Posts Tagged 'positive emotions'

There is no substitute for resilient leadership

Resilient people are often called upon to be leaders, a responsibility that both draws upon their resilience and cultivates it for future use.

Early in my career I did not understand the importance of leadership. Schools, I thought, would improve if teachers were simply given the tools to do their work and the freedom to use them.

But then I had an opportunity to closely observe a school whose teachers and parents were frustrated and dispirited. Students performed poorly, and everyone felt hopeless about the future.

Eventually a new principal came to the school. Over the next 3 years things got better. Staff and parent morale improved, as did teaching and student learning.

That principal eventually went on to another assignment, and the school’s new principal was more like the first one. Things spiraled downwards into a hopelessness that felt more profound because of the school’s rollercoaster journey.

Later on in my professional development work I spent a great deal of time talking with teachers about teaching and learning.

I enjoyed those conversations immensely except when teachers were angry and cynical.

Without exception, I observed that those teachers were poorly led by principals or system administrators or union leaders. Or all three.

My work came to focus on principals and teacher leaders because without their skillful leadership teacher professional learning and teamwork were unlikely to occur in ways that would benefit all students in all classrooms.

School leaders to a very large degree determine:

What is your experience—is it possible to continuously improve teaching and learning without skillful leadership?

Emotions are contagious

Dennis Sparks

Emotions are contagious. Leaders’ emotions are particularly contagious.

That’s why I read with great interest a sign posted in a long-term care facility:

“Emotional Contagion is the transferring of emotions from one person to another. Residents with Alzheimer’s Dementia have a heightened sensitivity to emotional contagion. They tend to mimic the emotions of those around them. This is a way for them to connect with others even if they’re not able to understand their current situation. If we as caregivers are anxious or upset, residents will pick up and copy the same emotions even if we think they are not aware. Being calm and happy while providing care may go a long way in keeping our residents calm and happy as well.”

Like Alzheimer’s patients, individuals in high stress environments have a “heightened sensitivity to emotional contagion.”

And, unfortunately, many schools, for a variety of reasons, are pressure cookers of stress.

That means that it is essential that administrators and teacher leaders pay special attention to whether they are anxious or upset and do all that they can to bring their best selves to school each day so that they spread positive emotions rather than negative ones.

I offer 8 suggestions here for leaders on ways they can bring positive energy to their school communities.

What have you found helpful in bringing your best self to school each day, whatever your role may be?

8 ways to create positive energy in the school community

IMG_1365Visitors can often sense in a matter of minutes the positive or negative energy of a school.

Some schools feel welcoming, calm, and joyful. Others feel angry, stressful, and even foreboding.

Fortunately, administrators and teacher leaders can influence the energy and emotional tone of classrooms, schools, and school systems.

Here are 8 suggestions for creating positive energy:

1. Bring authentic positive emotions such as enthusiasm, hopefulness, and joy into the school community.

2. Use  formal and informal processes to celebrate the accomplishments and strengths of everyone in the school community.

3. Honor those who are not present by refusing to engage in gossip and other negative interactions.

4. Make certain that all meetings are engaging and productive.

5. Ensure that professional development produces meaningful professional learning by putting an end to “mindless” professional  development.

6. Make certain that all requests are carefully considered before making promises, and that once made, those promises are kept.

7. Whenever possible, use careful planning to prevent or minimize problems and the stress they cause.

8. Maintain an unwavering focus and consistency by ensuring that continuous improvement efforts are based on a compelling vision, communitywide values, and clear long-term goals and strategies.

What ideas or practices would you add to this list?

Is it possible for leaders with low emotional intelligence to succeed?


If one looks at failed leaders, they typically fail not because they lack intelligence, but rather because they lack wisdom and behave foolishly. – Robert Sternberg

Each week this summer I’m introducing a blog theme that connects popular and important posts from recent years. Each theme offers a number of perspectives on a perennial challenge of school leadership.

This week’s topic is “emotional intelligence.”

As Robert Sternberg says, “failed leaders” often do so because of problems with people of one sort or another—escalating conflicts that produce no positive results, inability to express feelings in helpful ways or to recognize and respond to the feelings of others, and authoritarian and controlling ways of working with others, to name a few common problems.

I encourage you to scroll through articles in this thread to find those that match your interests.

In addition, I encourage you to take a closer look at these essays:

“Choose healthy skepticism over cynicism”

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

“How leaders can cultivate positive emotions within the school community”

Leading for Results Means Cultivating Positive Emotions

Positive emotions within school communities are a bulwark against the inevitable challenges they face. (Photo: Dennis Sparks)

Emotions are contagious, and positive emotions resonate throughout an organization and into relationships with other constituents. To get extraordinary things done in extraordinary times, leaders must inspire optimal performance—and that can only be fueled with positive emotions.

—James Kouzes & Barry Posner

Leaders’ joy, enthusiasm, and hopefulness are contagious. Likewise, leaders’ sadness, anxiety, anger, fear, cynicism, and resignation can infect the school community. Leaders’ emotions can spread like a virus as one member of the school community picks it up and carries it to others.

In Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee use the terms “resonant” to describe leaders whose positive emotions create similar feelings in others  and “dissonant” for leaders whose negative feelings create downward flows of emotions and energy, a condition that some have called a “slow death spiral.” “The fundamental task of leaders,” they argue, “is to prime good feelings in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates a resonance—a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people. At its root, then, the primal job of leadership is emotional.”

The good news is that leaders can develop their emotional well-being through a number of means. While we may have been influenced by genetics and early life experiences, we also have the capacity to continuous move in the direction of greater joy, peace, and overall emotional well-being.

Because significant change in schools begins with significant change in leaders, the first step in addressing the school community’s emotional resilience is to do an honest self assessment of your overall emotional state to determine where you stand along a continuum from hopeful, positive, peaceful, and enthusiastic to worried, angry, cynical, and pessimistic. You may also ask staff members to give you anonymous feedback in this area to better understand how you are perceived by others and how your emotions affect the school community.

No matter where leaders find themselves along such a continuum, research in “positive psychology” says that individuals can increase their emotional well-being through a number of means, one of which is cultivating gratitude. A simple research-based technique that you can use to increase your gratitude is to note in writing at the end of each day three things for which you are grateful. Practicing this discipline for as little as six weeks has been shown to produce positive emotional effects.

Research also indicates that the development and application of “signature strengths,” particularly when used to achieve purposes larger than one’s own self interest, fosters emotional satisfaction. Psychologist Martin Seligman provides a self-assessment inventory of signature strengths for your review.

Additional research indicates that happiness is increased by giving to others, a finding that is well suited to the values and daily responsibilities of educators. It is also important that you carve out of your busy schedule “unencumbered time” to provide balance and strengthen relationships.

Leading for Results “Six-Word Leadership Tool”:

Positive emotions are contagious; develop them.

To strengthen your leadership practice

• No matter our starting point, all of us can benefit from a periodic tune up of our emotional well being. Select one of the areas described above as a starting point for such a tune up.

• Develop a “six-word leadership tool” to summarize your learning or to express an action you will take as a result of this essay. Please add your tool to the comment section of this blog and share it with one or more colleagues “back home.”

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,766 other followers



Recent Twitter Posts

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.