Posts Tagged 'emotional intelligence'

5 essential skills for every leader…

Dennis Sparks

I have seen leaders rise or fall based on the presence or absence of one or more of the following skills:

1. The ability to discern and paraphrase the assumptions, values, and points of view of others with sufficient skill that those with whom they interact would report that their leaders accurately understand their perspectives.

2. The ability to effectively manage one’s feelings and to discern and respond appropriately to the feelings of others.

3. The ability to manage one’s responsibilities efficiently and with integrity, which includes but is not limited to email and social media, short and long-term planning, and task and project management.

4. The ability to effectively delegate meaningful responsibilities to others in the school community without micromanagement by providing appropriate support and skill development to ensure success.

5. The ability to facilitate meetings (or when appropriate delegate their facilitation) that achieve their stated purposes and are satisfying to participants.

Do you agree that these are essential skills? What skills have I missed?

Bob Garmston explains why emotions are an inseparable part of learning

Dennis Sparks

In my previous post I discussed the two primary “lessons” I had drawn from Bob Garmston’s memoir, I Don’t Do That Anymore: A Memoir of Awakening and Resilience.

For this post I asked Bob to comment on or extend those lessons. Here is his response:

I asked my wife what other lessons might be embedded in my story. “I don’t know. It’s your life,” she smiled. Then, with a mischievous glance she said, “Maybe it’s all about family. What is important is to love and be loved. ” She smiled when she said that because we both know I knew nothing about family as a child and through Sue’s efforts I have been privileged to learn about it, experience it, value and yearn for it.

Lesson #3: Emotions are an inseparable part of learning. 

In my first year of teaching I made home visits to each of the 42 5th grade children in my charge. Knowing nothing of time management those early visits lasted 3 to 4 hours each. In later years I learned to visit effectively within the space of about an hour. Each individual child came alive for me in ways not possible without the visits, and each student knew that he or she was special and important to me.

From  a nearby teacher I adopted the practice of learning journals, a composition book in which children would write about what they learned that day. I would dutifully collect these, read and respond.  Often their learnings were about social interactions with others, friendships, hurts, accomplishments.

I was not to know the pedagogical importance of these teaching practices till much later when others brought the ideas of emotional intelligence to our consciousness. Daniel Goleman described this as being aware of our feelings and handling disruptive emotions well, empathizing with how others feel, and being skillful in handling our relationships. These are crucial abilities for effective living.

In my own naïve and exploratory way I was helping students understand, express, and deal with their feelings. Today’s teachers know far more about learning, teaching, emotional climates and supportive environments that I ever dreamed in 1959. They are also more stressed, have more external demands, and compared with my era, have more constraints and limitations on teaching choices. The students, too, live in a different world then when I entered teaching.

My plea to teachers and administrators is to teach as if emotions and learning are inextricably mixed – for they are.  When we allow time for the expression of student’s inner lives we help create safe learning environments where students can take risks, develop confidence, and grow emotionally and academically.

By the way –Lemons to Lemonade: Resolving Problems in Meetings, Workshops and PLCs is my latest – it just came out this June before Dennis drafted this piece.

— Bob  Garmston

What Bob Garmston’s memoir teaches us about resilience and life-long growth


Given the demands of teaching and school leadership, my goal has been to keep these essays as brief as possible.

Today I alter that pattern to pay tribute to Bob Garmston, a wonderful human being and educator, and to acknowledge the hard-won lessons his life reveals, many of which are particularly important to educators.

This summer I spent some “enjoyable” hours reading what as far as I know is Bob’s newest book , I Don’t Do That Anymore: A Memoir of Awakening and Resilience. I added quotation marks around enjoyable because reading about Bob’s often painful life, particularly his early years, was, well, painful. And the book was painful, too, because at least some of his experiences were similar to my own.

If you don’t know Bob personally, you may still know him through his books on Cognitive Coaching (with Art Costa) and Adaptive Schools (with Bruce Wellman) or experienced him as a teacher in any of the countless workshops he has conducted over the past 30 years. And I hope you will come to know Bob in new ways through I Don’t Do That Anymore.

My first memory of Bob is from the early 1980s at a mountaintop learning event at the northern California home of Jane Stallings. We both spent some time working with a small group of principals whom Jane had gathered together.

What I didn’t know then was the challenges of his early life and how his life had been shaped by a handful of significant adults, persistent hard work on Bob’s part, and good luck, which is summed up in the phrase “awakening and resilience” found in his memoir’s subtitle.

Those challenges included five years in a Salvation Army home for troubled children, encounters with “dangerous adults,” and placements with relatives and a foster family.

Bob wrote: “Most children, even those from an extraordinarily stressed family or resource-deprived community, somehow manage to make decent lives for themselves. According to experts, as many as seven out of ten kids from populations at greater risk have managed to achieve decent lives by the time they are 40.

Bob added: “One didn’t have to grow up in a children’s home to experience some sense of distress. Most of the people we meet have a story behind the faces they present.”

