Archive for the 'Emotional Intelligence' Category

How to manage inevitable dips in relationships

Dennis Sparks

There’s never been a relationship that didn’t start off strongly and that didn’t then run off the rails at some stage. This is actually not the problem. This is just life. Success for you lies in managing these dips when they occur… It’s about laying foundations for resilient relationships from the very start. – Michael Bungay Stanier

In “Building Resilient Relationships,” a chapter in Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build an Incredible Career, Michael Bungay Stanier recommends “social contracting” as a means for managing these inevitable relationship dips.

Stanier is describing a problem that is common and vexing for school-based teams or Professional Learning Communities. Things start out strong, with everyone seemingly committed and energized, only to have that commitment and energy fall off over time.

“At the heart of social contracting,” Stanier says, “is spending time upfront talking about the How – the relationship and how we’ll work together – rather than being seduced by the What, the excitement and urgency of the content…. Just understanding that you should talk about the How will immediately make a difference in your working relationships.”

Stanier proposes five fundamental questions that such teams should ask and answer:

1. What do you want? (Here’s what I want.) “This is a question that almost always stops people in their tracks,” Stanier writes. “It’s deceptively difficult to answer and incredibly powerful when you can clearly define what exactly it is you want from this relationship.”

2. Where might you need help? (Here’s where I’ll need help.) “This turns the ‘What do you want?’ question over and comes out it from a different angle,” Stanier says.

3. When you had a really good working relationship in the past, what happened? (Here’s what happened for me.) “Tell a story,” Stanier recommends, “of a time when you were in a working relationship similar to this one, and it was good, really good. What did they do? What did you do? What else happened?”

4. When things go wrong, what does that look like on your end? How do you behave? (Here’s how I behave.) Stanier again recommends telling a story, “this time of when a working relationship like this one failed to soar.”

He also recommends articulating missed opportunities, unilateral actions you are likely to take when things start going wrong, and your own “hot buttons” that get you going.

5. When things go wrong – as they inevitably will – how shall we manage that? “Things will go wrong,” Stanier says. “Honeymoons end. Promises get broken, expectations don’t get met. By putting that on the table, you’re able now to discuss what the plan will be when it goes wrong.”

Stanier  concludes: ”[B]y asking these questions you now have permission to acknowledge the situation between you both when things get off track (as they inevitably will…). If you’re just beginning a new working relationship, then you’re in the perfect place to build and resilience through social contracting right now.”

About relationships that have already begun, Stanier says, “… you’re also in the perfect place to build in resilience. Step back for a moment from the What you’re absorbed with, and invite them to have a conversation with you about the How.”

What has been your experience in addressing early in the life of a team the common relationship issues that are likely to arise? And what challenges have you faced in making explicit those understandings by establishing “meeting agreements” or other processes that establish group norms?

 

“Set a compelling vision for your future and outline a path for getting there”: An interview with Stephanie Hirsh

Dennis Sparks

Stephanie Hirsh and I worked together for 20 years at the National Staff Development Council (now known as Learning Forward) where in 2007 she followed me as executive director.

Because I know Stephanie thinks deeply about improving the quality of professional learning in schools, and because I have deep respect for her views, I was eager to explore and share with readers her latest thinking about the issues I raise in the questions below.

In addition to her work at Learning Forward, Stephanie previously held a number of positions in the Richardson (Texas) Independent School District, including serving as a school board trustee. You can follow her on Twitter at @HirshLF.

What would you say to a principal or teacher leader in his or her first year on the job?

Hirsh: The first year sets the tone for your tenure. Think about how you want people to perceive you and what kind of leader you want to be. Consider what you think you know and what you need to learn more about. Make it a priority to do a lot more listening than talking. It may sound trite but it is true — people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

As a new leader, you will want to demonstrate why you are in this position of responsibility, but at the same time you’ll need to temper the desires for immediate change — yours and others’ — with the need to practice listening and understanding your new context.

I suggest you use your time as a new leader to:

• Clarify your vision and values, including your values about children and your staff;

• Share your ideas for changes and for the future a bit at a time, and gauge peoples’ reactions carefully;

• Stand for significant ideas, engaging others in the process; and

• Stand for professional learning.

During your first year, be careful about drawing any lines in the sand. Make sure any lines are values driven and worth potential consequences. Be willing to let the small stuff slide.

From your perspective what seem to be the qualities of leaders who thrive in their work?

Hirsh: Leaders who I admire have several characteristics that I strive to develop and advocate.

