How just six words can make a big difference

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Ernest Hemingway may or may not have written the first six-word novel: For sale: Baby shoes, never worn. Other writers took up the challenge.

Then came six-word memoirs. My favorite: Not quite what I was planning.

NPR’s “race-card project” asks listeners to “distill your thoughts, experiences or observations about race into one sentence that only has six words.” 

Workers have expressed their six-word views about their jobs. A favorite: He led by example. How refreshing. 

School communities benefit when principals and teacher leaders can concisely sum up important ideas in six words. When leaders take the time to engage in the demanding intellectual process of distilling their ideas, they are more effective and influential.

A few years back I coined the term “six-word leadership tool” to capture the ideas expressed in my blog posts and elsewhere. Here are a few with links to the posts they summarize:

Hopefulness connects and strengthens school communities.

Choose mindful skepticism over mindless cynicism.

Make integrity a core school value.

Pause to support learning and relationships.

Develop the habits of “positive deviants.”

Here are two “six-word leadership tools” that I created for this post:

• Express important ideas clearly and concisely.

• To influence, have proverb-like clarity.

What six-word expressions sum up your views regarding leadership, teaching, and/or learning or an important aspect of them?

11 Responses to “How just six words can make a big difference”


  1. 1 Patricia T. De Bello April 30, 2013 at 6:22 am

    Mother Theresa encouraged everyone to make a daily impact on their sphere of the world, regardless of position or title ( or lack of!) with these profound words: ” Do small things with great love”

  2. 3 Mike Phillips April 30, 2013 at 7:54 am

    “Listen, learn and practice integrity, EH”

  3. 5 Michael Cohan April 30, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Commitment and passion can lead change.

  4. 7 Chad Dumas April 30, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Professional learning must improve student learning.

  5. 9 barbarawmadden April 30, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Many years ago, the info at this link helped me further develop my proverb-like clarity–>http://www.shipshapesystems.com/files/Using_Word_Pictures_to_Communicate_Effectively.pdf

    I recommend this book highly for all educators!

  6. 11 April Stiles May 1, 2013 at 12:13 am

    Student inquiry sparks meaningful, lifelong learning.


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