The power of positivity.


In the face of adversity, we make choices. We decide how and to what extent we will involve ourselves in tackling conflicts. There are organizational conflicts and personnel conflicts. Even personal ones. We can’t control how others will act. We can only control how we will respond to crises, changes, and situations.

There is nothing more disheartening to me than encountering “professionals” that let negativity dictate their interactions with students, colleagues, and parents. I am not immune to the fact that the demands placed on teachers are limitless. Administrators find themselves equally as burdened by mandates, changing directives, disgruntled parents and staff, finicky students, and the daily grind of what is the life of an administrator. Those of us that enjoy our work tend to thrive on these challenges; we enjoy brainstorming solutions and problem solving in order to improve our schools and learning experiences for students.

Enter the power of positivity. As administrators, we cannot expect our staff members to exude positivity without demonstrating this quality through our leadership. Kim Cameron of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, the author of Positive Leadership, is a useful resource for this topic. While some of our schools focus on maintaining daily operations and remaining status quo (or are frankly just in survival mode), others are interested in taking learning to the next level for the entire organization. What formerly was good enough just isn’t good enough anymore. Cameron refers to this as positive deviancy, going beyond the norm in a positive direction, which will cause organizations to flourish, not just exist.

Consider this graphic that details how organizational strategies can be based on the positive:


Focusing on the positives in these four domains: climate, meaning, communication, and relationships, will enable leaders to take the next step in supporting a flourishing organization. (Notice what is at the heart of all of these domains: people. We’re truly in the people business.)

It easier to creative a positive learning culture in a school experiencing success. The difficulties lie in times of adversity. When budgets are cut. When the pressure is on to perform. When children’s home lives aren’t ideal. When there is conflict among staff. When the administrative team isn’t supportive. When there aren’t enough resources.

We talk of reform and of change. So many in my PLN and school organization are dedicated to improving education for their students and children, yet each day we encounter others in our communities who continue to resist and thus dampen our efforts. We cannot stand for this negativity. We cannot tolerate excuses.

Instead, we must lead positively and support our colleagues along the way. What are some ways you’ve remained positive in your leadership efforts? How do you promote positivity in your organization? I’ve found these simple strategies to be successful:

  • Smile. Smile at people when you greet them. Smile when they say something amazing. Smile when they say something that exasperates you. If you give the impression that you are frustrated, upset, worried, etc., the people with whom you’re interacting will know it.
  • Keep a folder called “The Good.” I have two. One is in my desk drawer and it’s where I file the thank you cards, children’s artwork, letters from parents, note from staff…and the other is in my Outlook inbox where I store much of the same. At those times when I say to myself, “How can I keep up with the demands of this gig? Why do I do this?” I turn to the folders. And I read. And I smile. And I remember very clearly why I do this.
  • Don’t act unless it’s in the best interest of the children. Don’t speak it, say it, do it, unless it benefits kids. Don’t waste energy on things that don’t. Being negative takes more energy than it’s worth. Did you know that?
  • Address the negative. Just like teachers use planned ignoring rather skillfully in their classrooms with students, there are some instances of negativity within an organization that are best ignored. Others are not. When the negativity seeps into the everyday actions of teachers, thus impacting life for students, it is no longer okay. Work with people. Help them see how their negative influences are detrimental to learning and are holding back the organization from greater success.
  • Celebrate. Celebrate everything, particularly the small successes. Help everyone in your organization see the value in what they do. Create a culture where it’s okay to brag. Share! Don’t limit your celebrations to within your school walls- be sure everyone in your community knows how excited you are about your work with kids!

“If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force within you, you will grow vigorous and happy, however adverse your circumstances may seem to be.” -John Heywood

Respect- give it to get it

I am relatively new in my position as principal, but I have taught for enough years to know that we will always encounter “those kids” in our classrooms and schools.

The kids that talk back. The ones that don’t hand in assignments. Students that are disrespectful. Bullies. Those that don’t give 100%. Kids that tell you they just don’t care. “This is boring and stupid.”

These students are sometimes the bane of a teacher’s existence, and on some level, I can understand why: they cause the teacher to feel a loss of control. And there’s nothing teachers thrive on more than control.

What I have come to realize, in my 10+ years in this phenomenal field of education, is that these children need us. Maybe more than the “ideal” student needs us.

When I started my job as a K-6 principal last year, I made it a priority to learn my students’ names. And I did. I greet them by name in the hall. I ask them about their weekends and about their ice hockey games. They bust on me for being a Braves fan, and I offered my sympathy when the Phils lost the World Series. I remind them I’m checking up on their progress in small reading groups because we have set goals for their success. I play all-time quarterback at recess and astound them with my ability to throw a tight spiral. I recognize their parents from school functions and tell them how much I enjoy working with their children. More than any single policy I instituted or curricular change I made in the best interest of kids last year, nothing seemed to impress the parents and staff more than the fact that I know my students’ names.

Having accomplished that, my job as disciplinarian becomes 1000 times easier. When a student is referred to my office, we discuss what the action was that caused them to do be sent to my office, why they made the choice they did, how they can remedy the situation/choose differently in the future, and lastly, we discuss how disappointed I am in their choice, because I know them to be a child capable of better decision-making. But I forgive them, because we all make mistakes, and we will work hard to do better next time.

If that same child forgets to hand in an assignment, or doesn’t work according to teachers’ standards, does the teacher always take the time to have that same discussion with the student? Or does she always just chalk up the actions to to “laziness,” or “bad parenting,” or “lack of initiative?”

I read a post written by Paul Bogush on his blog entitled Words reduce reality to something the human mind can grasp. His point that teachers tend to label students upon the first negative encounter with them causes them to place all responsibility for that child’s failures/shortcomings on the child rather than on the teacher.

This weekend is proofread-500-report-cards-weekend for me, and I am going to take extra care in pinpointing the teachers/grade levels/subject areas where it appears we are failing our students. For example, why would a 3rd grader receive a D or F in social studies? What have we done to reteach the essential content to that student who has not succeeded on the first assessment of the material? How can we be content allowing an 8-yr old to fail? What can we do to meet our children where they are, and to own their success? Yes, children’s efforts play a role in their success, but we are the adults. We are the professionals. It is our duty to help them achieve great things.

This issue means a lot to me personally and is something I will revisit with my teachers often this year. How is this being addressed in your schools?