Why is it so difficult at times to assume the positive? Why is it so difficult at times to not make or take things personally? Assuming the negative, assuming ulterior motives, or assuming a personal attack can be crippling to an educator. Yet it happens all the time. So here is the question...how do we protect ourselves from this mindset?
I truly believe the biggest mistake we can make as educators is to make or take things personally. To use our skewed perception to create drama within the campus, or to take our past hurts or failing moments and place that history onto a new situation that started out to be pure.
It has almost become cliche...the idea that relationships are important. Yet creating authentic relationships with the people you work closely with is vital to our success. Vital to our emotional well being, and vital to creating the work-life balance we need to continue forward for many years to come.
How do we protect ourselves from assuming the negative? I think one key component is by surrounding ourselves with those who know us, and those that can reflect back our reactions in a positive, yet honest way.
As a principal, I have quickly learned that in order to fight the temptation to take things personally, in order to fight the temptation to view difficult situations with a negative light, in order to assume the positive and not the negative, I need a team around me that knows me well. A team that can offer support and transparency as the year progresses, and can look at situations from the outside and offer a viewpoint that removes the negative assumption I might make. Building your team is a crucial component of success on any level. For me, that team is my assistant principal and counselors. Together we plan, reflect, support, and have fun. We collaborate, build-up, and carry each other’s burdens. We are a tight group, built on transparency and authentic admiration and appreciation. They are the team I rely on, spend valuable time with, and trust to help guide my thoughts in a positive manner.
Students, parents, colleagues...All three groups of people can create friction and challenges in the life of an educator. Situations occur daily...a frustrated email from a parent, a student that refuses to respond to redirection, a colleague that you just don’t see eye-to-eye with...situations, that if we are not careful, can open the door to assuming the negative or to take things personally.
When frustration occurs, or when our own baggage begins to skew our perspective, your team can provide insight in challenging situations: A frustrated parent email, while at first might have felt hurtful or taken as a personal attack, could easily be a parent upset with a situation that affects their child, their most precious thing on earth, and that angry email is not about the teacher, but about a difficult situation. A teacher might assume the negative, assume a personal attack, yet a teammate who knows you well might be able to offer insight you desperately need.
A student that refuses to respond, refuses to work, could quickly feel like a personal attack. Assuming the negative about this student could happen, and frustration can take over. Flashbacks of that year you had that one student that pushed every button you had, and made things so difficult all year begin to creep into your mind. Self-doubt, frustration, going home angry, and beginning to start thinking about other careers might enter your mind… When these trying times occur, it’s those closest to you, your team, that can offer insight and deflect the negative assumptions. There are hundreds of reasons a student refuses to work, rarely is it personal. Rarely is the child wanting to fail, wanting to be in trouble, wanting to create a divide between himself and the teacher. It’s an outside perspective, a team that knows you, that can help shift the focus from personal and negative, to a need for support and love for a child.
In case you forgot...Colleagues are human. As humans, perfection doesn't exist….Mistakes happen, frustration can occur, especially in a school setting where the stakes are high, and emotions are often tied to the work we do each day. If a school is going to be successful, there just isn’t room for drama, and I truly believe that 99% of the time drama enters the workplace is because of negative assumptions. It’s the baggage we carry that often dictates our perception. It’s a broken world perspective that often shapes our viewpoint. When others hurt our feelings, make mistakes, or disagree with us, it is often those within our team that can help refocus our perception. Our teammates can see the positive view, and begin to bridge the gap that can be created when our baggage clouds our vision.
Imagine for a minute, what would your school be like if everyone assumed the positive in people. Imagine if people viewed relationships as genuine partnerships and friendships, not constant manipulative moves where each person is trying to get something from someone else.
My wife and I have been marriage mentors several times for our church. The advice I always offered, to every potential spouse was this… Strive to give 100% of everything you have to the person you love, and expect nothing back in return. In essence, give everything you have to someone, and require nothing back as payment. What would happen if our teams worked this way? What would happen if we assumed the best in people, gave our colleagues our full attention and effort, and required nothing back in return?
The challenge: Assume the positive in all situations.
The support: The team you build around you. The people you love and appreciate. The people you spend most of your time with. The people that can offer a positive perspective.
My team is my AP and counselors - They are my rock, my confidants, and the people I trust explicitly. Who are your teammates? Do they offer the positive? Do you give them everything you can and expect nothing in return?
If nothing else...it’s at least something to think about.