First and foremost, they put student learning first. They are driven to do all they can in their sphere of responsibility and influence to advance it.

They are inspirational; they can clearly articulate their vision, beliefs, values, theory of action, and strategic priorities. They are consummate learners, which further advances their knowledge, insights, and actions.

The leaders I admire are people of integrity, they are authentic, and they practice what they preach.

Finally, these leaders treat people the way they want to be treated.

What thoughts do you have about how leaders might develop those qualities?

Hirsh: I think if you are committed to being a great leader, one of your first steps to growth is to identify other leaders who have the qualities that you admire. Set out to learn more about these leaders, watch them as they work, and read what they write. If at all possible, see if you can engage them in a relationship to support your own growth.

Gain clarity and write your own vision statement for the kind of leader you aspire to be. From there, create a plan for becoming this person. Seek feedback along the way, and learn to respond to it with appreciation. Always look for opportunities where you can learn some of the skills you admire in others.

As I encourage for all educators, extend your learning and growth circle to colleagues, mentors, and coaches. Each brings a different perspective and will contribute to your growth in different ways.

A common concern expressed by both new and experienced principals and teacher leaders is that some teachers are reluctant to engage in new practices. What ideas or practices would you offer to those leaders

Hirsh: While educators are motivated by their commitment to their students, substantive and sustained change is really difficult. While educators must think big for the kinds of improvement schools need, I encourage them to start “small” in their actions. To do so, leaders can:

• Select those practices that are the highest leverage;

• Articulate your theory of action behind new practices;

• Provide opportunities for practice and feedback before educators use new strategies in front of students or in an evaluative context;

• Build a safe and supportive learning culture by being a model, encouraging team teaching, and engaging the use of coaches; and

• Reflect on changes openly and often, celebrating successes and encouraging revisions to advance further.

I encourage principals and teacher leaders to “work smart” – that is, to apply their energy to a small number of areas or activities in which they are likely to make the largest difference for students and the school community. From your experience, what are those few areas/activities in which school leaders would have the biggest impact on the continuous improvement of teaching and learning?

Hirsh: For principals, I consider the following to be high-leverage areas for focus if their goal is to create a learning-focused culture in their schools:

• Align all professional learning decisions to Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning. This stance positions you to explain the decisions you are making and the outcomes you intend to achieve.

• Make sure every educator in the school is a member of at least one high-functioning learning community, including yourself. Be a model learner; find, and if necessary, create your own learning community that will give you honest feedback and hold you accountable for achieving your goals

• Be an advocate for continuous improvement with stakeholders in the district office and the community. Be prepared to explain professional learning’s critical role in your theory of action and tell others how you will assess its quality and ongoing impact.

For teacher leaders, I suggest these high-leverage activities:

• Be an expert in your field. Invest in your own learning to ensure your students get what they need. It is difficult to advocate for change when you aren’t continually – and visibly – improving your own practice.

• Find or build a great learning community, just as I urge principals to do. Surround yourself with people who you respect and who will learn with you, and meet with them regularly for feedback and support

• Set a compelling vision for your future and outline your path for getting there.

Likewise, I am also curious about what you regard as the areas of greatest leverage in your own work.

Hirsh: I believe my highest-leverage work is similar to what I suggest for principals and teacher leaders.

It is important to me to clarify my values and vision regularly and to articulate it within my sphere of responsibility.

I immerse myself in the field of professional learning to be a content expert.

I also stress the importance of continual learning, seeking opportunities for my growth, asking for feedback, and providing opportunities for my staff to do the same.

Effective leaders nurture the soul

Dennis SparksGrowing our souls could be defined as the steady accretion of empathy, clarity, and passion for the good. —Mary Pipher

Schools possess “souls,” an awareness that struck me when I heard someone describe a school she obviously admired as “a place with soul.”

Schools full of soul:

• are places that members of the school community experience as authentic, profound, personally meaningful, and emotionally stirring, 

• have a uniqueness and integrity based on the principles and moral imperatives that guide their efforts, and

• possess aspirations, commitments, and a “passion for the good” that are both informed by and expressed in their symbols, rituals, ceremonies, and spirit.

Soulful schools exist because leaders welcome, honor, and nourish the souls of all members of the school community.

In A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, Parker Palmer describes such leaders as individuals who make “a commitment to act in every situation in ways that honor the soul.”

