Recently I found a new non-educational blog that I am really enjoying called Be Deviant. The Blog author, Justin Wise, recently wrote a post called 3 Steps to Make People Feel Valued. In the post, Justin mentions a book called The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwarz. After reading Justin’s post, I was eager to read the book too. I am only a few chapters in, but haven’t been able to get Justin’s post out of my mind because it relates so closely to the other posts I have written recently on Dreams of Education. I hope Justin doesn’t mind that I piggy back on his thoughts as they relate to education.
The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working-Tony Schwartz
How we feel profoundly influences how we perform. Feeling devalued pushes us into the Survival Zone-which increases our fear, distracts our attentions, drains our energy, and diminishes the value we’re capable of creating…Perhaps no human need is more neglected in the workplace than to feel valued.
Schwartz thoughts are geared toward the workplace here but how many of us could replace workplace with school environment? There is a culture in most schools of devaluing students and educators. That culture may not be overt but it is felt in subtle ways every time a students or teachers self-worth is based on a single standardized test. It is felt when students aren’t treated as the individuals that they are, but are instead taught from scripted curriculum and moved from grade to grade because it is the next step and not necessarily because they are ready for it. It is felt when politicians make asinine decisions like that schools make public whether teachers are doing enough to raise students’ test scores. It is felt when merit pay is discussed as if the only reason schools are failing is because teachers don’t make enough money to do their job better. It is felt when a student walks into a classroom and sees the utilitarian rows of desks and moulded plastic chairs that we ask them to sit in for 6 hours a day. Schools neglect the human need to feel valued. What results are schools that act out of places of fear, strapping teachers and students down even more so that they will perform on the test (forget learning). It is no wonder that teachers are drained and may only last 3 years in the profession. It is no wonder that students attentions are distracted and they do what they must to get by. The value that students, teachers, and administrators are capable of creating wanes because they aren’t being valued.
In his post Justin offers three ways to value others, I’m using his three as a rough outline.
1. Let people know what they bring to the table.
For students this means helping students find what Sir Ken Robinson terms The Element. Tell your students what abilities you see in them. Be specific. I had a fifth grade teacher who told me once that I was a beautiful writer. I never knew that about myself. I didn’t generally enjoy writing at school because no one had ever appreciated it before. As I came to learn, I quite like writing. Don’t forget to let students tell you what they bring to the table. The school day just doesn’t allow ample opportunities for us to discover all of our students gifts, so let them tell you about their passions, let them show you where they think their abilities lie.
For teachers and administrators this means recognizing what your colleagues do that is unique and valuable. We may assume that our colleagues know what value they add to the school environment. Tell them anyway. Making someone feel valued means that we recognize that they are valuable and letting them know it. If you aren’t telling your colleagues what you value about them they will start to believe that what they offer isn’t valuable. Don’t let that happen.
2. Give Specific Feedback
For students this means that when you grade something they have spent time on, you take the time to let them know what specifically was good about it or needed work. There is nothing more frustrating than spending hours working on something and then receiving a letter grade at the top. What does that mean? Giving specific feedback shows our students that we value the time they spent on an assignment or project. It shows them that we value them enough to spend our time reflecting on what they have done. When we do have to correct or offer a negative comment, it will be received from a much different place. Instead of thinking “they have no idea how hard I worked on that and all they do is criticize me;” they may start to view the criticism for what it is, correction to help them grow. Giving specific feedback makes you more than a teacher, it makes you a mentor and someone who disciples. Discipleship is a lost art that needs to be reintroduced in the classroom.
For teachers and administrators this means offering thoughtful advice and encouragement. “Good job” just doesn’t cut it. Unless you are limited to 140 characters, specific feedback will always make people feel more valuable. Being specific lets others know that you were actively attending to what you observed and that you appreciated it enough to elaborate beyond the “atta boy”. If you are an administrator that is in the position of observing teachers, make sure that you offer initial feedback as well as specific follow-up feedback. As a teacher, there is nothing worse than being observed by your boss only to have them leave without saying anything and offering an “it was a really good lesson” a few weeks later. Give me immediate feedback with your initial reactions and then follow it up with more specific feedback. Because I feel valued, I am more likely to take any advice you have to heart and work on implementing it.
3. Celebrate the people around you.
We don’t celebrate our students enough. We don’t let them know how much we are rooting for them, how much we want the very best for them. Do something extraordinary and unexpected for your students. In my classroom this meant giving them a “free day” where they could show me what neat technology they were using and act as the teacher. Extraordinary doesn’t have to be expensive, it just needs to demonstrate that we value our students. I had an exceptional third grade teacher. Every once in a while she would hold a classroom celebration where we got to eat lunch with her IN the classroom. She made this a really big deal, fun music, special games, and ice cream sandwiches at the end. When we asked her why we were celebrating she would let us know how proud she was of the way we were growing and learning, so much so that she wanted to celebrate it. This is the same teacher who would leave us special notes of encouragement in our desk (on purchased funny Hallmark cards), sent me a birthday card for two years after she was my teacher, and encouraged our parents to write us notes throughout the year. She knew how to make us feel celebrated. It doesn’t have to cost money, it just needs to be demonstrative.
For teachers and administrators this means going out of your way to celebrate them. If you are an administrator, gift your teachers with an extra hour of planning throughout the year, stop in the classroom and take over so they can go to the bathroom, bring them a cup of their favorite coffee. If you are a teacher let other teachers know they are celebrated, leave them a note of encouragement, slip a handful of chocolate on a long day, leave them flowers for no reason. Celebrate every accomplishment of every teacher. If someone has started a blog, that is cause for celebration, did someone try a new project or tech tool in the classroom? That is cause for celebration!
This is where Justin finished his list but I have to add one more.
4. Change the environment.
Environment can make us feel valued, for my complete thoughts on why, read my post Beauty Matters.
Ask your students what they would like the classroom to look like, and then let them help you make it special for them. Classroom furniture is SO impersonal and factory feeling. Think about how the arrangement of your classroom can change the feel. In high school I had a teacher who lined his walls with desks, they were not to be used as desks but as surfaces to display student work and achievements. The rest of the room was completely open. Many times we would sit in a circle of chairs, but he let us work the way we wanted to. By the end of the year students had donated couches, bean bag chairs, and lamps to make the room feel more comfortable. Everyone looked forward to that class because it was such a welcome break from the rows in every other classroom.
If you are a teacher or administrator, create a place that is just for relaxing. Teachers lounge 2.0. Decorate it with art, add a CD player, offer magazines and “real” chairs. Make it comfortable and aesthetically appealing. We all need a place to escape to sometimes, give teachers that place. Let teachers have ownership in how the space looks. Beauty matters, it is important and it sends the message that people are valued.
As it turns out, showing people they are valued isn’t hard, it just takes a conscious effort. Let’s transform our schools into places where everyone who walks in the building feels valued.