Reporter's Notebook

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From Peace Prize Winner, Praise for Principals’ ‘Capable Hands’

Teaching tolerance is more than an educational catchword to Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner told elementary school principals here last week that the call to help children appreciate people's differences is a holy one.

Archbishop Tutu

The Anglican former archbishop of Cape Town, who peacefully attacked South Africa's apartheid system of racial segregation in the 1980s, and has since worked to heal the wounds left from that oppressive regime, spoke to the National Association of Elementary School Principals' convention on March 19.

Appreciating differences is "one of the things God has left in your hands, in your very capable hands," Archbishop Tutu told an auditorium filled with several thousand educators.

Allowing racist attitudes to prevail "is like spitting in the face of God," he added. Spreading his arms, the archbishop ended his speech by challenging educators to look past student's differences and to help each one "soar, soar, soar!"

Diversity was the theme of this year's NAESP conference, which drew some 6,000 educators to the Crescent City.

Other speakers addressed different sides of diversity issues, from the need to provide equal access to mental health services to ensuring the rights and welfare of gay and lesbian students.

In one session, Christina Mattise, a guidance counselor at Brookline Elementary School in Brookline, N.H., described her school's efforts to create a "hurt free" place for children.

She helped devise an elaborate system of written ways that students can complain about harassment of any kind. The children are then required to confront their own behavior, she said, and staff members are able to track patterns of harassment more easily and find children the help they need.

"We let them know we're not going to tolerate deliberate hurtful behavior," Ms. Mattise said. "We teach this consistently."

Technology in Small Schools

The perennial issue of the role of technology was also a prominent topic at the March 18-21 conference.

A delegation from an elementary school in Carterville, Ill., told a session audience that, just because a school is small or rural, doesn't mean it can't help children learn how to use computers.

Carterville Elementary School has no technology teacher or district consultant, said Kelly Stewart, the school's principal, yet it is teaching 3rd graders to use Microsoft Excel, a popular database software program, for class projects on subjects such as the weather. The school also teaches its 530 children in grades 3-6 how to use Word and other Microsoft programs. Educators there have done that by making technology an instructional priority, and by spending what limited money they had on training and on computers. That effort earned the southern Illinois school a national top-10 ranking for school technology use from Business Week magazine.

Teacher Quality

At a session on teacher quality, an Indiana State University education professor told a session of about 150 principals to focus on the outstanding teachers found in their schools, not the worst ones.

"The number-one thing we need to do with our negative people is make them feel uncomfortable," said Todd Whitaker, who is the author of a book about dealing with bad teachers and a former Missouri principal.

He said praising outstanding teachers and encouraging them to keep improving sets the pace for others.

As an example, he said that if a school decides to have faculty members each call a parent every day to report on a student's progress, a memo from the principal mandating that policy may not work. Thanking a teacher at a faculty meeting for making a difference in a child's life, Mr. Whitaker suggested, will get everyone's attention.

—Alan Richard

Vol. 19, Issue 29, Page 6

Published in Print: March 29, 2000, as Reporter's Notebook
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