Consequently, leaders cultivate soul when they:

First and foremost nourish their own souls through practices such as journal writing and solitude. They then engage with the community to hone and test their commitments. Such leaders are more likely to display the generosity of spirit, empathy, and profound respect for others that calls forth the soul of the organization.

Promote teamwork focused on clear and compelling purposes and principles that enable individuals to link their own heartfelt intentions to the common good. Leaders keep these purposes and principles foremost in community members’ minds so that they inform every decision and action.

Cultivate and value the whole person, not just his or her intellect or technical skills. To that end leaders use faculty and team meetings and other venues to provide opportunities for individuals to reveal the events that have shaped their lives, underscoring that community members are not replaceable parts of an “education machine.”

Value the unique perspective and wisdom that that each person brings to the school community and encourage the expression of those qualities. Leaders do so when they promote relationships that are honest, trusting, compassionate, and cooperative. Such relationships provide the emotional safety in which individuals can express the most soulful aspects of themselves, qualities that are the most precious and closely guarded against judgment and criticism.

Use stillness and silence when appropriate to create opportunities for individuals to listen to their “inner teachers” and discern their own truths.

Leaders  who nurture their own souls and the collective soul of the school community have a profound affect on the community and all those whose lives are touched and shaped by it.

Effective leaders listen with empathy

Dennis Sparks

When we move out of ourselves and into the other person’s experience, seeing the world with that person, as if we were that person, we are practicing empathy. —Arthur Ciaramicoli & Katherine Ketcham

Civility is the bedrock of productive and supportive relationships within schools.

An essential building block of  civility is leaders’ ability to demonstrate empathy for the experience and perspective of others within the school community.

“Being aware of others is where civility begins,” P. M. Forni writes in The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude. “To be fully aware of them, we must weave empathy into the fabric of our connection. . . . The empathy of strangers is good for us not just because it makes us feel better about ourselves and about life, but also because it encourages us to be better persons. Empathy is wonderfully contagious.”

In my experience, leaders’ lack of empathy is a leading cause of interpersonal problems in the workplace, which, in turn, undermines a school community’s ability to achieve it’s most important goals.

Empathic leaders:

fully and deeply hear what others say, 

• convey both verbally and nonverbally that they understand that person’s perspective and experience, and 

• communicate respect for the individual who is speaking.

Through their words and demeanor empathic leaders communicate to others the value of both the message and the messenger

Too often leaders inadvertently communicate disrespect by cutting off speakers because they assume they know what the speakers will say, “hijacking” speakers’ stories to focus on things the listener regards as more worthy of discussion, or demonstrating inattention and disinterest by glancing at their computer screen or smart phones.

On the other hand, leaders who listen with empathy demonstrate respect for what the speaker is saying through such simple but often neglected practices as making eye contact, tolerating periods of silence during which speakers can reflect on their own words, and demonstrating through their demeanor an appreciation of speakers’ feelings.

“[T]he quality of our listening is as good a measure of our humanity as any. . .,” P. M. Forni notes. “[W]hen we find the strength to engage in considerate listening we are in fact expressing ourselves. At our best.”

Leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence listen attentively to deeply understand the experiences and perspectives of others and demonstrate that understanding through their words and demeanor. It is the bedrock of civility and meaningful collegiality within the school community.

Effective leaders exemplify positive attitudes and respect

Dennis Sparks

Positive emotions such as compassion, confidence, and generosity have a decidedly constructive effect on neurological functioning, psychological well-being, physical health, and personal relationships. —Richard Boyatzis & Annie McKee

Civil school cultures are those in which community members think the best of one another, display positive attitudes, speak with kindness, respect others’ opinions, and disagree graciously while candidly expressing their views.

Those qualities are unlikely to exist and persist without school leaders who embody them in their day-to-day interactions with staff members, parents, and students.

In The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude  P. M. Forni writes, “Whether positive or negative, attitude is destiny. . . . Positivity makes relationships better, and better relationships reinforce positivity. So, if you are inclined to perceive what happens to you through the fog of negativity, make a change of attitude your number one priority.”

Changing habits of mind and behavior, however, requires that leaders be intentional and persistent in approaching these changes, beginning with themselves.

To establish civil school cultures, leaders:

Hold positive expectations for others by setting high standards for conduct and learning and by living those standards on a day-to-day basis. And when leaders stumble, as they sometimes do, they acknowledge the lapse and set about resolving whatever problems it may have caused.

Display a generosity of spirit which assumes that others are honest, trustworthy, and capable unless there is abundant evidence to the contrary. Assuming the best is a key attribute of hopefulness, which, in turn, is a critical attribute relationships that nurture and support continuous improvement.

