How To Make People Feel Important is an Essential Skill of Positive Leaders!

Great teachers and great principals share a common characteristic and less effective principals and less successful teachers lack that same characteristic. Great principals and great teachers have learned how to make people feel important, which is one of the essential attributes of positive leaders.

While following teachers on Twitter, one of the things these dedicated men and women often share is the nature of the culture in their school. Do they feel valued and appreciated or do they feel that their principals prowl the hallways looking for reasons to be critical? The culture in any organization is a function of the quality of leadership and the same is true in a classroom. The experience and success of students is every bit as much a function of the culture in the classroom as the experience and success of teachers is a function of the culture in their school.

Anyone who aspires to a position of leadership must learn what I consider to be the essential lesson of positive leadership: “It is not about you!”

The only measure of a leader’s success is the success of their people. Teachers may not think of themselves as leaders but leaders they are. Children are desperate for affection and affirmation and the heart will always be the portal to the mind. Make people and/or your students feel important and ignite the internal motivation to learn and to excel that exists in each of us.

Examine your own experience with your favorite teacher or supervisor. You felt a special relationship with your mentor, a real kinship. You knew you were liked and you did your best work while they were involved in your life. What did they do differently than the other teachers and supervisors who clutter your memory?

These leaders treated you as if you were special. They liked you; they remembered your name; they listened to you; they valued your opinion; they showed appreciation for your efforts; they smiled at you; they treated you with respect; they trusted you; they challenged you; they strove to help you do a better job; they provided you with clear expectations; they gave you continuous and ongoing constructive feedback; they let you make mistakes without fear of retribution or humiliation; they encouraged you to stretch, knowing they were there for you when you needed them. They made sure you received full recognition for your contributions and they celebrated with you. They expected much from you and so much more.

They worked hard to make you feel important. It was a genuine display of affection. And, it was easy because they liked people. Positive leaders genuinely care about and believe in the capabilities of the people with whom they work; whether those people are five, twenty-five, fifty-five, or older.

When subbing a few years ago, I was helping a young lady with an assignment. When we finished, and she understood, she thanked me; not for helping her but for caring. I responded that caring is what teachers do. She said, “Not mine. If they cared they wouldn’t be so quick to give up on me.”

Students will respond to the positive attention and affection of a teacher who communicates that they care with their words, actions, their smiles and even the twinkle in their eyes. They care enough to expect the best of a child; they care enough to give their students the safety of boundaries. The student is sufficiently important that their teacher refuses to give up on them. Teachers will respond to that same positive affection and attention from their principals.

If you are a principal, how would your teachers rate the quality of your leadership? How fondly will they look back on their time with you?

Relationships

An excerpt from my education model https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Anyone who has worked closely with children of any age, but especially five and six-year-olds, knows that relationships are everything. It is our belief that this is true, also, for teenagers and for adults. For kids who are five or six, some of whom are away from their mothers and other primary caregivers for the first time, a close personal relationship with one or more teachers is more important than anything else. Children who feel a close personal relationship with their teacher, the kind that many of us recall when we think back on our favorite teacher(s), almost always give their best effort and that proves to be true throughout one’s whole life. If we think back on those times in our lives when we enjoyed the most success, most of us will recall a favorite teacher, coach, mentor, or boss. In fact, is there any time in our lives when close personal relationships with other human beings are not the most important source of our happiness and well-being?

The current education process is not structured to facilitate those relationships for more than a given school year, if it happens at all. Neither is it an expectation on which teacher performance will be evaluated. That those special relationships that do develop are severed, routinely, at the end of a school year illustrates that the most important variable in the education equation is not even a priority in the education process in our public schools.

We are guided by the principle that the people in our lives are always more important that the things in our lives. We must acknowledge that the academic success of every child and of everything we do for them will be a function of the quality of relationships we have been able to build.

In a recent Tweet, our colleague Amy Fast, Ed.D. (@fastcrayon) said,

“If students are under-performing in class, we can guess at the reasons why, or we can ask the students themselves: Do they feel the classes are relevant to their lives? Do they think they are too hard? Too easy? Do they feel like their teachers care about them and their success?”

