The Power of Contribution: Ask Muriel
January 7, 2019

We recently sat down with Muriel Summers, Principal of A. B. Combs Magnet Elementary School,  to ask her if there were any recent events that caused her to reflect deeply about her Leader in Me work. Without missing a beat she shared that she recently listened to Stephen M.R. Covey and Sean Covey speak at the inauguration of the Stephen R. Covey Leadership Center at Utah State University. (Watch the video here.) One statement really stood out for her, “Life is about contribution, not accumulation.”

Muriel: I was so intrigued by Dr. Covey’s definitions of contribution versus accumulation and wondered how we could create a culture of contribution at Combs. In a school we can easily be focused on accumulating achievements—a focus on what am I gaining…be it grades or awards or more goals met. I began to reflect on how we could do a better job of teaching children that our contributions are far more important than accumulating achievements.

This thinking translated to our Annual Holiday Food Bank Drive. We shifted our paradigm, and our messaging, from which classroom could collect more cans to the impact we were making on others.

LiM Weekly: Tell us about the difference this made.

Muriel: It was a huge difference! There was so much power behind the children understanding they were giving a can to someone who may not otherwise eat. And, as a result, we collected more cans this year than in previous years! Children can understand so much more than we give them credit for. What I witnessed was children being more empathetic through the power of seeking to understand. No longer was the goal how many cans can we collect—the goal was how many mouths can we feed.

Let me share a few other examples I recently heard in our school that demonstrate this shift to contributing.

  • “Logan’s gift today was that she was able to read the instructions to us. Carissa, you are great in math. Can you and Logan use your talents to complete this task?” At 7 years old, these children walked away knowing how they were contributing to one another’s learning. It was like putting a little bubble of success around them.
  • Another teacher pointed out that the class wouldn’t have met their reading goal without Charlie’s contribution. Charlie is a special needs student and that day the class celebrated because of his contribution. That’s also an example of the power of collecting classroom data.  
  • One of our mothers shared in a recent 7 Habits of Successful Families training, “In my family, we are taught that we have the responsibility to use our talents to make other people happy. My daughter recently sang to me because I wasn’t feeling well. It’s giving your talents away to other people—that’s how you contribute to mankind.” Everyone was so touched by her comments.

LiM Weekly: I wonder about the student mindset that school is mostly about me earning a grade as opposed to us accomplishing something together. Would you say that’s the case?

Muriel: I think that’s exactly the case. So, to help with this shift towards contribution, I go back to Dr. Covey’s Teach to Learn Model. It’s teaching our children that once you have learned something, go teach it to someone else. That is a prime example of contribution. Accountability Partners are another example.

LiM Weekly: Any final thoughts?

Muriel: I think it’s as simple—and as difficult—as shifting our paradigm. We need to keep reflecting on how we are unintentionally and intentionally seeing. It’s through this vigilant activity we will do things differently to get the results we are really after.

When children find their voice, understand the responsibility of giving back, and use their talents for good, we should never have to worry about achievement again. In that kind of culture, it will just happen—where every child understands, “I can’t be good at everything, but I’m good at this, and you’re good at that, and together we can synergize to make it happen.” What a difference that would make. The possibility brings tears to my eyes, it’s such a game-changer.

We’re excited to be featuring content with Muriel on a bi-monthly basis! What would you like to ask Muriel? Share your questions below!


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