According to organizational leadership expert Ira Chalieff, the best way to view the leadership relationship is through the lens of influencer/follower. This makes sense in the workplace, but could it also work in an education setting? Could teachers be influencers and students followers?
Schools condition students to obey. Expulsion for nonconformity is a very real threat. According to Chalieff “the conditioning begins at an age when children are still utterly dependent on their parents for survival and experience considerable anxiety about the consequences of not obeying. Our institutions play on this anxiety and, wittingly or not, reinforce it until followers often do become the timid creatures we emotionally reject identifying with.” Children need to be taught to attend but do we want children who pay attention because they are curious and excited to learn or do we want children who see the end goal as sitting still and quiet and behaving well?
Much of our early conditioning about leaders takes place in a school setting. Students experience a class where they are held responsible for their behaviour but teachers, administrators, and other adults are not seen being held responsible for theirs. The power of this early sets students up to believe contradicting or questioning a leader is not even an option. How can educators use their leadership to model being a good follower too?
What do Educators Need to Model?
- Self-Awareness in a teacher means both the ability to see yourself accurately as well as to know how your students see you. It also means not assuming you know what it’s like to be a student today.
- Clear and Effective Communication Finding the sweet spot between lecturing and listening allows students to feel as though participants in and not recipients of education.
- Open-Minded Thinking kids today love to think outside the box and the future will need flexible thinkers. Allow students to explore alternate solutions, let them learn from mistakes. Teach them to connect the dots, not just to collect the dots as Seth Godin says in his podcast.
- Lead by Example There is no room for “do what I say, not what I do.” If you want respect, show respect. If you want grit and resilience, show children how you bounce back from failure.
Teaching Pupils to be Courageous Followers
A courageous follower has a clear internal vision while being attracted to a leader who embodies a manifestation of their goals- translation, kids want a teacher who models achieving the things they see as important. It may not be your role as Humanities teacher, but rather your awesome sense of style or the boxing work out you love that is you best way to connect. Note: APA citation or rote memorization are rarely on this list. You are being compared to YouTube millionaires who are 23 years old. You don’t have to have a YouTube Channel or 20,000 Instagram followers but you should learn the language these influencers use- it works for a reason!
When a student steps into the role of courageous follower, they have a small level of autonomy while remaining fully accountable for their actions. They concede certain authority to a leader (like schedule and curriculum) but they feel like partners in learning rather than the subordinate in a dominant/subordinate relationship.
Courageous followership by definition means performing two polar opposite roles somewhat simultaneously: implementer and challenger of the leader’s ideas. Schools have yet to find consistent ways to encourage students to push the boundaries respectfully.
There is also a massive challenge to teens- they want to be part of the “in group” and yet the individuation required to challenge the beliefs of the group and its leadership is what makes for success.
This is where social media influencers connect with students in a way you might want to learn.
- Teens love swag. Give them a little something, it goes a LONG WAY in relationship development.
- Teens hate to be told what they “should” or “should not” do or think. Instead ask them to comment, like or share just like a social media campaign.
- Relate it to their life. My son asked his math teacher why what they were learning in 10th grade was important. The math teacher answered, “It will all come together in 11th grade”. Epic fail, Not only did the teacher not answer my son’s question, he failed to connect math to real life when a kid actually cared.
An influencer is more powerful than and educator. Think back to when you were in school. Most of us can identify 1 or 2 teachers who had a powerful impact on our lives. More often than not, this impact is not at all related to curriculum or content but how that teacher made us feel or what they inspired us to think. They might have illuminated a bias or encouraged perspective-taking. Maybe they listened or dared us to think bigger. Those teachers are the real influencers. In closing, teachers might want to take this lesson from influencer marketing:
“Engagement is the new impressions. It matters as much, if not more, than someone’s reach.”
Engage your students in a way that makes them want to keep showing up. I’d love you to share examples of how you and your school are doing this in the comment section.
“In order to develop normally, a child needs the enduring irrational involvement of one or more adults in care of and in joint activity with that child. In short, somebody has got to be crazy about that kid.” ~Brofenbrenner
Parenting is hard. Kids don’t come with a manual and what works well for one is absolutely wrong for another. It can become even trickier when kids hit school. Educators do have training and experience but not with your child. Here are a few suggestions about how to navigate parenting your school-aged student in a way that best supports their strengths and sets them up for a positive experience.
Take the lead. I suggest a short (no novels please!) email explaining what you think is useful for your child’s teacher to know in order to successfully form a relationship with your child. Mine look something like this:
Welcome to team Maddox! We are excited that Maddox is in your class and wanted you to know a few things about him that might be helpful.