Bob formed positive relationships with a teacher, a school nurse, a social worker, and with his foster father (who many years later adopted him when Bob was 60). “The adult influences in my life . . ., he wrote, “turned me toward a totally different direction than the one in which I was headed.” About these relationships he concluded, “I got a lot of breaks because I could be emotionally available to adults.”

Of the social worker Bob wrote: “Marabel and I talked many times in her small office. She was interested in what I had to say and challenged my thinking, asking provocative questions. She was also interesting herself. She like me even when I caused problems, and when when I got into trouble, I knew Marabel would talk to me about it without judging me and would me consider alternative choices. She listened to my anger about my parents and absorbed the loneliness I felt.”

From his foster father, King Hart, Bob learned “. . . what it meant to be an honorable and courageous human being.”

Two significant lessons emerge from Bob’s memoir:

Adults can have lifelong influence on young people, for good or for ill.

Often a kind word or gesture from an adult can make a substantial positive difference to a vulnerable young person. The consequences of those influences may never be known to those adults, but their consequences can be significant and lasting.

Profound learning and development can occur throughout the live span.

Of his later years, Bob observed: “Hindsight suggests what research is now bearing out, that prefrontal cortex—instrument of empathy, attunement, social connections, emotions and author of a narrative about one’s life can be developed even into adulthood. Experiences with early caregivers shape this part of the brain. I was catching up to what was probably missed as an infant.”

Bob’s memoir might have been subtitled, “Growing older, or older and growing?,” to borrow the title of a speech I once heard psychologist Carl Rogers give. I Don’t Do That Anymore provides a definitive answer to that question—older and growing, at least for those wiling to make the effort to do so.

(In my next post Bob Garmston will offer a “commentary” on the lessons that can be drawn from his life.)

In your experience, what are the sources of human resilience? What factors offer hope for young people whose lives are severely stressed and challenged?

8 mindless ways to undermine teaching and learning

Dennis Sparks

Educational mindlessness can take many forms.

Here are 8 ways in which it can harm both the students and adults in our schools:

1. Mindless views of teaching and learning that reduce them  to formulas and scripts, robbing the teaching-learning process of its complexity and nuance.

2. Mindless teaching that says that one method is as good as another and that it is acceptable to continue to do the same things over and over again no matter what the outcome.

3. Mindless programs and practices which are not aligned with expressed values and goals.

4. Mindless development of and adherence to bureaucratic rules and regulations that do not serve the best interests of students.

5. Mindless lack of concern about the effects of one’s words and actions on others.

6. Mindless references to research, such as “research says…,” with little understanding of the implications and limitations of that research.

7. Mindless meetings that discuss the obvious and debate the trivial.

8. Mindless professional development that does little to strengthen professional judgment, deepen understanding, and create new habits of mind and practice that benefit students.

What would you add to my list?

How bad things can happen to good people who lack emotional intelligence


School and school system leaders are far more likely to get into difficulty because of low social and emotional intelligence than because of deficiencies in their technical knowledge. At least that’s my observation.

Here’s why they get into trouble:

• Because these leaders often have a high need to control people and situations, they are unlikely to trust others or to delegate.

• Because of a lack of trust and poor interpersonal skills, these leaders seldom have supportive relationships with others and therefore are unlikely to value the development of such relationships within the school community.

• Because these leaders don’t know how to manage or express their feelings in appropriate and proportionate ways, they are likely to be angry, anxious, and/or cynical. Those feelings, in turn, are amplified across the school community and create what some experts call a “slow-death spiral,” which depletes energy and diminishes hope for a better future.

• Because these leaders are unable to accurately sense and respond to the feelings of others, their relationships are likely to be tumultuous and superficial and viewed as means to an end rather than as worthy ends in themselves to be nurtured and valued.

• And because leaders with low social and emotional intelligence have limited self awareness, they are unlikely to see any of the above in themselves.

Do you agree, or not?


Why it’s important for leaders to choose the “scenic path” over the “psychopath”

Dennis Sparks

I remember a cartoon that showed a hiker pondering which of two trails to take. One trail marker said “scenic path,” the other “psychopath.”

Each day school leaders are given many opportunities to choose between these two paths. Their choice not only affects the quality of their work and day, but often affects the entire school community.

The scenic path leads principals, teacher leaders, and the school community toward higher functioning and greater well-being. It offers enthusiasm, hope, and other forms of positive energy.

The psychopath slopes downward into anger, cynicism, negativity, anxiety, and other forms of negative energy. As its name implies, this path creates a slow-death spiral that over time undermines and sometimes even destroys the very soul of the school community.

When school leaders are aware of these metaphorical trail markers as they reveal themselves throughout the day and of the implications of the paths they walk, they can more consciously choose the scenic route.

And even if they unconsciously barge down the psychopath, awareness of its effects on themselves and others can lead them to more quickly notice the error of their ways and turn back to find the scenic trail.

That awareness may also lead them to apologize to those who had the misfortune of crossing their paths along the way.

