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Leadership Lessons From Boiling Water: How One Extra Degree Makes All the Difference

November 13, 2018 5 min read
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In my third year teaching I had one of the most influential principals of my career--Dave Jackson. He was a relationship-building, all-around joyful, and charismatically energizing educator.

Actually, he was a legend.

We met by chance at an education workshop when I was in college. I made a point to give him my resume when I graduated, in case he ever had an opening. Later, Dave didn’t forget that I had gone the extra step of making a connection when I was in teacher college. He hired me and I had the opportunity to teach for Dave in one of his last years as a principal before retiring and, sadly, passing away.

He was one of those people who lived with the hope of humanity and the promise of a positive attitude in his everyday words and actions. He led from his heart. Always with a smile.

One of the greatest lessons I learned from Dave Jackson was about leadership. He introduced me to a book called 212 The Extra Degree by Sam Parker. Though it’s one of the shortest books on my shelf, it is also one of the most massive. Here’s why.

The central thesis of the book is a leadership philosophy based on the boiling point of water, wherein Parker notes that:

at 211°F water is hot (but still liquid), and at 212°F water boils (in general). With boiling water, comes steam. And with steam, you can power a train. The one extra degree, that one small step, makes the difference.

Dave shaped his leadership practice around this philosophy and worked it into his staff meeting remarks routinely. He gave the staff a copy of 212 and led a book study, encouraging us to integrate the philosophy into our teaching practice. Dave established a new tradition in his principal’s office of positive phone calls home for students, inspired by the 212 philosophy, and encouraged teachers to consider doing the same in their classroom.

Citing the 212 philosophy, he urged us to consider the power of a positive phone call home and the difference it could make for a student.

Here’s how it worked.


  1. You ask a student to stay after class for a minute to call their parents with you, informing them that you had something you needed to tell their parents and you wanted them to be there for it.

  2. Next, you call their parents on speaker and tell them that you had their son/daughter with you and you wanted to tell them something.

  3. Then, a moment of predictable tension would arise, because (sadly) calls home from school are often to share negative news or something the student did wrong. And that is what makes these phone calls so meaningful: they were intended to commend the student.

  4. Finally, in this phone call, the remarks by the teacher would reveal a compliment, share a success, or celebrate a moment of achievement for that student with their parent(s) on the line.

When Principal Jackson started this practice, he set the pace by asking teachers to nominate students for one of these calls. He would call the student down to the principal’s office to conduct a positive phone call and share the reason the teacher commended the student.

Being a philosophy major myself, this whole concept appealed to me on many levels.I decided to give it a try and was blown away by the results.

It was just a quick positive call home, yet it was one of the greatest moments in teaching that I can describe. It left students beaming and grateful, and parents were proud and elated. It changed the course of a student’s day for the better. And it took under two minutes to do! Inspired by Dave Jackson, I continued this practice throughout my teaching career and into my time as a principal as well.

One of the most impactful positive phone calls home I ever made was one that I didn’t expect. A ninth grade girl who was in my biology class, Daisy, was a dependable and upstanding student who worked hard to learn, help others, and make people smile in biology class. I decided to acknowledge her efforts with a positive phone call home one afternoon, and got to speak with her family while she was on speaker in the classroom. I shared what a great job she had been doing in biology and how our class was fortunate to have her. It led to a tearful moment of pride in the call as Daisy’s dad and grandparents who lived with her took in the commendation. Daisy was grateful, smiling, and went to her next class.

The following day, Daisy came in a bit early to thank me again about the phone call. She told me that when she got home, her family had a special party set up for her with balloons, her favorite dinner, and treats to celebrate her. She said they told her when she got home that it was “Daisy Day” and they were really proud of her. She mentioned how her dad had been quite ill, and her grandparents were helping care for him, and the situation at home had been really stressful as of late.

That positive phone call gave them something to celebrate. And it changed the whole dynamic at home for Daisy and her family.

Not only did it have an effect for her at home, it had an influence at school too. It bolstered her confidence, built rapport in class, and reinforced the positive actions we all hope to foster in our students. And to my surprise, it started having a ripple effect on the actions of other students in class as well.

That one small act made a huge impact.

That’s what Sam Parker was talking about. That’s what Dave Jackson was talking about. That was the extra degree. And it was just a simple phone call.

Think about it.

Do you have two minutes to do the same?

Image Courtesy: Pixabay

Gary Abud, Jr. is an award-winning educator and double cornea transplant recipient who, since having his sight restored, was moved to use his teaching gifts to make science fun for kids. He is the author of Science With Scarlett, a children’s book about a young girl scientist and her teddy bear assistant who do experiments with the reader (available this winter). Gary lives with his family near Detroit and writes to inspire children, like his preschool daughter, to love science. In 2014, he was named Teacher of the Year for the state of Michigan and is a proud member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). For more information visit ScienceWithScarlett.com

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