- Maddox is a popular kid who is also a successful athlete, you might not notice that he can be highly sensitive to criticism
- Maddox has a massive sense of justice which can be both a strength and a weakness (as we all know life isn’t always fair)
- praise is the best way to reward Maddox
- Maddox has an autoimmune disease and may be absent when it flares up. He is comfortable speaking with you about this.
- Maddox’s strengths are loyalty, kindness, perseverance, and hard work
Don’t helicopter or snowplow. We’ve all been tempted to solve all the problems for our children before they happen; flying on the edges of their life and swooping in (like a helicopter) to save the day. It’s easy to believe that keeping your child free of stress and adversity means they are having a wonderful childhood. Research has shown this is just not true. When a parent bulldozes (or snowplows) any obstacle that comes toward their child, the child does not learn effort, perseverance, resilience or how to fail.
Remember, context matters. You only know your child at home.You know more about the strengths and challenges historically. For moms and dads sending their child to school for the first time it’s important to remember you know how they behave at home, or maybe in a daycare setting but this isn’t always how they behave at school. My chatterbox, Tygre, was so quiet on her visiting day at our school that the other children all asked me “can she talk?” when I picked her up. Other kids who may challenge more boundaries at home are rule followers in a classroom setting.
You are all on the same team, why not speak the same language. In positive education we use the language of strengths- character strengths. Research has shown that when a community all understands the language of strengths, students flourish. (Lavy, 2018) I highly recommend reading The Strengths Switch- How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish by Lea Waters.
Advocate for your child. Teachers are busy. Not just busy- they have overcrowded classrooms that they resource themselves while delivering curriculum in a way that must compete with iPhones and YouTube in order to stay relevant and engaging. In your child’s career as a student, they will run into a teacher who is a bad match for their learning style. Two simple suggestions that can help your child to thrive when an instructor isn’t a good match:
- Check that your own bias isn’t impacting your child. My first son, Maddox, had a social studies teacher who was a really bad match for his learning style. When his brother Braxton landed in the same class 4 years later, my knee-jerk reaction was to ask for a switch. Instead I zipped my lips, didn’t mention the history to Braxton and let him decide how he felt about this teacher. Turns out, he got along well in her class and was motivated by the exact same style that had been demotivating for his brother.
- Find another teacher on campus who can fill the void. If you drew the short straw for math teachers, find a tutor or education assistant or a sport coach who happens to love math who can model love of math for your child.
*If the match is causing your child to lose sleep, to feel like they aren’t smart or to start avoiding school by faking sickness then it’s time to suggest a change. By change I am not suggesting a change of teacher. Talk to the principal or school counselor and ask for their advice or suggestions. They have a wealth of educational psychology knowledge that can make all the difference! Change your child’s mindset. Change the teacher’s opinion of your child. Change the seating in the classroom. Work together until you find something that changes your child’s experience from negative to positive. (Have an open mind- solutions don’t happen overnight but they do happen!)
To circle back to Brofenbrenner’s quote, ask yourself who at school has noticed the unique and wonderful attributes that others might not see in your child. The answer will point you to your best allies on a path forward that includes finding other role models, mentors, and positive educational experiences that all lead to your child thriving at school. And at the end of the day, that’s all most parents can ask for!
I recently spent a month at Geelong Grammar School. For any positive psychology or positive education junkies out there, you will know that this is the mecca for wellbeing educators.
A little over 10 years ago a team of teachers from GGS flew to UPenn to learn wellbeing from the godfather of positive psychology, Martin Seligman. The problem- the statistics of mental health among students and staff was distressing (and when you are distressed about the levels of distress you might be in a vicious circle that requires flying across an ocean to find an expert to help). Marty and the team returned to GGS where the branch of educational psychology now known commonly as positive education was born.
What’s different about the way Geelong Grammar School does wellbeing lies in their Learn, Live, Teach, Embed model which has been widely researched. When properly implemented the model:
A meta-analysis conducted by Sin and Lyubomirksy (2009) with 4,266 participants found that positive psychology interventions do increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms significantly.
Teaches students and staff tools to thrive
Schools delivering Positive Education found that the students were able to gain a full understanding of what factors helped a life thrive, flourish, as well as teach them some practical skills for everyday use (Green, 2015).
Improves academic outcome & engagement
The emphasis on positive psychology interventions in education increases engagement, creates more curious students, and helps develop and overall love of learning (Fisher, 2015).
Makes teachers’ lives easier
Creating a school culture that is caring, trusting, and it prevents problem behavior and improves job satisfaction while simultaneously reducing teacher stress (Fisher, 2015).
Higher motivation among students
Goals associated positively with optimism resulted in a highly motivated student (Fadlelmula, 2010).
