Don’t Shy Away From Greatness

By Liz Garden

Even though it was early in the morning, I couldn’t help but dance a little in my chair while I waited for the #naesp16 session, “Don’t Shy Away from Greatness” to begin. The presenter, Nick Proud (a principal from Iowa) had upbeat music playing and welcomed principals in to a room that quickly became standing room only. We began by talking at our tables and answering the question, “What is your school positively known for in your community?” Many school slogans or mottos, explained Proud, do not necessarily impact instruction or student learning. If you are going to brand your school, you had better make sure that your slogan has a positive impact on your students, he stressed.

Session: Don’t Shy Away from Greatness

Presenter: Nick Proud

Key Takeaway: If you are going to brand your school, make sure that your slogan has real impact.

Proud’s school (Garner Elementary) uses this motto: Every Kid, Every Day, Deserves the Finest, the Greatest, the Best. In his session, it became clear that Nick has done everything he can to make sure every person who walks into his school lives and breathes this motto. He shared a powerful video clip in which his students recited a chant that goes along with the motto. They recite this every morning. He showed us how he has put this brand, #FinestGreatestBest, on everything from shirts to water bottles to stickers to walls to pens.  

As a result of putting the message out for all to see every day, parents have designed their own shirts and headbands for their kids.  One parent even made fortune cookies with this fortune inside: “Every Kid, Every Day, Deserves the Finest, the Greatest, the Best!”

Nick shared a step-by-step process for creating a new school motto to bring your school to greatness:

First, paint a picture in your mind of what you want to see happen in your school.

Define how this will happen.

Create your motto or slogan.

Make promises with students. Proud had his teachers develop a list of promises to all other students, such as promising to make a fresh start each day, promising to inspire students to do their best, and promising to believe in fellow students more than they believe in themselves. These promises are displayed in each classroom.  

Promote the vision and make sure the slogan impacts the real work.

Celebrate. The final step in getting to greatness is to make sure to celebrate your successes. One of my favorite quotes from Nick’s presentation was “Make average feel awkward.”


I walked out of Proud’s session motivated to get back to my school and begin the process of achieving greatness. I love the idea that every school should strive to be the best. Principals should be send the message every day to our students, our staff, our school community, that they are the best and the sky is the limit.  Correction: as the singer Paul Brandt says, “Don’t tell me that the sky is the limit when there are footsteps on the moon!”  There is no limit to what we can achieve in our schools.

What is your school motto going to be and how are you going to use that motto to have a positive impact on the learning at your school? Whatever you decide, don’t shy away from greatness.

Liz Garden is principal of Florence Roche Elementary School in Groton, Massachusetts.