Speak with compassion and kindness, which Forni believes is at the heart of civil behavior. In another book, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct, he writes, “Never embarrass or mortify. . . . Always think before speaking. . . . With your kind words you build a shelter of sanity and trust into which you welcome others for much-needed respite.”

Speak truthfully. Civility recognizes that people look at the world differently and are entitled to a fair hearing of their views.

Civil school cultures are places in which ideas and beliefs are vigorously and respectfully expressed in meeting rooms. Sarcasm, disparaging gossip, and “parking lot meetings” have no place in such cultures.

These cultures have at their core leaders who display positive attitudes and deep respect for the abilities and perspectives of everyone in the school community and who interact with and speak about others in that spirit.

Effective leaders speak from the heart

Dennis SparksThat which is spoken from the heart is heard by the heart. —Jewish saying

Emotions trump facts in motivating human behavior. That was an awareness I acquired only after many years of frustration trying to persuade others to change based on research and logical discussion.

This understanding means that in addition to providing evidence to support new practices, leaders will speak from their hearts to the hearts of those they lead to sustain a steady flow of energy for doing the demanding work of continuously improving teaching, learning, and relationships in schools.

John Kotter and Dan Cohen elaborate on this perspective in The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations. “People change what they do,” they observe, “less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”

Because emotions underlie lasting change, leaders’ ability to evoke and channel the energy they create is essential in overcoming inertia and providing the commitment necessary to establish new habits of mind and behavior.

Leaders evoke feelings when they:

Speak with passion about the values that guide their lives and of the values shared by the school community. They do so whenever appropriate in faculty meetings, team meetings, and one-to-one conversations with colleagues, parents, and students.

Tell stories that touch the hearts of those they lead. For example, leaders touch hearts when they speak authentically from their hearts about the incidents and events that shaped them as human beings and led them into teaching and school leadership. They can also invite others to share the influences that shaped their lives and professional choices in faculty meetings or other appropriate venues (my next column will have more to say on leaders’ use of stories).

Provide learning experiences that affect the heart as well as the mind. The use of well-chosen poetry and video clips are two such methods. Another is to form panels of current or former students in which participants reveal salient aspects of their lives, their experiences in the school, and/or how well prepared they felt they were for the next phase of their lives.

While research and professional literature are important tools in stimulating meaningful and lasting change, they are usually insufficient.

That’s why it is essential that whenever possible leaders speak from their hearts to the hearts of others in ways that promote a sense of possibility and commitment to important goals and encourage others in the school community to do the same.

What is your story: Why did you become an educator?

Dennis Sparks Here’s a story told by a principal that has stuck with me since I first read it in 2001:

“When I was in 3rd grade my father died. I was greeted at school the following day by my principal who held me in his arms and told me in a voice I believed, ‘You are going to be okay.’ That’s when I knew I would be. I’m a principal today because I wanted to be someone who could make such a powerful difference for a child.” ***

Most teachers and principals have a story that explains why they became an educator. Sometimes their stories are about exemplars who inspired them to follow their example, like in the story above.

Sometimes their stories describe a strong desire to improve conditions or remedy a wrong they experienced as students or earlier in their educational careers.

Reminding ourselves of our stories—and hearing the stories of our colleagues—can reinforce or reacquaint us with the motives that first drew us into teaching and leadership.

Sharing such stories in faculty meetings—which in small groups may only take a few minutes—increases staff cohesion as teachers develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of one another.

The collective content of such stories can also inspire and guide the creation of schools in which everyone thrives, adults and young people alike.

What is your story?

***This story was recounted by George Manthey in the October 2001 issue of The School Administrator. It’s a story that undoubtedly had special resonance coming just a few weeks after the events of September 11.

Successful leadership requires cultivating the problem-solving abilities of others

IMG_1365 If you treat an individual as he is, he will stay as he is, but if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought and could be.  —Goethe

The good news is that the given the right conditions teachers can solve the vast majority of their own problems.

The bad news is that schools leaders too often willingly assume responsibility for teachers’ problems and feel overwhelmed by the additional work they have taken on. As a result, they have little time or energy to devote to the tasks that only they can can do and that are essential to the achievement of their organizations’ goals.

When leaders solve problems for others they create dependency, cause atrophy in teachers’ problem-solving abilities, and diminish important opportunities for professional learning that can only occur when staff members assume responsibility for their problems, grapple with solutions, and experience the consequences of their actions.