Amy Fast’s questions are vital on two levels of analysis.

These are all questions to which teachers must have answers for each of their students, with the last being the essential question. The challenge for teachers is that the probability of receiving meaningful answers to these and many other important questions is a function of their success in developing meaningful relationships.

It is this author’s assertion that, from the moment of first contact with a new student, whether on their first day of Kindergarten, or any other grade, or whether he or she has transferred in from another class or school, the development of nurturing, meaningful relationships with each student should be the teacher’s first and over-riding responsibility/priority. It is only as such relationships are beginning to form that our students will begin to place their trust in us.

Students are often the people least qualified to answer the question, “are their classes relevant to their lives?” The younger the student the less of an idea they will have of the challenges in life with which they will be called upon to deal. We need them to trust us that we know what they must learn.

It is up to teachers to utilize their experience, training, and appropriate assessment tools to discern what their students know, what their capabilities might be at a given point in time, how their young minds work (how they learn and process information), how confident they are in their own abilities, and what their interests might be at that stage of their development. As they learn, grow, and begin to experience success, their individual interests begin to take shape and their special abilities begin to reveal themselves—to us as well as to them. Our willingness to invite our students to participate in charting the direction of their studies will be influenced by the way our relationships have evolved and the level of mutual trust we have been able to establish.

In this education model, there is nothing as important to the job of teaching as the development of positive relationships with students and it is at the top of our priority list, even if that means that other priorities need to be put on hold, temporarily.

Relationships Are an Indispensable Variable in the Education Equation!

Recently, I have heard many very smart people trash such ideas as “personalized learning” and “digital learning.” While I have great respect for all of you, I ask you to consider the question, “what if you are wrong?”

Just because “Education Reformers” who are attacking public education are misusing these concepts does not mean they are bad ideas! Clearly, education reformers are wrong to think that the future of public education will be realized by kids working independently on computers, going their own way, and not needing the help of teachers. Anyone who thinks that would be a good thing and would increase the quality of education our children receive does not know much about working with children.

Those of us who have worked closely with children, especially kids as young as 5 and 6, know that relationships matter more than anything. And make no mistake, relationships are every bit as important to preteens and teenagers. Think back on the kids with whom you had the most success and it will almost always be the students with whom you had the best relationships. Also, think back on those times when you were successful in your own endeavors. More often than not, in those special times in our lives, we were working closely with a favorite teacher, boss, or mentor.

When working with children of any age, not only do relationships matter, they are paramount. Relationships are an indispensable variable in the education equation.

“De-personalized learning” is what kids are getting, now, and it is tragic.

Every year, young children who arrive for their first day of school and who are starting at a disadvantage are placed in a race with other students in their classroom. It is a race in which these children are totally unprepared to compete. When they begin falling behind, we act surprised when they give up on themselves, stop trying, begin acting out, and maybe even drop out of school before graduating.

In the hands of qualified teachers whose minds and hearts are open to new ideas, “personalized learning” can be a powerful strategy. When a child is beginning from his or her own unique starting point on an “academic preparedness continuum” and is being given the time he or she needs, the child will begin to learn and will progress at his or her own best speed. As kids begin to discover that they can learn, they will gain confidence and gradually increase the pace at which they learn. Once kids discover that they can learn, successfully, learning becomes fun!

It is my belief what children need is learning of the most “personalized” kind, from capable and qualified teachers with whom they feel a close, personal connection and who have at their disposal the most sophisticated tools and resources.

Dissing “digital learning” is another example of educators reacting with Pavlovian predictability to neutral names and labels that have become pejorative words and phrases. Just because reformers over-value digital tools does not reduce their potential as tools for capable teachers. And, the fact that they undervalue teachers and the relationships between teachers and students creates a real opportunity for those of us who are against high-stakes testing, privatization, charter schools and vouchers.

