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Why Do We Keep Getting All The Bad Kids?

A story about transforming negative energy

“Kasey, Justin, Susan, Rae—can I see you all for a moment?” Principal Tucker spoke into her walkie talkie summoning her leadership team into her office.

Ms. Tucker had just hung up the phone with one of the other principals in her district, who shared with her that one of their students would be transferring to Principal Tucker’s school in the next few days.  Ms. Tucker was frustrated because this principal seemed to delight in the fact that they would be gaining one of their most behaviorally challenged students whose disciplinary file was the size of a thick chapter book! Ms. Tucker and her team were pretty familiar with these actions since the district had initiated this new transfer policy which allowed students attending low performing schools the choice to attend others in the district, so Ms. Tucker had seen her fair share of students with challenging behaviors come and go. The teachers were fed up and so was her leadership team.

As the leadership team slowly filed into her office and stood in front of Ms. Tucker’s desk, they waited anxiously, anticipating whatever news led to this impromptu visit.  They could tell that it wasn’t good news because Ms. Tucker was not her high energy self and her shoulders slouched forward, as if she had lost an important competition.

“Well, we’re getting another one!” Ms. Tucker said as she slid the student’s behavioral chapter book to the other side of her desk to share with the team.

“Another what?” asked Rae, the guidance counselor, as she picked up the folder to take a glance.

“Oh, I know his parents. They live in my friend’s neighborhood and she tells me that the whole family is a piece of work!” added Susan, the reading specialist.

“I don’t understand why we keep getting all the bad kids!” Principal Tucker said out loud.

“Me either!” Kasey, the data specialist exclaimed. “It’s definitely not good for our scores. Is he in a testing grade?” she asked. 

“Yep! Looks like this is his second year in third grade,” Justin, the new assistant principal said, as he pointed to his enrollment history.

“Whose class can we place him in? Ms. Smith already has two in her class and Ms. Thompson definitely can’t take another one, after what she experienced last year.” Justin continued, “The third-grade team has been doing a great job this year managing their behavior students. This could really mess up the dynamics!” Justin added.

“I refuse to allow another one of these students to come in here and mess it up for us! There has to be something we can do to block his enrollment.” Principal Tucker exclaimed.

To the Reader:

Pause here one moment—

How is the principal’s energy impacting her team? What can the principal do to transform this situation from negative to positive?

Read on to see what happens…

Later that evening, Principal Tucker realized that she had not been very positive about welcoming students with challenging behaviors to her school.  She could also tell that her negative attitude was not giving her leadership team (nor her teachers) the energy or motivation to perform their jobs well.  As a matter of fact, Rae, the counselor, had called in sick multiple times already this year; and Justin, the assistant principal, was considering going back into the classroom in another school.

Ms. Tucker knew that if she was going to keep talented staff, it was her job to keep them encouraged, inspired, and motivated.  But how?


The first thing she committed to was changing her mindset about the students that came to her school.  She decided to believe that all students that entered her school had come there for a reason, and it was her team’s job to provide all students with a great experience.  But how would she explain this change in her attitude to her team whom she had just tasked with finding a loophole to block the student’s enrollment and how could she now influence them to accept the belief that they only needed to give the behaviorally challenged students a different experience to see a change in their behavior?

The next morning, Principal Tucker’s energy was back!  She walked the halls and greeted all the students and staff, as they arrived at school. Plus, she made sure she asked the teachers and staff if they had everything, they needed to have a positive day. She knew that if they were going to help students in their school, they would need to have teachers and staff with a lot of positive energy.

She was scheduled to meet with her leadership team right after morning duty so that could come together and find a way to block the student’s enrollment.

As Principal Tucker entered the conference room to start the meeting, feelings of guilt and disappointment begin to overwhelm her, as she looked into the faces of her leadership team.  They seemed stressed and worn-out. How would she, now, get them to change their attitude? Afterall, she was the one who led them to feel this way about the student’s enrollment.

“The first step toward greatness is to be honest.” -Proverbs

“Good morning Team!” Principal Tucker said, as she entered the conference room and took a seat in her designated spot. 

“Before we get started, I want to apologize,” she said as she starred into the eyes of each team member looking as if she was asking for forgiveness. The team seemed confused as they looked around at one another, curious as to what she had done to apologize for.

“Yesterday, when I received Tommy’s folder (Tommy was the student with the negative behavior history that was going to enroll in their school), I immediately became upset. Especially after the other principal called and seemed to delight in the fact that we were gaining one of her worse students. I didn’t feel so bad for me, but for my team. I see you guys working so hard and I thought this would be just be another setback after all the strives we’ve made this year.

After going home and reflecting on my behavior…I was wrong. I was wrong to pull you guys in and talk negatively about any student.  I truly believe that what we have here at Grace Elementary School is strong and part of our mission states that “we will create a culture where all students feel great about themselves so that they can accomplish great things’, this includes our challenging students—they need us the most. 

What if I were to tell you that I believe students like Tommy are sent to us for a reason.  What if it’s our job to show Tommy his potential, by simply believing in him and his ability to make good choices. So, our meeting this morning is going to be a little different. Instead of focusing on how we can get rid of Tommy, let’s create a welcoming plan to ensure he understands who we are and what we’re about. Let’s give him an amazing welcome!”

The team’s spirited lifted like deflated balloons that had just been given air and they immediately started to contribute to a plan.

Rae, the counselor, grabbed a marker and wrote “Tommy’s Welcome Plan” at the top of the whiteboard.

“I think we should invite him and his mother to come over for a tour of the school before he enrolls,” Rae added, as she waited for the team to agree before writing her idea on the whiteboard.

“That’s a great idea!” added Justin, the assistant principal. “I have some extra school shirts and lanyards. I think it would be great to put together a nice welcome packet!” he added.

“Let’s have some of the third-grade students give him a tour!” said Kasey, the data specialist.  “I know a group who would love to show off their data notebooks and our brand-new data wall!” Kasey continued.

“Principal Tucker, why don’t we have he and his mother spend some time with you before the tour?” Susan, the reading specialist suggested. “You can take the time to go over our school mission, our vision, and our 3 B’s.”

“I would love that!” Principal Tucker exclaimed.

Principal Tucker observed the energy in the room change from negative to positive. She understood the power of her words, her beliefs, and her ideas. She now witnessed first-hand how they impacted her team.

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.-Albert Schweitzer

As leaders, we must be mindful that if we want our team to have the courage and motivation to tackle the challenges ahead, we must be willing to inspire our team to move beyond self and into purpose. We must serve as an example, a model, of what this looks like in practice. Our energy is contagious and impacts everyone we touch!

Want to know what happened to Tommy?

As you may have guessed, Tommy enrolled in Grace Elementary School.  His welcome was so amazing, it brought his mother to tears. Tommy’s mother said that of the four schools Tommy had been to, this was by far the greatest. Tommy and his mother were proud and honored to be a part of a school with such high standards that they both worked hard to show they were committed to the vision and the mission (which they both knew by memory).

As for Tommy, he went on to become part of the Student Council and led the Student Welcome Committee. Tommy wanted to make that every student who enrolled in Grace Elementary School would have an even better experience than he did.

What will you do to provide all of your students with a great experience this year?

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