The number one job is taking care of each other

What if that were the mantra for a school?

What if kids were able to go through a day thinking that it was as important for them to help others as it was to learn some skill or connect with their friends?

How would your teaching or learning improve if you know that it was critically important to everyone else that you were taken care of?

What if the teachers and administrators viewed mistakes by others as an opportunity to energize and connect rather than fix or control?

Talk about a growth mindset. If we could set that example as teachers, I can only imagine what that would do for our students.

In Daniel Coyle’s book Culture Code, Danny Meyer, the owner of some of the most successful restaurants in the world, talks about what he has learned over time and what has made his restaurants so successful. Coyle asks Meyer what he was watching for after a waiter dropped a tray of glasses.

“I’m watching for what happens right afterward, and I’m looking for their energy to go up. They connect to clean up the problem, and the energy level goes up or down, and if we’re doing the job right, their energy level will go up.

They are creating uplifting energy that has nothing to do with the task and everything to do with each other and what comes next…the number one job is to take care of each other.”

When mistakes happen, energy should go up. It is counterintuitive, completely opposite of what typically occurs. Left to our own devices, our mistakes lead to anger, frustration, disappointment, anything but positive energy. It would, and sometimes, does take the efforts of others to spin our negatives around.

One of my favorite parts about learning – reading, listening to a podcast, watching a TED talk – is that I end up finding a remarkably similar situation in my life.

This last week, one of our teachers was incredibly disappointed in her lesson, feeling like it failed miserably. I had actually arrived in the room shortly after the ‘failure’ and only saw the adjustment and the lesson get back on track. I honestly wouldn’t have known anything had gone wrong except for her reaction at the end of the period and our meeting later that day. During that meeting we talked through it all: where it went ‘wrong’, her reaction, and the class’s response. While she felt like her reaction was full of frustration and demonstrated a lack of control, I saw it as the complete opposite.

Any teacher’s goal in the middle of a lesson ‘gone wrong’ is to get it back on track. While we might have a picture in our mind of how that turnaround should happen, we should also know that Plan A or Plan B might not work, and we have to come up with Plan C on the spot. That’s exactly what happened and Plan C got the lesson back on track. Our conversation ended with us both learning from our mistakes.

As usual, there are positives and negatives in this situation, but it points to the way in which energy can be gained from a mistake. Unfortunately, the lesson went off track. Fortunately, the teacher found a Plan C that worked, students got back to their lesson, and the teacher learned a new strategy for the future. Unfortunately, I missed cues that would have helped me take care of this teacher earlier in the day. Fortunately, I feel confident moving forward knowing where to look and how to turn a mistake into positive energy.

Obviously this is much easier said, or written, then done. The number of books coming out right now like Culture Code, but specific to education and school leadership points to the importance of developing a positive culture in schools. The book goes on to talk about how one might make this happen, and I will definitely need to spend more time with those ideas, particularly over the summer to figure out how we might work toward this goal.

The idea standing out most however is clarity. Without prioritizing the goal of taking care of each other, it will fall to the side. Coyle shares the statistic that CEOs predicted 64% of their employees would know their company’s priorities; in reality only 2% did. Not only should our teachers know what our top priorities are, but so should our students. Clarifying the goal and clarifying the way we communicate that goal is essential.



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