It creates an opportunity to demonstrate how effective public schools will be when they employ an education process or model that:

• Optimizes the power of positive relationships between teachers and students;

• Pulls parents into the equation as partners in the education of their sons and daughters;

• Identifies an appropriate starting point for students based upon where they are on an academic preparedness continuum when they arrive at our door for their first day of school;

• Tailors an academic plan to meet the unique requirements of each student, in conjunction with academic standards;

• Expects students to learn as much as they are able at their own best speed;

• Expects teachers to give each child the time and attention they need to learn as much as they are able;

• Expects teachers to help kids learn from mistakes even when it takes multiple attempts and then celebrate each success like the special achievement it is.

• Equips teachers and students with the best tools and resources available, including cutting edge digital tools and learning technology; and,

• Expects students to achieve a sufficient level of mastery of subject matter that they can apply what they have learned in the real world and where nothing less is acceptable.

With such a model, public schools will outperform charter schools and other experimental classrooms at every level.

Champions and heroes of public education, at every level, are asked to take a step back so that your passion does not overshadow your wisdom. The job of public school educators is not to blame poverty and segregation for the failure of so many of our disadvantaged children. Rather it is to accept responsibility by acknowledging that what we are doing does not work for everyone and not giving up until we find a solution that will work.

Public school educators have been blamed for so long for the problems in public education that they will not listen to just anyone. It is for that reason that the champions of public education whom teachers have come to admire and respect are in the best position to influence public school educators at every level. Having the respect of teachers comes with certain responsibilities the most important of which is to provide positive leadership.

I have applied all that I have learned from over thirty years of organizational development and leadership experience to examine and strive to understand all that I witnessed during the 10 years in which I worked as a substitute teacher for an urban public school district. My objective, initially, was to understand why so many children are failing and I very quickly realized that I also needed to understand why some children manage to succeed in spite of all of the disadvantages they face. Once I felt I had a solid understanding, I began applying the skills I developed while working with my clients as an organizational development and leadership consultant.

I was guided by an axiom from operations management that said “if a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, then the process is flawed and should be replaced or reinvented. In almost every instance, giving hard working people a process that works proved to be empowering and led to unprecedented success.

In every project the objective and methodology was the same. Apply the principles of systems’ thinking, organizational development, and positive leadership to clearly identify mission and purpose and then design a process that is tasked, structured, and resourced to produce the outcomes my clients were seeking. The outcome of my effort with respect to education was a process or model designed to empower teachers and meet the needs of all students, even the disadvantaged children.

I invite you to examine the model and accompanying white paper at
https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. I then ask for your help in finding at least one superintendent and school district willing to test my model in one of its lowest performing elementary schools.

It’s all about the kids!

Every Kid Needs a Favorite Teacher, Even in the Age of Digital Learning

Most of the people reading these words can recall a favorite teacher. If we are lucky, we may have had two, three, or more. However many, these special men and women played an important part in our development and academic success. With the spread of both digital learning and personalized learning, it is imperative that we clarify that the relationships between teachers and students, must always be at the core of academic success.

Relationships are everything in both public education and private, but it is also necessary that teachers have at their disposal and are trained to utilize, fully, the latest in instructional technology. No matter how good a farmer might be in plowing behind a team of beautiful horses or how much such a sight may stir the purist’s heart, their production will never approach that of farmers using the latest agricultural technology.

The impact made by our favorite teachers is the best way to illustrate the importance of the relationship between teachers and students and how powerful those relationships can be, even in the age of digital and personalized learning.

What did our favorite teachers do differently than the others who clutter our memory? Our favorite teachers treated us as if we were special. They liked us and they listened to us and they made us feel important. They believed in us and held out ever higher expectations, challenging us to push beyond our comfort zones, knowing they were close by to help us if we stumbled. They cheered us on and helped us celebrate each of the victories we worked so hard to achieve. They also smiled at us and it was genuine, heart-felt smile that made us glow. They treated us with respect, they trusted us; they wanted us to be the absolute best that we could be. They let us make mistakes without fear of consequences and taught us that mistakes are learning opportunities and the building blocks of knowledge and wisdom. They made learning fun and taught us that learning is a great adventure. We owe a great deal to these special men and women.

