Karin Lippert – What is the DNA of a Great School?

The Instigators1C
Click HERE or on the Image Above to Watch the Interview with Dana Ziegler and Christina Luce


What is in the DNA of a Great School? Nate Perry Elementary Has IT!


1. Teach acceptance, tolerance, being mindful, kindness and community as part of the LEARNING.
2. Create an environment that celebrates children’s uniqueness.
3. Celebrate the creativity and collaboration of the community – principal, teachers and students.



Marty Keltz and I walked into Nate Perry Elementary (NPE) in Liverpool, New York on a sunny morning last week for the Not Perfect Hat Club Day and were greeted by Dana Ziegler, the principal. First, I was struck by her warm and gracious smile. Then, we put our bags in her office and set off on a tour of the school. Our first stop was a visit to Christina Luce’s class. Christina and her students know Marty and Jena Ball from last year’s Skype visits for the Lead With Your Heart book and the CritterKin #BeKind PBL.

Big smiles and hugs in that classroom!

Christina talked about the “Be Kind” experience her students had last year in the interview we did with her and Dana Ziegler. For Christina it is the connective thread Jena has created with her books that led to her enthusiasm for the Not Perfect Hat Club message. “It was a natural,” she said, “because it resonated and confirmed the experiences she’s had with her students.” Lead With Your Heart inspired her class and created a clear path to NPHC Day events!

As we walked around the school, I was amazed. We saw and felt the words – Kindness! Mindful! Learning! Community! – everywhere. I mean everywhere – in hallways, the kids’ art, in the classrooms, the gym, in the air and the warm, happy faces of teachers and kids.

At the assembly, I realized what many teachers around the country know so well, the leadership of a principal is key to the success for everything that is possible and happens in a school. Principal Dana Ziegler is a leader with vision. She is a dedicated, inspirational, a role model and a very cool principal!

Dana’s opening “Welcome” words at the Not Perfect Hat Club Day got a noisy and wonderful “Oh, Yeah!” response in the gym! No wonder. She is a KEY ingredient in the DNA of this great school:

“Tolerance is the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not agree with.

We Teach tolerance and acceptance at Nate Perry.

But to me, the Not Perfect Hat Club means so much more. It means not just to accept each other and our differences but to celebrate our uniqueness.

Uniqueness is defined as being one of a kind, unlike anything else! We are all gifts and special and our goal today and every day at NPE is to honor, respect and celebrate our specialness!”

What I saw and heard from Dana Ziegler and Christina Luce at NPE is an educational philosophy that works! The gym that morning was filled with JOY. And it was loud!



Every child, teacher and staff member was wearing a Not Perfect Hat. Every class had used different materials to make their hats (the brown paper bags were my favorite) and every child created a UNIQUE hat (as did Mrs. Farrell the music teacher!!). The hats were as unique and special as every child in the gym that morning! We celebrated “specialness” and Jena Ball’s NPHC message empowered the kids.

Going forward, I say we emulate the kids at Nate Perry and become very loud about the positives things happening in our schools, especially what kids are learning – because it is special when you bring together social emotional learning with traditional and tech skills – great principals and teachers.

“Oh, Yeah!” Let the cheering begin.

– Karin Lippert

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