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Thomas White


You have brought light to challenges that all leaders face. How do we have the courage to have the right conversation? How do we speak truthfully without righteousness? How do we show our discomfort without worrying about how we look?

If having these conversations with authenticity becomes the example we show others, what a different world our children will create!


Interesting that courage is not something that is taught or talked about much in educational leadership yet it is incredibly important.

Great post!


Reggie Engebritson

Thomas and Pete - thank you both for your feedback on my post. I really appreciate it!



Kudos to you for putting your money where your mouth is. I'm not in a supervisory position yet, but I've seen the toll that poor and ineffective teaching does to kids. The stakes are just too high to brush something like that under the table. This is one of the most important LeaderTalk posts to date.

Reggie Engebritson

Thanks Rick, for your comments. Best of luck to you as you move forward towards a supervisory position!


Jan Borelli

Actually, failing with a teacher is a lot like failing with a student. In our toss and dispose society, it's often a sad commentary that we toss and dispose of teachers who fail to meet the criteria of effectiveness before they have ever been empowered to be good teachers. And, I say this from the perspective of an experienced principal who has terminated more teachers than I care to admit and gotten quite a few resignation-on-demand compliances.

That being said, let me reiterate that each termination was a failure. Early in my career, I didn't realize the failure. I just knew that if we were going to reach and teach all my urban high poverty high minority secondary students that I didn't have a moment to lose with bad teachers. And, I was to discover that it took a documented plan for improvement and eight separate reprimands to effectively cause the union to wince and give in before even going to a termination hearing. I learned how to cross my t's and dot my i's and get rid of the poorly performing teacher. And, I trained quite a few protege principals how to do the same.

And, now I am in my 30th year of being an educator; and I have come to realize that the teachers in the classroom are just as important and vulnerable as the students in their classrooms. I have come to realize that I can provide the resources to train just about anyone to teach if they just want it.

I can cure a whole world of "cannot" teachers, but I can't cure a "will not." And job one for me is to turn all my poorly performing teachers into success stories. For each teacher I have turned around and opened the beauty of teaching, I find great satisfaction in their practice and count their success as one of the successes of my own career. For each teacher I have documented and terminated or "just run off", I cannot help but wonder if maybe I had had as much passion to guide them to success as I had to document their failures... if maybe we wouldn't have lost another teacher in a world where teachers are becoming a dwindling commodity.

No question about it... "will nots" and "pervs" gotta go, but the true measure of success has never been how much courage I had to make the tough calls but how much courage I had to teach a teacher how to teach.

Check out: Principal – Early Childhood – Speaking Out » Volume 87, Number 5, May/June 2008 » page(s) 68 by Mike Connolly The Courage of Educational Leaders;

full text here:

Marty Jones

So what happens if (or maybe even when) your superintendent fires YOU for being a "bad" principal?
If I took a survey, a "no confidence" vote of your staff, what would the vote be? Would 100% of your staff say that you are a good principal? OK, to be fair, how about I only survey the teachers that you have given good evaulations to. Teachers that have never been written up, or even given a simple warning letter for being late too many times. How many of those staff members would say you are a good principal? Here's a hint Reggie, it would not be 100%.
And what qualifies as a good teacher? When I was an undergraduate, I had one of those pre student teaching assaignments. At the end of the eight weeks, the teacher gave me a failing mark under professionalism because I never wore a necktie. Fast forward two years and I have my first full time teaching gig. During my first evaulation (never wearing a tie once) the Principal raved at me being such a professional and only being a first year teacher. To him, professionalism had nothing to do with clothing preference. To him, the fact that I never yelled, was polite and curtious to students, teachers, and everyone else, the fact that I was on time every day, and had yet to take a sick day made me professional. Who was right? The Principal who liked me, or the crazy tie obsessed lady who hated me?
I could make a solid case for EVERY principal I have worked under, or even been a student under, to be fired. Give me five minutes in a closed door meeting with your staff, and then time to interview students and parents, and chances are I would have mountains of evidence proving you are a bad principal. Oh, and under my rules I don't give a hoot about test scores. I'm one of those Alfie Kohn kooks you probably rant about to your secretary. Try again. The fact that you fire so many teachers makes me wonder. Is this guy coaching these teachers for real, or just giving them a stupid "action plan" for the sole purpose of documenting intervention to fire them.
If student misbehavior is the fault of a teacher, shouldn't an ineffective teacher be your fault?
And if you were such a good principal, how come I have never heard of you? Maybe if you would stop spending time on the internet talking with giddy pride that you are one of those "tough guy" principals, and started making you a better principal, your teachers better teachers, your students better students, and everything else that makes good educators great educators, I will travel to wherever you are scheduled to speak next and get you to autograph your latest book I just purchased.

