Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Art Of Appreciation

I can count on one hand how many times in my career a parent has gone out of their way to compliment my efforts or performance to my superior.  Frankly it isn't exactly frequent that parents offer compliments  directly with me either.  While one could certainly draw the conclusion that I'm not particular good at my job, I'll share that after many years of working in administration, I've receive very few compliments about my teachers.  Generally, our school is high performing academically, and has a low incident rate in terms of misbehavior.  Surely some of them have done something well.  Right?

Educators, even the best ones, are painfully aware that regardless of how hard they work and how talented they may be, they will have no shortage of complaints and negative calls each year.  It's not only easy to pick up the phone and bitch when something goes wrong- it's often anticipated.  We know that when little Billy goes home upset that overprotective Mom will be calling.

This of course can be disappointing.  Teachers and principals feel under appreciated.  They do complicated work, often for average salaries, and are subjected to a consistent battery of (changing) demands as to how they could better do their jobs (more learning, more safety, more engagement, better cafeteria food, more kindness, and oh, do this spending less money please).

Then I stopped to reflect on my own behavior.  I certainly call and complain when my pizza is 20 minutes late being delivered.  I've never called and thanked them when it showed up early, steaming hot, and perfectly cooked.  I don't recall ever calling an airline to thank them for getting me to my vacation 20 minutes early with quick luggage distribution (though it's happened), and I'm fairly certain I've never thanked a movie theater manager for the clean seats and non-sticky floor I found inside the theater.  Sure, I'll tip a little better when I have good service somewhere but rarely (if ever) do I verbally acknowledge the effort or share my satisfaction with a supervisor.    

I'm part of the same problem and no better than the parents I feel under appreciate myself and my profession.  But I don't have to be.

Every week or so I head to the same grocery store whose deli is noted for low prices, high quality, and great selection.  If you want something from this deli you better be prepared to wait because it's always a zoo.  It seemed every week I would wind up (by coincidence) being helped by the same guy.  These people are literally out of breath and sweating on weekends trying to help people as quickly as possible.  Yet each time this guy helped me he was remarkably friendly, never made me feel rushed- even when I was indecisive or asked several questions with a line forming behind me.  The other day when I was leaving I happened to see the store manager walking by and I called him over.

"You've got a kid working in the deli.  Shorter guy with dark hair."  You could see the managers face as he began to brace for the complaint I was about to hurl and how he'd have to defuse it.  Instead of course, I shared my appreciation for the kid's help and how excellent I thought he did his job.  The manager was floored.  "Thank you so much for telling me this.  I've never had a customer compliment an employee like that since I worked here."

What I did cost me nothing.  It took no time, and I expected nothing in return.  I felt good about the exchange, and no doubt so did the manager and the deli worker when his boss shares with him the feedback he received.

I've tried to do more of this sort of thing.  When the high school kid working at the pet store showed my how to change the water in my new tank, I called the manager when I got home to tell him how great his instructions were, and what a nice kid he had working at his store.  After taking my daughter to a store in the mall where you make your own teddy bear, I told the young girl who helped us that she was remarkable with children and hopefully would consider a career in education.  I shared this with her boss too.

My actions are unlikely to increase the appreciation showered on education (though the impact of such positive interaction could be huge but remains immeasurable).  But I can tell you that I feel better and am a happier person when I am looking for positives and complimenting people, than waiting for the next mistake to pounce on.  As a manager, I'm trying to focus on the good my teachers offer more than their weaknesses, and I encourage staff to make on-going positive phone calls to all of the students in their class.

I won't knowingly be part of the problem.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Crime Isn't For All Kids

There have been certain kids over the years who I have had to sit down and say, "Look, you stink at misbehavior.  You get caught every time.  Crime just isn't for you.  It might be easier for you to just behave."  Kurt was one of those kids.

Kurt was impossible not to love despite being a handful in the class.  He was a little guy with fire orange hair that allowed him to stand out beyond his obnoxious classroom behavior.  Kurt was harmless in his intentions, but one of those kids who seemed to be out in the hall getting lectured for one thing or another every day, every year, etc.

One day while in 4th grade, Kurt was asked to hand out math folders (he was the type of kid who you had those time consuming problem solving meetings on and came away from the table with great strategies like, 'maybe if we gave him some jobs and let him move more it would solve everything!').  One cute little girl's folder was missing when he finished.  Kurt didn't know where it was, and the girl swore she never got it.  They checked desks, lockers, and everyone made sure they had their own.  Nothing.  

When hope appeared lost (and lot's of time wasted), Kurt noticed a similar looking folder under a pile of papers on the teacher's messy desk.  When they pulled it out, sure enough, it was the girls.  Kurt was a hero!  The teacher was baffled. 

The problem for our hero here was that on this particular day, the teacher was taping herself as part of a reflective self improvement effort.  When she watched the video (which the kids knew about!), there was Kurt, sneakily jamming the folder under the papers.

When Kurt's teacher questioned him the next day on if he knew how that folder got where it did, predictably  he claimed to not know what made water boil.  "Kurt, you do remember that I was taping that day, don't you?"

Kurt's face got as red as his hair.  Like I said, some kids just suck as being bad.