Leaders on the scenic path offer hope, joy, and peace to those whose lives they touch. That’s far more than sufficient reason for all of us to pay attention to the trail markers up ahead.

10 reasons why perfectionism is not a good idea

Dennis Sparks

Trying to be perfect is a heavy burden for principals and teacher leaders and a source of stress for others in the school community with whom they interact.

Here’s my list of reasons for why perfection is not a worthy goal:

1. It is impossible to be perfect;

2. Trying to be perfect is incredibly stressful;

3. Trying to be perfect  can cause us to expect perfection in others, which is incredibly stressful for them;

4. Striving for perfection can lead to paralysis;

5. Because of that paralysis, the perfect can become the enemy of the good, which means that good things may not get done;

6. Lowering one’s standards to, say, 90% can be a way of breaking through the paralysis to actions that benefit students; and

7. Many things that are good for students don’t have to be perfect to add value to their school experience.

Please add to the list: Assuming that 10 was a desirable number of reasons, I wrote the title of this post before I made the list. Then I discovered that I could come up with just seven reasons. Given that it’s okay and even desirable to be less than perfect, I’m hoping that obliging readers will offer a few more items for the list.

Taking care of ourselves so that we can take care of others

Construction site

Take care of yourself. Take care of others. In so many words that’s what this sign—which I’ve seen posted on local construction sites—reminds workers to do.

“Take care of yourself, take care of others” is also a way of life in schools that support the success of all students and staff members, a way of being together that improves the quality of learning and relationships in classrooms and within the school community as a whole.

Taking care of others, I am confident, was a reflexive reaction during the past week as schools across the United States and around the world grieved the students and staff members of Sandy Hook Elementary School and sought comfort with one another.

Putting others before self is a default setting for most teachers and principals, as it was at Sandy Hook. But it’s a practice that over time can have a devastating effect on one’s physical and emotional well being.

Because taking care of ourselves is ultimately a precondition for taking care of others, I hope the upcoming holiday break provides educators with abundant opportunities for physical, emotional, and spiritual renewal.

Such replenishment is essential even during the best of times. And these have not been the best of times.

Emotional intelligence can be learned

Most of us don’t even think that soft and gushy interpersonal skills are something you need to study at all, let alone something you’d study and practice with a coach. But that’s precisely what should be going on. —Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, & Al Switzler (Photo: Dennis Sparks)

Leaders for Results requires a high level of emotional intelligence, a capacity that leaders with intention and practice can continuously improve throughout their careers.

In Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee explain that leaders can develop their capacities in the four domains of Emotional Intelligence by engaging in “five discoveries”: (1) uncovering an ideal vision of yourself, (2) discovering who you really are, (3) developing an agenda for improving your abilities, (4) practicing new leadership skills, and (5) developing supportive and trusting relationships that make change possible.

To better understand the ideal self during the “first discovery” the authors suggest free writing about your life if achieved 15 years in the future—the type of activities in which you would engage in a typical day or week, your environment, and the kinds of people you’d be around.

To find your “real self” Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee recommend taking an inventory of your talents and passions. They also recommend seeking out both positive and negative feedback by processes such as “360-degree evaluation.”

The “third discovery” culminates a learning agenda with goals and action plans. The most powerful goals, the authors say, build on one’s strengths. Learning plans with clear, specific goals and concrete, practical steps yield the most improvement, they point out. The “fourth discovery” reconfigures the brain through persistent practice of desired behaviors. “[T]o master a leadership skill, you need to change the brain’s default option by breaking old habits and learning new ones, which requires an extended period of practice to create the new neural pathway and then strengthen it,” Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee write. The key to learning new habits lies in practice to the point of mastery.”

The “fifth discovery” cultivates the power of “. . . special relationships, those whose sole purpose is to help you along your path. . . .” Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee recommend the use of mentors and coaches who can exert considerable influence in shaping a leader’s abilities, particularly when the mentor or coach is one with whom you share your aspirations and learning agenda.

An example: A leader realizes his angry outbursts diminish trust and the overall quality of his professional relationships. Rather than continuing to justify his emotions (“I’m just like my dad so what am I going to do?”) he is determined to feel calm, clear thinking, and positive in the midst of conflict or other interpersonal challenges. To that end he enlists the support of a colleague who displays those qualities, and they agree to anticipate and rehearse alternative responses in conversations or meetings that may test the leader’s resolve. In addition, they brainstorm strategies the leader can use to prepare for such meetings. He agrees that during emotional situations he will consciously take a few deep, slow breaths before responding, and that afterwards will review with his colleague what he learned that might be useful in the next situation.

Strengthen your leadership practice by . . .

• describing a time when you deliberately developed a new habit that improved your daily emotional state and/or the quality of your relationships with others.

• selecting an emotional intelligence competency you would like to strengthen and creating an action plan to make it a habit. Make certain your plan has a clear, specific goal; opportunities for sufficient practice to make it a habit; and one or more people who will support you in this effort.

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