, “Yeah.”  And she says, “I got him from the rubber room.”  Now those people who don’t know New York, the rubber room is a place where they put teachers and school staff that nobody wants and they stay there indefinitely and get paid and it’s really a horrendous situation.  So I said to her I said, “How did you know to get him out of the rubber room?” She said, “Well, I don’t know why he was there, but he had been my counselor when I was a kid in school, so when I heard he was in the rubber room I asked for him and I brought him to my school.”  So I sat in and I introduced myself and they introduced me to the little boy who was there talking to him, so the counselor said, “Well, ask this little boy why he is here today.”  So I said, “Why are you here?”  The boy was about eight years old.  He says, “I’m learning how to be good.”  I said, “You’re learning how to be good.”  I said, “Is it working?”  He said, “I hope so because I’m tired of getting in trouble all of the time.”  And what struck me was it was a conversation.  It was a friendly conversation going on between this older man and this little boy.  It wasn’t about we’re going to throw you out of school.  We’re going to punish you.  It was about trying to really get at the roots of helping this boy learn to become responsible for his own behavior.  Not enough schools do that.