Be Excellent On Purpose: Intentional Strategies for Impactful Leadership by Sanée Bell

8. Amplify Student Voice

  • While teachers need to find ways to include students’ voices in class, so do principals. Principals need to engage students informally during lunch and recess, and formerly as well. For formal input, you should set up focus groups or panels with no more than ten students. Ask them questions like 1. What is going well in school? 2. What do they like most? 3. What are some areas we can improve? 4. What is something they really want me to know? Be sure to take notes or record the sessions and share what you learn. Focus on listening rather than being defensive. Don’t hesitate to have teachers recommend students who are challenging in terms of behaviors or academics.
  • In the classroom, students need to be active participants in setting and tracking learning goals. This will allow them to take ownership and be more invested. Goals should be collaborative decisions made by the teacher and the student. There shouldn’t be more than the student can handle. As they track their progress and see some success they will be motivated to push themselves and believe that they can succeed. If they struggle ask them what support they need. Ask them what they have done that has helped them make progress and what is getting in their way. Make sure they know that you believe in them.

9. Become Self-Aware

  • Your leadership style has to adapt to the situation you are in. Sanée moved to a second principal job and was somewhat surprised about how much she had to adapt. Since you will be asking others to change and grow you will have to do so yourself. It’s important to know what your motivations are and that you know how to bounce back from failure. You need to keep your emotions in check as everyone watches what you do and say. Sanée recommends keeping a journal to record your thoughts and actions. Be sure to include what you are grateful for each day. Doing something for someone else makes them feel valued and appreciated at the same time that it makes you feel good. You should also adopt Jon Gordon’s No Complaining Rule from his book of the same name.
  • If you practice gratitude and positivity you will find a massive return on the investment. Crisis situations are unique events. They could involve the death of a student or staff member or a natural disaster. As a leader, you need to remain calm and don’t think that you always have to say something. Perhaps the most important thing is taking care of yourself if you want to be able to help others. Friends and family outside of school can be sources of support. Be sure to schedule some time to engage in personal growth. This chapter ends with a list of what works for Sanée. My list is different so draw on her advice to make your own list.

10. Create Stories Worth Telling

  • Stories are very powerful tools for teaching and learning. As a leader, you need to control the stories told about your school and yourself. If you don’t control these narratives someone else will. Your school has a brand and you want everyone to know it. Develop a personal tagline so people know your vision. Sanée chose Be Excellent on Purpse for her school. This sort of thing should end up on T-shirts and other merchandise. You also need an elevator speech. This is a story you can tell in thirty seconds or so. Mine is I provide resources for busy parents and educators who don’t have as much time to read and surf as I do. Plan and practice your stories and use empathy and emotion.
  • Be sure to use social media to get the word out. When people go to places like YouTube and search your school they should find lots of cool videos that tell your story. This should prompt others to share. You also need to be vigilant about negative posts on popular social media channels. Use your voice to debunk stories that aren’t true as soon as possible.

Conclusion – Dare to Be Different

  • If you want to be excellent you need to continuously learn and grow. There is no final destination, just a never-ending journey. Look for experiences that push you out of your knowledge and comfort zones. Think of yourself as an athlete training for the big event. You need to constantly disrupt the status quo so that students and teachers continue to grow. Encourage others to challenge your thinking and welcome their questions. Dream big and pursue those dreams and don’t think of anything as impossible as big things don’t happen with small thinking. Thanks, Sanée.
Sanée Bell

Sanée Bell

  • Sanée is a central office administrator and former principal of Morton Ranch Junior High in Kary, Texas. She has served as an administrator at both the elementary and secondary levels since 2005, and also taught middle school and high school English and coached girls basketball. Her school district recognized her as principal of the year in 2015. She has a doctorate in Education Leadership from the University of Houston Clear Lake. Sanée is also co-editor of the Education Write Now Series and she has contributed to many other publications including Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. Sanée shares her thoughts on leadership on her blog You can follow her on Twitter @saneebell and email her at
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