Posts Tagged 'emotional intelligence'

Strong opinions, weakly held

Dennis Sparks

Learn how to fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong: It helps you develop strong opinions that are weakly held. —Bob Sutton

“The world is divided into people who think they are right,” a wise person once said.

While it is essential that leaders have clear, well-defined beliefs and ideas that guide their work, it is also essential that those beliefs and ideas are open to influence by respected colleagues.

That means that leaders do both the intellectually demanding work of forming clear, well-considered points of view and the interpersonally demanding work of holding them loosely.

Because our views are often influenced by psychological and emotional forces of which we are not fully aware, both their formation and alteration is seldom fully rational.

That means that altering our views based on evidence and logic rather than vigorously defending them until death typically requires a high level of emotional intelligence.

How do you decide when to maintain your point of view and when to surrender it?

Words matter

Dennis Sparks

Words matter.

They create energy or destroy it. They can produce an upward flow of possibility and energy or a downward spiral of resignation and hopelessness.

The language that administrators and teacher leaders use affects the ability of the school community to solve problems and to achieve its most important goals.

It is essential that leaders cultivate discernment about the words that create upward or downward spirals of energy and then to carefully choose the words that they use.

Which words increase your energy and which ones deplete it?

Almost everyone has the same two problems…


In the view of many observers, teachers’ dissatisfaction is … closer to passive resignation than to active indignation, closer to dejection that deflates energy than to anger that inspires action…. There is much research to confirm the importance of a sense of efficacy—the sense of making a meaningful difference…—in teachers’ motivation and performance. —Robert Evans (my emphasis added in bold)

Almost everyone has the same two problems.

The first problem is whatever problem we are experiencing at the moment – a technical problem related to teaching or leadership, a relationship problem, a health problem, or whatever it may be.

The second problem, which is often as or more significant than the first problem, is the way we think about the first problem.

How we define a problem and what we believe about it often determines whether we think it can be solved and whether we have the ability to solve it.

Resignation—that is, not believing there is anything we can do to improve the situation—is the most common of those energy-destroying mental barriers. 

Believing that a problem is unsolvable is, after all, the first step in ensuring that it won’t be solved.

In Leading for Results I wrote: “Resignation is an intellectual and emotional state in which educators come to believe that their individual and collective actions cannot improve teaching and learning, particularly given the large and serious problems that affect the lives of many students and their families…. A profound consequence of this belief is that teachers and administrators act as if they have a very small, or perhaps even nonexistent, circle of influence related to student learning.”

Do you agree that resignation is a powerful, often unrecognized barrier to solving the challenging problems of teaching, learning, and leadership? 

Educators’ attention and energy linked to leaders’ emotional intelligence

Dennis Sparks

“Big Idea”: Continuous improvement requires that leaders effectively manage their attention and energy and the attention and energy of the school community. 

A key to the successful management of attention and energy is leaders’ emotional and social intelligence.

A leader’s emotional intelligence determines to a large extent where the school community directs its attention and energy.

Attention can be dissipated or have a laser-like focus on a small number of essential priorities.

Leaders’ emotional intelligence also creates or destroys energy within the school community, energy that is essential to the continuous improvement of teaching and learning.

Here are some popular posts from the past year that more fully explain this idea:

“Cultivating the problem-solving ability of others”

“Creating energy for continuous improvement”

“Ways to avoid unproductive, dispiriting meetings”

You can find additional posts on emotional intelligence here.


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?

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