Joe Mehsling

Marty - Slow down. I don't think Reggie was stating that he was on a firing spree. He pointed out a legitimate job that every school administrator has, and one that many of us shirk. Removing a poor teacher is a grueling job depending on the state you work in, and the local association's rules. I'll admit, earlier in my career I did not take action when I should have... usually because I wasn't demonstrating the required courage. Experience taught me better. Get rid of a bad teacher before they do more harm than good. BTW, in 9 years I've only removed/counseled out 4-5 poorly performing teachers.

Reggie Engebritson

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. I also appreciate the link to Mike Connolly's article.

I'm not sure I agree that failing with a teacher is like failing with a student, but I do agree that it is my job as an administrator to work with teachers and help them to be the best teachers they can be. You have given me some things to think about, and I appreciate that.

Thank you!

Rick Pierce

As a leadership consultant and previous educational administrator, one of the hardest situations I find to work with is to get administrators to understand that every time an employee fails, at least to some degree, they have failed too. Think about it this way:

1. If you were the one who hired them, you must have seen some potential in them or some positive strengths or characteristics. If not, you never should have hired them in the first place.
2. Once you hired them, what did you do to ensure that they had the proper tools and resources they needed to do their job successfully?
3. What type of ongoing support, supervision or coaching did you provide for them? Did you build a sense of trust in them so that they were willing to come to you for help and advice when things weren’t going well?
4. What type of on-going evaluation/development did you offer them? Is your system designed to measure failures or is it strength based and based on a clear set of standards and rubrics to help ensure both growth and development?
5. Perhaps most important, when you first noticed things weren’t going well, did you address the issues immediately so that they knew that what they were doing was inappropriate or ineffective - prior to it becoming a habit? Did you immediately begin to work with them to help them improve?
6. Can you honestly look in mirror and say that you did everything possible to help this individual succeed? If not, then I personally believe you have failed them as much as they have failed you – and more importantly the students.

That all being said, once a teacher reaches a point where they are ineffective in teaching their students, then Reggie is absolutely correct … you must have the courage to let them go. However, the real courage come from taking an honest look at yourself, learning from your mistakes and ensuring that you don’t do the same thing with the next teacher you hire to replace the one just had to fire!

The Principal-guy

Great Post. It's important to remember that an administrator's failure to remove an ineffective, new teacher will impact students for the next 30 years.That's a lot of students who were denied a quality education because you didn't do your job.

Darren Draper

I know I'm late to the game here, but I think you raise a very important issue here. We complain about poor teachers, but this is likely one of the worst aspects of any administrator's job.

I've often wondered if I would have the courage and feel I'd probably come up short.

Tina K.

Courage, I never thought of that in the aspect of administration. It makes sense.
So do you think this is a skill that can be taught at all?


Reggie - Nice post, and yes it does take courage. When you have a teacher that is not making it, has not responded to corrections, and you either terminate or coach out, it is not fun - EVER! Not only do you know that you are ending an employment, but that person has to make the next move and either adjust, flounder, or fail. Yep, courage. The other part is that while the teacher that is moving on to whatever position, occupation, or life event, you remain in a position in that community. While hopefully many will know that your efforts were/are on behalf of the students, there will be those that believe(d) the terminated individual was doing a good job. Now you get to be the "bad guy" or whatever term you choose. And by the way, confidentiality (as it should be) prevents you from disclosing why the person was terminated. It's easy to sit back and judge any of our leaders without knowing all of the facts, and I believe we rarely do, but it takes courage to make the decision(s) that impact lives and live with the outcomes and consequences.

