Monday, July 29, 2013

Maybe We Are Saving Dolphins

            One of the things I’ve always looked forward to about summers is the time to get caught up on some leisurely reading. It’s been a challenge this summer with more work than normal but I’ve managed to take advantage of time on planes and in airports. A recent book that has grabbed my attention (and spawned the title of this post) is “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor. I haven’t completed it but have been inspired by the first one hundred pages.
            Achor suggests that while there are some folks for whom positivity comes more naturally, he maintains that all can reap the numerous benefits of happiness. He states, “happiness is not just a mood – it’s a work ethic”. In the seven suggestions he provides to access the happiness advantage, three resonated with me in my current and previous work roles: commit conscious acts of kindness, infuse positivity into your surroundings, and exercise a signature strength.
            Committing conscious acts of kindness involves doing this deliberately and consciously, not recalling how your week went and recording the nice things you did. This doesn’t require grand gestures and Achor cites the research of Sonja Lyubomirsky indicating that the feeling of happiness last over many days for the initiator. I don’t often go through a drive-through for my coffee but when I do, I like to pay for the coffee of the person behind me in the line. I’ve never met the driver behind me but know it feels good to contemplate a positive moment that they might be experiencing.
            Infusing positivity into your surroundings speaks to the physical environment we create in our workspace. I know longer have an office where I can display personal mementoes that share some of who I am. I do, however, make a point of having pictures of my grandchildren on my computer screensaver that routinely get displayed in advance of my sessions and generate questions about them. They also never fail to bring a smile to my face and put me in the right frame of mind in advance of sharing with colleagues.
            Exercising a signature strength reminds me that everyone has a talent. During my recent work with teachers, I was reminded of the unique skills each person possesses as we were going through a dip in energy level on our fourth day of working together. Having teachers share their work with each other highlighted some individual strengths that went beyond curriculum design.  We’ve planned a social evening next week to further tap into aspects of individuals that don’t always get revealed in the midst of our work.
            As for the title of this post? Achor shares a story of a Fortune 500 senior level executive who introduced him and the importance of the happiness message by reminding employees that ultimately, it has to be about money and uttered the line, “We’re not saving the dolphins here.” Achor suggests that the message received was around the value of the work these employees were doing. Clearly it was not important stuff but centered on generating money. Let’s be clear here – the work you are doing as educators is significant. You are saving lives and impacting not only the lives of the students in front of you but also the lives they will lead as thriving community and family leaders. The beauty of our work lies not in our ability to predict the future but to create it. And in that realm we are doing more than saving dolphins, we're following a passion. Thanks for all you do to make the future brighter!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Is Your Focus On Kids Being Caught Or Kids Being Taught?

            A good portion of my time working with educators is spent on relationship building and creating a positive school culture. This work was really important to me during my time as a classroom teacher and building level administrator and took on even greater significance when I moved to a central office position where I could see a larger scale difference in the environments of schools and their relative success on most measures including staff and student satisfaction.
            Initially folks connected my work with discipline and dealing with challenging students. I remember quite clearly when I interviewed for the Vice-Principal job that discipline and behavior were the most oft-repeated words by the panel. After I landed the position former colleagues shared a concern about how dejected I would become after dealing with middle school behavior all day. My approach then is the same as the message I share now – it’s all in the perspective you bring and the motivation you have to build relationships.
            Let’s establish some basic premises. First, kids are going to make mistakes (and so are the adults). Second, consequences are a part of a positive learning environment (especially when they are connected to the behavior and are a natural result). Third, behavior can be changed through an instructional approach (just like we do with academics). Fourth, all kids can engage in positive relationships (although some may need more guidance from us). With that as the backdrop, the work becomes increasingly more positive, relationships get strengthened, and culture shifts as our words and actions align.
            When I work with school staffs today, we begin with identifying attributes or expectations for all (kids and adults) members of the school community. We use those in conjunction with key settings in the school to create a matrix of expectations that drive what we want to see throughout the school. When we don’t see them, we respond immediately, and with a positive re-statement of the desired expectations. Can you see the difference between this approach versus the approach that involves staff members creating an exhaustive list of “thou shalt nots” for kids? For those who think this may be another example of “going soft”, remember premise two above. Violations of the expectations may still result in a consequence – one that has a connection to the difference between what’s expected and what’s displayed. A continuum of consequences may include a suspension if there is not evidence of growth when we engage in teaching the expectations. It’s also important to remember the consequence is the consequence. It’s not that plus public humiliation in front of your peer group.
            When our focus is on kids being taught – both academically and behaviorally – and not solely on kids being caught, we shift the culture of the school to expecting the right things, modeling the right things, and acknowledging the right things. After all, isn’t that what schools are all about?