I’ve read a lot of tweets recently about teachers’ attitudes. It’s a popular topic, and rightly so. In particular, this question got me thinking:
“If everyone in your school had your attitude, what kind of place would it be?”
What a brilliant question to prompt reflection! Take a minute to think about it. What if everybody was supportive, reflective, collaborative, empathetic, enthusiastic, proactive? On the other hand, what if everybody was lazy, rude, argumentative, selfish, etc.? You get the idea. If you wouldn’t want others to have your attitude, why do you?
I’m a firm believer in the above quote. Attitudes are contagious. I also strongly believe that a person’s attitude will determine (or at least hugely contribute) to their success, more so than any other factor, including intelligence. Attitude is everything! As teachers, we must also keep in mind that we are role models. To some degree, our attitudes will be reflected in our students. What characteristics do we expect from them? Kindness, respect, a growth mindset, integrity, honesty, etc. In the PYP, we also expect the PYP Attitudes and the attributes of the Learner Profile. Really, we have no right to expect any character traits that we don’t demonstrate ourselves.
“What we model is what we get.”
Jimmy Casas, Culturize
In the same book, Casas makes reference to negative teachers who model poor attitudes. These teachers maliciously complain, gossip, blame and generally bring others down. He calls them “awfulizers”. They spread their toxic energy because, sadly, their attitudes are also infectious. If we’re honest, we’re all guilty of these sins from time to time, usually when we’re tired or having a bad day. We’re only human and we make mistakes. We must remind ourselves that these activities achieve nothing and don’t improve any situation. But awfulizers take it a step further. They are ill-intentioned on an ongoing basis. Research by Dr. William Felps found that even one “bad apple” reduces a team’s effectiveness by 30-40% (Taylor, 2012). This is partly due to the way in which they stifle communication, collaboration and cooperation.
Fortunately, if awfulizers exist in your school, I can almost guarantee that they are in the minority. Teaching, on the whole, is a profession that is jam-packed with supportive, energising and positive people. Teachers are generally fantastic at feeding off each other’s energy and spreading positivity.
“We need to make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear.”
Like Couros says, we need to be annoyingly and unapologetically positive. Sadly though, Felps and Mitchell found that negative influences outweigh positive ones and spread more rapidly (Allen, 2007). We need to make a conscious effort not to mimic these behaviours. We need to create a culture in which awfulizers have no place. In the process, we can hopefully save them from whatever experiences have led to their cynicism and demotivation.
To be clear, this does not mean that we have to be happy all of the time. “Negative” feelings such as sadness, anger and frustration are all perfectly natural. Bottling these up is not recommended. Furthermore, we shouldn’t automatically agree on everything or leave ideas unchallenged. In his studies, Felps makes a distinction (as I do) between “bad apples” and outside-the-box thinkers and envelope pushers. But this post isn’t about these people. Rather, it’s about the ill-intentioned minority of teachers who have a negative influence on the students and colleagues around them.
Let’s revisit the initial question. What if everyone in your school had your attitude? Of course, we’re not all the same, but we do influence each other. Make sure that your influence is a positive one and then spread it as loudly as possible.
How do you build and maintain a positive culture in your school? To what extent is this the responsibility of leadership? Have you ever had to deal with an awfulizer? As always, I appreciate your input. Please keep the discussion going in the comments section.
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