There is a lot of truth in what you say, but I believe that teachers need support an direction. When they decide their way is better than following the advice, leadership, guidance, and/or mandates of their supervisor, it is time to move on - by whatever means necessary. That said, Principal-guy notes that if you don't do it in a timely manner you (and most importantly students) suffer for a long time. We have to DO OUR JOB!

Tina K., if there is a class on how to do this, please sign me up. I think you just do what is right and believe that in the end it will be for the best. Simple to say, harder to do-like most things in life.

Scott McLeod

FYI, I've deleted two comments to this post because I considered them to be personal disagreements with the contributor that were better addressed somewhere other than this blog.


So I guess I don't understand this blog. It's okay to post a comment only if you agree with everything a contributor has to say? What about free speech or letting truths come out? Or is this just a blog for administrators to brag and lie about what a great person they are and live in a fantasy? Funny how I've read alot about not being an us and them yet it seems this is just a place to ramble and lie about what "us" really do. When some research is done to find that a contributor is lying about almost every blog, shouldn't they be called out?

Tina K.

I like to read and comment on blogs because they give me ideas pro or con that I can use in an educational format. I do not respond to blogs so that I can verbally flog someone personally. I can not imagine searching through blogs to recognize someone I know and follow the comments to find errors. Courage to me is to go beyond the personal and look at the big pictures. If someone uses a blog to build themselves up that is not relevent to why I am blogging. The information is great, the ideas are thought provoking, and the entire process keeps me educationally engaged!!!

Pearl P.

Thank you Sharon I. for your truthful comments about this blog. I totally agree with your comments about a site where administrator use this site to brag about what they say they do and it is very possible that they don't really do what they say they have done ( ex: action plans for the teachers). I am a regular reader at this site and in my opinion the comments that were taken out should have been left in. If this is a site where administrator write to get feedback why are they removed? We as administrators need constructive criticism and if we can't accept it then there is something wrong. If this is taken out then Reggie has something to hid.

Lynn Arnsdorf

I appreciate Reggie's comments here on this blog. I believe that the current system of tenure has hampered progress in both student and teacher perfomances. I believe it takes a lot of courage to let teachers go and I don't believe administrators do it lightly. Teachers who are NOT tenured and who still do not show adequate performance to warrant being tenured should seriously be considered for termination. If they aren't making the grade those beginning years, knowing they are working towards tenure, they will only get worse after the fact. A smart, motivated teacher works their behind off those early years and is open and eager to learn from the experienced staff. They also grow and adjust to new administrators who come into their building with their new ideas. If they can't do that, they will be left in the dust. While I agree that the administrator needs to foster the growth of these teachers and work hard to help them succeed, you can easily see which teachers are actually open to this. If the handholding gets ridiculous, why are we hanging on? Let go!!!! and be brave enough to do it, for our children's sake.

Scott McLeod

Sharon and Pearl, this is a place to discuss leadership issues, not to air personal or professional grievances. I have a basic understanding of what is going on here and would prefer that you express your opinions about the efficacy of contributors to this blog in some other forum. Readers do not subscribe or read this blog to be exposed to private disputes. Thank you.


I agree with Scott on this concept - we don't come here to air grievences or vent. That is best done with close colleagues, because it does need to be done. As for the bragging and lying, I think that seems to be the appreciation of those reading. People here do want feedback, constructive because we usually lack that in our positions - people aren't honest with us much of the time. I believe that Scott is protecting the willingness of people to ask questions that they don't have the answers for and may not like the resonses, but we can learn from that. Personal attacks just don't belong here. Blogs are often too theoretical for me for just that reason, we don't see often the specific real example, but that is appropriate, and I'm willing to hang in with DI for the gains.

Kevin W. Riley

What an interesting chain of comments. I almost forgot what the original point was... something like, it takes COURAGE to let bad teachers go and do you have what it takes?

So ok... let's face it, sometimes teachers or principals or custodians or board members don't work out. You work with them, create assistance plans, monitor, coach, send' em to trainings, light candles or whatever else it takes. And in the end... if you conclude that you wouldn't put your own child in their classroom then you can't put anybody's child in there either. They have to go.

I see it as less a function of courage and more a test of your own core values as a leader. It simple... you either stand up for kids or YOU should be the one that gets fired!

