As testing season for many schools sets in, it is very easy to get stuck focusing on the constant pressures of performance, test scores, and end of the year data. Most of this is a reality for schools and is outside of one’s control on whether it happens or not, but there is something that we do have control over each and everyday as educators and that is the choices we make and that in which we seek out.
When students are being taught character development through the lens of role-modeling strong character by staff, they will see what it looks like to work hard, learn from mistakes, reflect, grow, and encourage each other. As High School Musical eloquently states, “We are all in this together!” In fact, if every educator were to seek out these five things I would predict that school climate and culture would improve, and test scores would go up.
1. Seek out mistakes that you make
Let’s face it, we all make mistakes! We all know it, yet as a young teacher, I would find myself in my position of authority quickly trying to act like I had not made a mistake, not acknowledge the mistake I had made, or even make something up in the moment as to cover for the fact that I didn’t know something. I feared what my students would think if they knew I didn’t do something right or did not have an answer in that moment. In reality, as I matured as a teacher, I learned that when identified big or small mistakes I had made in a lesson or situation, that my students respected me more. More importantly, I was using those moments to teach students how to learn from mistakes, which included the processing, humility, and growth mindset to learn and grow each day to be better. What if we all took this approach in education?
2. Seek out the good in others
I remember once seeing a great presentation by Laura Goodrich who wrote a book called Seeing Red Cars: Driving Yourself, Your Team, and Your Organization to a Positive Future where she states, “Surely you’ve experienced something like this: you buy a red car, and suddenly red cars appear everywhere. Why? Because you’re focusing on red cars—and you get more of whatever you focus on. But much of the time, consciously and unconsciously, we dwell on what we don’t want, and that’s what we get.” We get more of what we focus on and it can be difficult to focus on the positive sometimes. Education is a profession that can be really difficult. You're dealing with people, and sometimes young people can be hard to motivate, manage, and care for when emotions are involved. It is easy to fall into this negativity trap when there is a constant lack of time and resources to do your job most effectively. To see more of the positive we can intentionally practice seeking out the good in others and telling them about it whenever we can. No matter how small it is, people crave attention and appreciation. That five second compliment very well could be one that person never forgets. Compliment a student as they are entering or leaving your classroom, compliment a staff member by telling a student how awesome they are in front of them, tell someone something positive you heard about them recently. The more we practice the more we will see the good in others and the positive around us. We can’t always control the amount of time we have or how much is in our department or school budget, but we can choose to seek out the good in others instead of allowing ourselves to be hardened by the difficult parts of the job. Remember, if it was easy everyone would do it. It is the hard that makes it great!
3. Seek out areas to grow
One of the examples a mentor of mine demonstrated for me as I was developing as a teacher and young leader was the importance of being a lifelong learner by constantly seeking out ways to improve through seeking out feedback, identifying gaps in my character and performance, and actively striving to close those performance and character gaps. Every week I would give out ten quantifiable feedback forms to students and/or colleagues and ask them to rank me on a scale of 1-10 either overall as a teacher, or on something specific like how well I listen, or how good I was as a teammate. I found that by having an intentional process to seek out feedback it showed those around me that I was serious about wanting feedback and they started being more genuine and honest in the feedback they were providing. Yes, at first it would sting when I was told something that I could work on, but eventually I came to the realization that everyone already knew the feedback they were providing and it was no secret! At least I now knew and could do something about it. The best part is that as I worked on closing my performance and character gaps, life continued to get more and more purposeful and my relationships consistently got stronger and stronger with my students and with those around me. We need to teach one of the most important aspects of feedback to our students and that is how crucial it is that we seek it out from others so we can improve and grow.
4. Seek out quiet time
Let’s face it, we live in a day and age that promotes a non-stop schedule where the most successful are seen as people who work long hours and never seem to sleep. If we are given even five minutes of downtime, many fill it by quickly scrolling through social media, playing a quick game, or even watching a mindless video online. In 2012, researchers found that letting your mind wander now and then can lead to positive results including better creative problem solving. Maybe you have noticed that some of your best thoughts have come while driving to work, taking a shower, or going for a run. Psychology Today writer Amy Fries states, “Daydreaming is how we access our big-picture state of mind.” It’s not that we don’t have the time, even if we just intentionally scheduled 3-5 minutes a day of quiet reflection and let our mind wander about the day, your family, your job, I wonder what positives might come in terms of creative thinking, new ideas, and simply giving your brain a break from the gauntlet of day to day activities?
5. Seek out opportunities to connect
From the time we were born we were built to be relational. Even studies on premature babies by Harlow, Spitz, and Bowlby have shown how important it is that babies experience touch and the power of human contact in a babies early development. Connection is not just nice, it is needed. There are hundreds of opportunities to connect every single day in a school. Educators should set the example everyday for what the ideal school looks like in terms of connection. Get into the hallways and give some hi-fives, fist bumps (or elbow bumps during the flu season), as well as warm and positive greetings that show excitement for the day and the people around you. Ask someone, “How are you doing today”, but then follow it up with a second question that nobody else seems to take the time to ask like, “What are you looking forward to most today?” Stop by the desk of the school secretary and ask how their kid is doing, ask the custodian about the last time they went golfing because you have learned that about them, check in with a new teacher and offer a word of encouragement. When we seek out opportunities to connect we fill the buckets of others and in doing so we fill our own. What if you had a school where people’s buckets were overflowing with kindness?
John Norlin is a Co-Founder of CharacterStrong, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year, taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School, and was a Program Administrator for the Whole Child for five years.