Results from 19 controlled studies of UPENN’s resiliency program found that students were more optimistic, resilient, and hopeful. Their scores on standardized tests increased by 11% and they had less anxiety approaching exams.
But what exactly does embedded positive education look like?
In the classroom
Positive education is taught as a stand alone subject the students call “Pos Ed” where lessons can range from learning about character strengths, growth mindset, gratitude, and mindfulness.
Inside other classes pos ed is used as a tool to open conversations.Imagine if in your freshman english class you could discuss the character strengths of various literary heroes and heroines. “What strengths does Juliet show in the final act?” Or in history a discussion about the second world war, students are asked to ponder if the shadow-side of a strength might have been part of Hitler’s power.
In the staff room
Each year new teachers attend a 3 day Discovering Positive Education course that helps them learn the language and lifestyle of a positive educator.
Returning staff are invited to PosEd 4 U once each term- these 1 hour workshops keep everyone (from maintenance staff to the vice principals) focused on the way they are educating AND the way they model positive psychology to their students. It’s hard to teach students to thrive if the adult role models aren’t also walking the talk!
When prospective students arrive to visit GGS the admissions team use the character wheel as a way to encourage them to discuss their strengths. Often admissions sees transcripts and reads what parents have written but hearing first hand what a student thinks they are good at is a great conversation tool.
In the office
One of the best examples of positive education in action comes from the main office administrator. The GGS has a front office entrance that boasts water views and architectural beauty. The back entrance, the one students walk by on a daily basis has a continual progression of memes, cartoons, inspiring thoughts and daily quotes. This is a fabulous example of creativity inspired by being part of a positive education campus.
In the cafeteria
Greetings are heartfelt when you arrive in the cafeteria. And even while eating there are signs that remind students and staff how to fuel a body optimal
At an outdoor education campus
The Timbertop campus is a unique program at GGS for the first year of high school. In a small, supportive and secure community, students are exposed to intellectual, physical and emotional challenges under demanding environmental conditions. In total, students camp for between 50 and 55 nights during the year. The most important activity, in terms of time and in the minds of the students, is hiking. Alpine National Park is challenging – the terrain is mountainous, with routes often involving ascents and descents of 1,000 metres, sometimes all in one day. When they do get home the students are busy chopping wood to fuel the hot water or helping clean the classrooms. Nowhere is resilience more needed and the campus has more overt reminders of Positive Education that anywhere else.
I am fortunate. If Martin Seligman is the founding father of Positive Psychology, our team at the Institute of Positive Education (based out of the Geelong Grammar School campus) are the first family of Positive Education. I think of myself as the crazy adopted cousin from America and I feel blessed beyond belief to be a part of team spreading a new way of educating, where heart and mind are both prioritized.
*If you want to learn more about bringing Positive Education to your school, please contact me through the form below.
Justin Robinson (IPE Director), Tamara Lechner (Canadian Regional Manager), Ron Lalonde (Middle East Regional Manager), David Bott (IPE Associate Director)
As the mental health of individuals continues to be of growing concern globally, the Institute of Positive Education prioritizes sharing its rigorous, research based programs around the world.
The Institute of Positive Education is internationally acclaimed as a leader in the field, providing positive psychology-based interventions and practices in a school setting. Partnering with the ‘founding father’ of Positive Psychology, Dr Martin Seligman, the Geelong Grammar School team established the field of positive education and created the groundbreaking Learn, Live, Teach, Embed model. Geelong Grammar School first became the world-leader in delivering evidence-based programs, then forming the Institute of Positive Education (2014) and launching International incubators in Canada and the Middle East (2018).
The IPE continues to grow its impact in inspiring and supporting schools to discover and implement Positive Education. In 2018, they delivered 124 training courses comprising 208 training days, which were attended by over 6000 participants. To meet the increasing demand, the Institute team has doubled in size and created designated teams in training, research, and business development. Whilst continuing to deliver a range of open-entry courses and workshops, the IPE is increasingly working directly with individual schools to provide whole-school training and in-depth, long-term consultancy to facilitate customized whole-school Positive Education implementation strategies.
The Institute of Positive Education (IPE) is pleased to announce the launch of our Canadian regional incubator as well as the appointment of wellbeing expert, Tamara Lechner, in the role of regional consultant.
Tamara is a Canadian entrepreneur, educator, writer & speaker whose wellbeing expertise has focused on positive psychology, meditation, and positive habit formation in schools, corporate settings and for individuals. Her deep belief is that happiness happens by choice, not by chance.
Starting in 2019 the Institute of Positive Education will offer an introductory suite of workshops across Canada. Stay tuned for our launch tour and course listings for the year ahead.