Don't get me wrong... I think it takes COURAGE to be a strong leader in the current climate of public education. But it is not the act of dismissing a low performing employee from which a person's courage is revealed. I would argue there are far more compelling acts of school leadership that require courage.

Are you really that courageous? Here is a test...
What are you willing to do to help your students succeed?
What are you willing to fight for? No... I mean FIGHT for?
What are you willing to get fired for?
What are you willing to go to jail for?
(Too melodramatic?)
What are you willing to die for?

Core values. Ask Corporal Tillman what courage is.


I apologize for hitting anyone's raw nerve. I do not personally know Reggie. I was just questioning the whole blog thing. I do know it takes a ton of courage to be a leader. Whether it be administration, a principal, teacher, or aide. It also takes courage to work as a team. And to be honest with everyone we work with and ourselves. I agree with alot of the comments. Alot of people talk about looking into themseves and communicating which I think is the biggest. I also think it takes huge courage to take some of these comments to heart. Again, nothing personal on anyone, just observing. I also have a questions. Can I just ask on comments or do I have to be a contributor. Well, I'll ask one. I am an administrator also. When looking at hiring new employee's, we will google them as well as some other background investigating. So do we blog or say what we've found so someone else doesn't get "stuck" with a bad egg or just leave it alone and let others go through the same process?

Pearl P.

Sorry for hitting nerves and like Sharon, I do not know Reggie but I was just responding to a few of the blogs that were removed and it seemed like they needed to be left in for constructive ideas or maybe things that could have been looked at. I agree with Marshall that people do not give feedback to us and it is important for us to hear things like what has been written and removed in this blog. I feel that at times we as professionals don't always see things clearly and need others to open our eyes to things we have maybe not done for the betterment of our schools.

Lynn Arnsdorf

I've been following this blog and it seems to me that Ms. or Mr. (?) Engebritson has some housecleaning to do, if he/she has not already done so. Good luck. It will most certainly make for a more positive school environment for YOU. It's about kids...not about self-destructive, self-centered, adults throwing tantrums. I know I have the courage, Reggie. Thanks again for writing about this important topic.

Mr. K

I had to really reflect on many thoughts before I decided if I wanted to comment as there seems to be some rules to this blog that I may not be all aware of. Let me start by saying I am a leader. I have one year left before I get to retire, although I have a feeling my wife will have me doing more than all my years working. I have been in the educational setting for almost 30 years. Whew, what a career! I commend all who have chosen this field to be in their life. Reggie, what a journey you will have. I find alot of what you write very enlightning. I have to tell you that I half stumbled onto this blog. I myself have a blog going for my school district. It makes things alot easier. I do find it interesting that some things had to be deleted off this blog. I have not had to delete anything off my blog in the 5 some years I've had it going. There have been some interesting things written and some personal things, arguments, conflict, constructive critism, and lots of praise. I find that when it all comes out it builds us stronger as a team and not so much gossip. Lynn, I am surprised at your comment about kids throwing tantrums and cleaning house. I don't understand where you get that. I have read nothing to think that would be true. In all my years leading and having courage, I have fallen on my face, made a few enemies and alot of great friends. I have let people go that I probably should have guided more and kept some that shouldn't have stayed a week. I have learned through it all that yes, it takes courage. It also takes courage to keep some great people. This is where I'm sure my comment will get deleted and my wife has already scolded me. I wanted to see who I was reading about and who some of my staff have been talking about. Yes, Reggie, your blogs have made it to the inner Cities. Well, what I found was a very intelligent woman. One who stands up for herself and will stop at nothing to be that leader. However, I found it odd that your teachers were graded in the 92% of qualified teaching yet you laid off every one. As I found it is custom to do in your neck of the woods, I also found it was custom that the teachers usually have an opening if they should want. Now the courage, I found that you didn't tell some teachers they weren't coming back. They had to question you. And they were told not to come back even though there was no guiding, no action plan. These teachers had no idea what hit them. I do think by laying off the whole school, gives you an out for some bad ones, but none made the grade in your book? Then I question where your leadership is, Reggie? So with this, I have one year and will continue to be a leader to my grandchildren. That I think will be much easier. Everyone can have a leader and defend them, it takes courage to find out what this leader is really about. Now as Paul Harvey says, Good Day!

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