For children, relationships are everything. Relationships with their parents, siblings, extended family are vital to the healthy development of children. As their world expands to daycare, nursery schools, head start programs, or regular schools, relationships continue to be the most important ingredient in their ongoing growth and development. Whether their social skills, psychological and emotional development, or formal learning, kids need to feel safe and secure and they need to feel that the people with whom they interact care about them. Security builds confidence, and confidence builds motivation, and motivation leads to success, whatever the level to which we aspire.

The relationship between teachers and students is one of the two most important variables in the formula for academic success and this is true throughout a child’s thirteen years of school. As children get older and must learn to deal with temptations of peer pressure, solid relationships with teachers become more important, not less.

The other is vital variable is the support and commitment of parents. Parents, particularly those of disadvantaged kids, are suspicious because many of their own experiences with schools and teachers were negative. Most of them must be won over, but that won’t happen until teachers are able to demonstrate, in very real ways, that they are having a positive impact on the child.

If the reader has doubts about the importance of parental support and commitment, consider disadvantaged students who excel in spite of the incredible disadvantages they face. What is different about these success stories?

Almost always, when a disadvantaged child excels in school it is because of a parent or guardian who somehow clings to hope that an education will provide a way out for their children. These parents are ferocious in their commitment to make sure the child is motivated to learn and is working hard to learn. These mothers, fathers, grandparents or other guardians are fully prepared to seize their child’s teacher by the throat, figuratively of course, if they think their son or daughter is being treated unfairly or if the teacher is not giving their child the best effort of which they are capable. In these uncommon but almost miraculous success stories, it is the powerful parental commitment that is the difference maker. Without that parental commitment disadvantaged children fail, routinely.

It is only after their son or daughter begins to come home, every afternoon, bubbling about how much he or she loves their teacher that the parents are curious enough to want to learn what is happening. The same is true as parents begin to see their child enjoy success at school and be excited about the new things they have learned. Winning is contagious, even for those sitting on the sidelines. Teachers must be prepared to seize these opportunities to pull parents into partnership.

All educators know these things to be true, and many of you who are reading these words are nodding your head in agreement. What I want the reader to understand, however, is that the current education process is not structured to support and encourage teachers to reach out to parents. It is not an expectation held out for teachers and it is not something for which teachers are held accountable.

If these relationships are as vital as we believe them to be, then working to develop them must be at the top of every educator’s priority list. The reader is invited to read my education model and white paper to see how these expectations and the utilization of personalized learning are integral and interdependent components of a new education process.

Relationship between teacher and student trumps everything!

“I wish my teacher knew that I love her with all my heart!” was how one third grader in Colorado completed the assignment reported on ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir.

If we want all American school children to get the quality education they deserve, and that our society so desperately needs them to achieve, we must give them what they need to be successful. We can identify four things that are not only essential but they trump everything else. What we need our political leaders to come to understand, whether here in Indiana or anywhere throughout the U.S. is that standardized testing is not one of these four things.

The first thing children need is to be treated as individuals on a dedicated learning path that is tailored to their unique starting point. As every professional educator will attest, the level of preparation and motivation children bring with them on their very first day of school is as diverse as the population of parents who gave birth to them. Beginning with such a focus not only puts a child on a path on which they can be successful, it sends a subtle but powerful message that they are special and that they are valued. Nothing gives the child the absolute best opportunity to be successful and nothing helps a child develop a healthy self-esteem more than being accepted for who they are; not how they stack up to their classmates.

The second most critical component of educational success is that each child is placed in an environment in which they can enjoy a nurturing, positive, life-affirming relationship with a teacher who will love them and care for them unconditionally. We want every child to experience the joy of the special relationship that most of us recall when we think back on our favorite teacher. While this component might be second on our list, it is second only because of chronology. Creating an environment that fosters such caring relationships between teacher and child is, overwhelmingly, the most important thing we can do to assure that the child receives the highest quality education of which they are capable. Yes, I understand that some children are easier to love than others but the universal truth is that “the child who is hardest to love is the one who needs it the most.”

