I’ll admit it.
George Couros is one of my favourite (spelling intended) people in education. Not only is he skilled at telling a captivating story that can cause both tears and inexplicable laughter, but his ideas about education are thought-provoking and real, grounded in his own experience or ideas he has recently read about or seen.
Since being introduced to his work and hearing him speak at a conference last year, I’ve been influenced by not only his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, but also his regular blog posts, podcasts, and tweets.
When I originally encountered his popular quote, “We need to make the positives so loud so that the negatives are almost impossible to hear,” I quickly connected it, as many people do, to the context of making sure that the positive voices are heard so loudly in the school that they outweigh any negativity from the naysayers. In a year of rapid changes in my district, this quote resonated with me as a great strategy to build a positive school culture.
What I realized recently though is that although that interpretation is completely valid, it actually has a variety of meaningful contexts that relate to not only students and staff, but to education as a whole. Administrators need to regularly share the strengths of their team and teachers need to do the same with students.
In one of the studies mentioned in Paul Tough’s book, Helping Children Succeed he discusses a strategy that social workers used with parents of toddlers to improve their parenting skills. Instead of focusing on what they were doing wrong after each visit, the social worker gave feedback explicitly naming what the parents were doing correctly. The impact of this study was profound, elevating not only the overall confidence of the parents, but their parenting skills as well.
At first as an instructional coach, and now an administrator, I have tried a variety of strategies to emulate this philosophy and grow a positive culture.
- Every time I visit a classroom I send an email to the staff member explicitly stating positive observations related to their instruction, interaction with students or even classroom environment.
- “Bite-Sized Feedback” cycles are also an awesome way to highlight great instruction. First, we talk about something they would like me to observe and then we set up a 15-minute time slot each week for me to come into their classroom. Afterward, we talk for 10-15 minutes about the laundry list of awesome things they are doing followed by me offering a tip for how to enhance one of their strengths. I have seen more impact on instruction as a result of this practice than any traditional observation.
- I regularly tweet out pictures and videos of the amazing instruction I see when I pop into classrooms. Sometimes it is a student, sometimes a staff, and sometimes me reflecting on what I saw and the impact it had on students.
- This year we have started a podcast at one of my buildings where we interview one of our staff members about their instructional practices. This helps our staff to get to know one another’s strengths, and also gives us an avenue to share the amazing learning happening in our building.
- Involve students in telling the positive story of the school. This year I am working with groups of students in both of my buildings to do this. At one of my buildings this developed into creating a documentary about our entire school and in the other building, the students have been creating short videos about individual classrooms.
In the book, The Multiplier Effect: Tapping The Genius Inside Our Schools, authors Wiseman, Allen & Foster agree with the importance of not only recognizing, but sharing strengths with those whom we serve.
“But if people aren’t aware of their genius, they are not in a position to deliberately utilize it. By telling people what you see, you can raise their awareness and confidence, allowing them to provide their capability more fully.”
Walking through classrooms or in conversations with students & staff, I am amazed daily in the creative genius that surrounds me. Telling them their brilliance shines a spotlight on their talents and says, “DO THIS MORE!” This builds not only confidence and a positive school culture, but causes even brighter ideas and more innovation to spread in our school.
Please know that by saying we should highlight the positive, I am not saying that we should never have reflective conversations about shifts that may need to be made in instructional practice. It has been my experience that when I focus on sharing strengths instead of telling a list of changes to be made, that we end up actually having even more of these types of conversations. This is because when people know that you see them for their unique strengths and talents as opposed to a project that needs to be fixed a greater trust is built. Staff members often come to me with ideas asking for feedback or I am able to ask reflective questions resulting in instructional shifts. When change comes from within, it is deeper and more likely to last.
Educators don’t always see the amazing strengths within themselves. As leaders, the more we recognize and celebrate the strengths of those we lead, the more we create a positive culture that drowns out negativity and grows the innate talents of our school community.