Kindness is contagious - give your colleagues a boost by recognising their efforts
Education is all about uplift. As teachers and leaders, our job is to uplift the people we serve – to improve the educational opportunities and quality of life for all students, their families and communities. Less obviously, to boost the people we serve, we must also inspire the people who serve them.
One mistake is to try to uplift our students by browbeating the adults to do better in ways that put them down or wear them out. Another is to focus so much on uplifting the adults that we forget about the children. The best strategy is to uplift each other. We should push and pull one other up to learn more, do better, try something else. To uplift each other, we must support each other as people and not just as colleagues. We must be willing to give and ask for help. We must work with school neighbours, even competitors, for the communities we share in common. We must help people to feel proud of the best of their past, yet also strive for a greater future. We must be ready to alert colleagues to when they might be going astray, for the sake of their students and also themselves. In uplifting others, we will then find that we will also uplift ourselves, and in that way be up for the next challenge.
Professionally ‘uplifting’ our colleagues in ways that also benefit students is not always natural to the way we interact with each other in schools. In a busy environment, work-related dialogue can be easily consumed by completing administrative tasks or venting frustrations to a friendly and empathetic ear. It is not enough to hope or wish to uplift our colleagues, off the cuff, when there is time left over for it. We need to be deliberate about how we support, reassure, praise, build confidence, compliment and recognise effort and success.
One way to do this is by encouraging public ‘shout outs’. Ask any award-winning teacher what the consequence of their elevation was and many will say that colleagues ignored their accomplishments and sometimes even stopped talking to them. Most teachers believe they work hard and deserve recognition. They find it hard to accept why one should be elevated above all of them. Teaching isn’t The X Factor where only one person wins. This is a problem with the system, not the teachers. With teachers, as with kids, it is important to recognise many examples of success and many individuals who have accomplished things. Start every meeting by recognising two or three successes. Vary the individuals and the kinds of successes being recognised. Make them genuine and non-trivial. Post a few a week on the staffroom noticeboard. Try to tie these back to the school’s purpose or improvement effort. If this hasn’t been a tradition in your school it may feel uncomfortable at first, but stick with it. And if you are in one of these meetings and someone else gets praised, be the first to start the applause. Effervescence needs someone to be the first bubble. Humility doesn’t mean absence of praise or quiet self-denial. It means building collective pride by sharing the praise around.
The most delightful moments of uplift are the ones that come intimately, one to one. A handwritten thank you note for a small kindness a colleague has shown to a child or a parent, for going the extra mile, or even for just thinking to bring treats to a meeting – these things can mean the world to an overworked teacher. Notice when someone is down and say something that will pick them up when you pass them in the hallway – perhaps you have seen something brilliant they were doing in a lesson or have noticed how one child in their class has done something extraordinary. Ask them for some input. Tell them when you feel stuck and be monumentally appreciative when they help you. It’s the quick yet thoughtful ways that make sure our colleagues know the things they do are appreciated which can often make the biggest difference. Do more of this (without overdoing it – don’t devalue the currency) and see how it spreads. Kindness is contagious.
Andy Hargreaves is president elect of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement and has authored and edited more than 30 books. This is an extract from Best of the Best: Progress by Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman (£9.99, Crown House Publishing). @hargreavesbc. andyhargreaves.com