The third thing the child needs is the assurance that they will get off to a good start and this requires that they begin learning how to be successful, from the very outset. This can be accomplished by creating a situation in which a child is not permitted to fail. Because we have placed them on a unique learning curve, it does not matter how a given child compares to other members of his or her class. We need to create an environment in which each and every child is given the time they need to learn each and every lesson, every step along the way. We simply must not permit them to fail. One of the things our current educational process does most successfully is to teach children how to fail. If we can, instead, begin teaching them that they can and will succeed it is amazing how success replicates itself every step along the way. It changes the equation to one in which the child’s success is a given.

The fourth essential component is that we need to engage parents as partners in the education of their sons and daughters. If we can pull the parents into the special relationship we strive to create between a child and his or her teacher we create an environment in which anything is possible and where every obstacle can be overcome. A warm, nurturing, and positive triumvirate between parents, children, and their teachers creates the most powerful motivational force in the world.

Many public school teachers will read this list and nod their head that these are important but will then go back to what they have been doing, whether or not it has been successful. The problem is that these four components are so far from the reality from most public school classrooms, particularly those in our most challenging schools and communities, that they are viewed as unreal; as abstractions.

What every professional educator must be challenged to believe at the very core of their being is that these components are not abstractions. They are real, and they can be created in each and every public school classroom in America, if only we step back and examine not only the way we do everything and why, but also the way we structure the process that supports and facilitates what we do. Each of these components is achievable and manageable; they are attainable solutions to a human engineering problem that requires only that we structure the educational process to support our most critical objectives.

In my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, I offer a blueprint for an educational process that relies on these components as a foundation for everything else it does.

I can imagine nothing that would validate a teacher’s existence more than hearing one their students say, “I wish my teacher knew that I love her with all my heart.”

Powerful forces are poised to rip control of education out of the hands Teachers and communities

Yesterday’s (5/8/14) report, by Kimberly Hefling of the Associated Press, under the headline: “Nation’s students not improving: Exam finds no gains in seniors’ critical skills since ’09,” is certain to renew exclamations that our teachers are failing America’s children.

However absurd such proclamations may be, it is time for teachers, working collectively and with their communities, to take the lead in advocating substantial reforms of the educational process. If teachers permit educational reforms to remain exclusively in the hands of the government and corporate reformers, they are putting America’s children at risk and are leaving the teaching profession unprotected.

It is not sufficient to take a defensive posture and cry out against such reformers. What is needed are proactive proposals that the entire teaching profession can support with all of its political influence and might at the local, state, and federal level.

The reforms themselves must be substantial and they must literally reinvent the American educational process so that it:

• Is focused on success in real and substantive ways that allows teachers to teach children how to be successful;

• Shifts the focus back to subject mastery rather than test preparation, using the NAEP definition of “proficient” as a model where the expectation is to help students acquire the ability to apply what they learn to real-life situations;

• Puts teachers in a position to teach in an intimate environment in which they can form close, nurturing relationships with both students and parents;

• Help children experience the fun of learning under the tutelage of a “favorite teacher” rather than deal with the stress of looming annual, standardized exams;

• Integrate student assessment and teacher accountability into the instructional process, much like industry has done with quality systems, obviating the need for annual standardized examinations to demonstrate competency;

• Provides teachers with state-of-the-art technology and other tools to facilitate rather than obstruct what they do, where the technology is as seamless and productive as the smartphones most of us carry in our pockets and purses; and,

• Begins the challenging process of re-establishing the highest possible level of trust between parents and their children’s teachers.

Teachers must also use their collective might to aggressively pursue grants for creative programs that engage parents as partners in the education of their children (I encourage teachers to count the number of such programs of which they are currently aware).

I offer my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, as a model for implementation at the local level in schools and communities all over the nation. It is a model that can also serve as catalyst for brainstorming or as a springboard for the development of other models.

In any case, it is time for teachers to act before their credibility is completely tainted and their social capital squandered.