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The 5 Principles of Highly Effective Teachers: Pierre Pirard (Transcript)

Pierre Pirard at TEDxGhent

Here is the full text of former CEO Pierre Pirard’s talk “The 5 Principles of Highly Effective Teachers” at TEDxGhent conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The 5 principles of highly effective teachers by Pierre Pirard at TEDxGhent


What is the common elements between managing companies all over the world and teaching in a school in Molenbeek? Leadership.

In both jobs, you need strong leadership: to manage companies and to teach to kids who face huge difficulties.

Let me tell you how I came to that conclusion.

For 25 years, I’ve been managing companies. I’ve tried to make sure that every single quarter was more profitable, and I really enjoyed it.

I’ve learned that strong leaders apply four basic simple principle.

The first one, they believe, that their team can achieve great results. And because they believe that they think they can achieve great results, their teams start to believe also, they can achieve great results.

Second thing: they set goals, develop a vision for the company.

Third, they make sure that this goal… this vision becomes the everyday priority of their people, their employees.

And last, great leaders… they plan carefully and purposefully to make sure they achieve their objective.

I mean that’s what great leaders are doing and I’ve tried to do that for 25 years. I mean it’s really a tough job.

Four years ago, I was in my mid-40s and I faced what we call a mid-life crisis. Mid-life crisis is a very simple concept. I mean suddenly you realize that living is not forever. I mean, it’s a little bit like a ghost curve. You know you’re at the top of the hill and suddenly you see the end of the origin.

And you ask yourself this basic question: what do I do now? I mean, which track do I take to go down the hill? I mean, do I take the same track or do I take another route to go down?

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And personally I felt the need to give more sense to what I was doing. And so I totally changed my professional career. From a CEO, I became a teacher in Molenbeek, in what some magazine called the Bronx of Brussels.

I’m teaching in the professional section to kids or young adults between 15 to 22 years old, mostly coming from the American communities. And those children are coming from low social economical backgrounds. I mean they are what we call under-privileged children.

I thought that teaching will be great there. I mean, you know, you’re working what? 20 hours per week, you have plenty of vacation. You are sitting in front of people eager to learn from you.

Well, I’m not sure if there are teachers in the audience today but you know that the reality is slightly different.

I mean, the start of my career was not easy. I mean, my colleague warned me, they told me: “Pierre, well, don’t put your expectation too high. I mean the motivation is very low, they don’t know much.”

Well, I thought they were testing me or kidding me but actually they were right.

In my class, none of my students were capable to give me the results of 10% of 100. When I talk about Stockholm, they thought I was talking about a rap singer. And [Za Braille] is the name of a subway station in Brussels.

And when I faced the reality of this new job, I said, “But how is it possible that kids who have spent 10 to 15 years in a bench, in a school in Belgium know so little?” I mean kids who are far of being stupid, they have a great sense of humor, good common sense. I mean what happened to them? I mean why are they in this situation?

So I also realized that those kids who faced disaster results in some classes, actually achieved very good results in some other classes. Same kids, different results.

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So actually there were two types of teachers. They were the teacher where the students achieved very poor results and the other one where the students achieved great results. So this really triggered my attention.

So I went to talk to both my colleagues and to the first group of colleagues where the kids achieved poor results, asked them this very simple question: What can I do to make my student progress?

And the answers I received were always going in the same direction.

Well, Pierre, what can we do? How do you want to teach to kids where there’s no books at all, where the parents do not speak French or Flemish fluently?

Well, let me tell you the truth, Pierre. That’s what my colleague told me: there’s very little that teachers or schools can do. They even talk to me about the last generation.

Let me tell you today what the other group of colleagues told me, the one where the kids achieved great results. Among those group there was one teacher: Mrs. Antony, and she’s a French teacher. And in her class the kids were always there with high motivation and they have good grades.

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