Thursday, April 09, 2015

Mark Twain, the Losada Line, and School Culture

This past week I received a compliment.  This person had nothing to gain by giving me this compliment and it wasn't one of those compliments that one fishes for.  You know how that goes...

"I'm the worst Principal on the face of the earth."

"No, Dan, you are an amazing Principal.  Everyone has a bad day now and then, but you're the best."

No, this compliment was not sought after.  It was a sincere expression of gratitude for my efforts at the school .... and it felt great.  There was definitely a  spring in my step and I'm sure my next few interactions with others was more positive and productive.  Not sure if the effect will last the two months that Mark Twain promises, but I'll take it nonetheless.

In the field of positive psychology Marcial Losada contends that just under 3 positive comments, experiences, or expressions are needed to counteract 1 negative experience.  This phenomenon came to be known as the Loads Line, though there is substantial doubt as to his mathematical proofs for this ratio of 2.9 to1, and it appears that we will need a ratio between 3 and 6 to 1 to turn the tide on a negative experience. The result is still the same - we need to intentionally share encouragement with those close to us.

After receiving the aforementioned compliment, and feeling that positive effect, I decided to head out and share some of that goodness.  I have focused my current teacher observations  by noting positive aspect that I could notice as quickly as possible.  No surprise that the feedback has been instantaneous and, alas, positive.  I'm encouraged to continue to look for those positive aspects of our school culture to foster their diffusion through the simple act of recognizing them more often.

For anyone in a school environment, I encourage you to take the same approach to building up your colleagues all around you. Here are three steps that I feel are crucial to this equation.

1. Know Yourself - Self awareness is one of the greatest obstacles to leading and encouraging others.  We all get so hung up on receiving the proper recognition or attention that we are often incapable of even noticing what others are bringing to the table.  The easiest way to cloud  your eyesight and miss the amazing work of others is to be focused on your own needs all the time.   Which brings me to ...

2. Observe - The power of careful observation can't be underestimated.  In order to give a compliment, you must first begin by opening your eyes to the contributions and impact of those who surround.  Great work is happening all around you every day waiting for you to discover it.

3. Communicate - Be specific. Be direct. Express impact.  Lately I've been switching to sending quick feedback to teachers as a text.  They get that encouragement sometimes while right in the middle of the lesson and early returns are that the immediacy of the feedback is appreciated.  It's also helpful to express the impact that this quality work is having on students and families.  Educators need to be reminded that their toils impact lives in a significant way.

Actually, what have you got to lose?  Maybe you're afraid that your reputation as a serious and tough minded leader will be compromised.  That couldn't be further than the truth.  You will gain a new found respect and apprciation for the amazing climate that you have jointly created.

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