As parents and educators we want a safe, secure, and enriching environment for our children. We talk about school culture, read numerous books on culture, and go to conferences to learn more. School culture is crucial and we know that relationships are critical to building a solid foundation. Yet, if we take a step back, we can often picture those staff members that are frequently stirring things up for others. Recently, after working with a school, two members confided in me that they have two people on staff that are so negative that it is affecting the climate and culture of the school. Many times these staff members do not have a clue that they are the “poison” in the environment. I had to talk to a staff member one time, we will call her, Jenny, she would make comments to staff so firmly about what she felt, that the other staff member would end up crying in my office, sometimes over little things such as popsicles in the freezer taking too much space. I would also have parents call about her sarcasm with students, and the parents were very upset. She would say things such as: (when the child had water on her shoes and end of her pants) – “I am sure you didn’t go through that puddle, because only dumb children would do that”. What was the child’s interpretation? “I am dumb” 🙁
When I sat down with her and hard a heartfelt conversation, her perception of herself was, “I am warm and bubbly”. Oh, boy, we have a lot of work to do here.
Recently, at a professional development session, I watched a participant typing away furiously when the speaker was presenting. She sent him an email to point out all the things that were not done well during his activity. How can she focus on the activity when she is typing a furry of negative words? I really hope she does not do this to children, because it was hard enough for the presenter to read all the negative words. There is a better way to give feedback.
Some things to check yourself on to make sure you are not sending a negative vibe:
- Are you sarcastic to staff members?
- Do you complain about various things frequently such as the agenda was not out in time, the temperature in the lounge is too cold, is it necessary to walk around the playground during recess duty (as opposed to standing by the building with other adults)?
- Do you find yourself saying out loud, “We’ve tried that already, it won’t work”?
- Are you waiting to “correct” others?
- Do you feel everyone else is wrong and you need to help them?
- Have you ever had anyone tell you sometimes your strong “tone” can scare folks a little?
- Do you post on social meeting not so nice things about others or your job?
- Do you gossip about other staff or your supervisor/principal?
- Do you challenge others, yet rarely share a positive comment?
George Couros offered these suggestions in his blog post, 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Challenging Others – These are some things I think about when I want to challenge the thinking of someone online as well as in person:
1. Do I have any type of connection as human beings other than this initial interaction and do they know their contributions are valued?
2. Do I ever connect with this person to say something positive or do I only share feedback with others (or specific people) when it is negative?
3. Am I open to being challenged and critiqued in the same manner in which I am ready to deliver?
Mr. Couros uses questions to consider that he utilizes before immediately reacting with a a challenging attitude. I have a colleague that counts backward from ten before she responds to something, this seems to work well for her. The teachers that talked to me about being frustrated with the negative staff members wondered 1.) What can we do to make this better? 2.) What can our principal do to help this situation? Well, behaviors do not change overnight but, some things that you may find helpful are:
Focus on the positives – highlight staff members, students, and activities that are focused on learning. As George Couros says, “We need to make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear.”
Relationships – get to know these staff members, their interests, their family, and offer to help them with any school related activities. Sometimes there are issues going on with the staff member, such as their home life is stressful and it is spilling over into their job.
Team Building – you do not need to go do a ropes course to work on team building. You can have a simple connector activity at each staff meeting to encourage collaboration. I share some ideas to get you started at the end of this post.
Major or Minor – Is this negativity constantly happening? Are staff members complaining about numerous things? Are there multiple staff members complaining? Everyone has situations that happen in their lives and it could be a short time frame of chaos for a certain staff member. Other times, the staff member complains constantly. Know the difference so you can address this as needed. If the staff member complains that there is never an agenda ready for the staff meeting, step back and ask yourself, am I preparing an agenda? If there are numerous complaint on the same topic, pause, reflect, and make the best decision based on the students.
Talk – have a heart to heart conversation with the staff member. Share things about this staff member you appreciate and also discuss what you are seeing that is a concern and offer support to help. Follow up with the staff member and make an effort to stop by their classroom, this will help with building a relationship as well.
Count – you could always try my colleague’s strategy and count backward from ten. This allows her time to check herself before immediately reacting.
Teachers will not always agree and healthy conflict is not a bad thing, but when people are offended or upset by negativity, we really need to make sure all feel safe.
Some team building ideas that may work for you!
SMART PHONE SHARE
This activity is a crowd favorite. Ask each person to select a photo that is meaningful to them and to share it with another person in the group. If a staff member does not have a phone, they can use any device. If they do not have a device with them, they can think of a moment that is meaningful to them and share. Once you have used this activity with staff, for the next meeting ask them to take picture of something from their room they would like to share. Then, have teachers share the idea from their classroom to encourage more collaboration.
ROCK PAPER SCISSORS CHEERLEADER
This is played like the regular rock paper scissors game. But, if you lose to the person you are playing with, you get behind them and are now on their team. Once they play someone else, whoever wins that round, all the members of the other person’s “team” follows the new person. They become “cheerleaders” for their “winner”. The game repeats itself until there are two people remaining to play with all members behind one of the final two. The winner of the game is the last person to win the final rock, paper, scissors match.
- Pair up with a partner for the first round. 2. The person that loses for the first round the partnership must get behind the winner and become a “cheerleader” for them in the next round. 3. Winners of the first round find a new partner to play (another winner from the first round). 4.Repeat until there are only two players left. It would be nice to reward the winner (or winner and runner up) with a book!
THIRTY SECONDS FLAT
Participants will be sharing their entire live story with another person in thirty seconds flat! Participants will need a partner for this activity. Participants will give the other person as much information as possible within the thirty second limit. Once the thirty seconds are complete, the facilitator will give a signal that is predetermined before the activity, to indicate that it is the other person’s turn to share for thirty seconds. Partners will need to face each other. Inform pairs that they are to tell their partner their entire life story in thirty seconds flat. Laughter or moans usually happen when you give the directions. Immediately say, “Go” and after thirty seconds, use your signal and then say, “Switch”. After thirty seconds say, “Stop”. If there is an odd number, the facilitator should jump in and be a partner to someone.
I wish you luck in your quest for a continued positive school culture. Always remember if you are making decisions based on the best interest of students you are doing the right work! Stay strong and stay positive.