David Rock addresses this issue in Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work: “When we try to think for people it takes a lot of mental energy on our part…. Some leaders think it’s their job to tell people what to do or have all the answers…. Managers often complain about how they have to constantly solve their people’s problems—sometimes I sense it is the manager more addicted to this than the staff. Giving people an answer does little but continue their dependence on you.”

On the other hand, leaders strengthen problem-solving “muscles,” Rock argues, by inviting others to do the intellectual work of clarifying problems and identifying solutions. Telling people what to do, he believes, should be leaders’ last resort.

Leaders who wish to address this “addiction” can:

• Believe (or act as if they believe, in the spirit of “fake it until you make it”) that teachers already possess or can acquire the skills to solve most of their problems. (Leaders attitudes about staff members’ ability to solve problems may be shifted in a positive direction when they see them successfully stepping up to the challenge.)

• Determine what role they will play in assisting teachers’ in solving their problems. I encourage leaders to first and foremost serve as committed listeners whose attention supports teachers in thinking more deeply about their problems and in generating possible solutions.

While they may also provide necessary resources or professional development opportunities, leaders seldom offer advice, which can be a subtle way of reinforcing dependence on the leader.

When leaders use these and other practices to develop and tap teachers’ problem-solving abilities, they distribute leadership in ways that increase the school community’s capacity to solve its most pressing problems and to continuously improve teaching and learning.

Why “cram more in” is an inadequate approach to time and life management

Dennis Sparks Many years ago I taught time management workshops for administrators and teacher leaders.

Initially, most of the strategies that I taught enabled participants to become more efficient in the use of their time. That is, educators learned how to accomplish more in the same amount of time.

I came to think of that as the “cram more in” theory of time management.

I noticed, however, that while educators were getting more work done, the quality of their lives and work wasn’t necessarily improving. Accomplishing more did not seem to reduce their level of stress, and, in some cases, even exacerbated it. They never quite seemed to accomplish “enough.”

That led me to formulate a “do less better” view of time management. From this perspective, time management was at least as much about the quality of our lives as the quantity of tasks completed or amount of time spent working.

The “do less better” approach asks educators to:

• clarify their most fundamental values and goals,

• focus relentlessly on the expression of those values in their lives and in the accomplishment of priority goals, and

• make the tough decisions and take the disciplined actions required to eliminate or minimize all else in their lives.

A “do less better” approach has implications for teaching, for school leadership, and for life in general, particularly given the challenges of 24/7 digital stimulation.

What do you think: Is it possible for educators to adopt a “do less better” approach given the demands of contemporary life, or is it just an unrealistic fantasy?

 

Learning to fake authenticity…

Dennis Sparks To recast a widely-quoted observation about sincerity: “The secret of success is authenticity. Once you can fake it you’ve got it made.”

Leaders’ authenticity helps us determine whether we want to follow them, which means it is fundamental to their ability to influence others.

But for it to be meaningful it must be, well, authentic. That means that any attempt to fake it or follow a script automatically destroys its value.

When leaders are authentic, what they show on the outside matches what is on the inside. Their thoughts, feelings, and values are respectfully revealed as circumstances allow.

For instance, effective leaders are likely to demonstrate in their daily actions (“outside) a belief (“inside”) in the capacity of all students to learn at higher levels and in the ability of all teachers to successfully teach them given proper support.  They also display in their demeanor and words a genuine sense of hopefulness about the future and an infectious enthusiasm for their work.

Because leaders’ authenticity is often communicated nonverbally, it is sensed intuitively. Physician Alex Lickerman describes the process of intuitive knowing this way in a blog post titled “Truth and body language“:

“We all give ourselves away every minute of every day. That is, we broadcast our true intentions, feelings, and even thoughts without knowing it through our body language, tone, and facial expression. This happens whether those intentions, feelings, and thoughts match what we express through language or not. Thus, poker players compromise their bluffs, public speakers their performance anxiety, and friends and lovers their true feelings.”

While authenticity cannot be faked, it can be cultivated when leaders:

• Regularly seek clarity regarding their beliefs and values through writing and in dialogue with trusted colleagues,

• Seek opportunities for even brief periods of solitude to listen to “the small, still voice within,”

• Speak their truths in ways that demonstrate civility and compassion, and

• Frequently reflect on the extent to which their daily actions are aligned with their values and beliefs, including with the school community as a whole.

What are additional ways in which leaders can cultivate and demonstrate their authenticity?


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