Building and Protecting Joy in School Climate

As we start the new school year, many of us are thinking through ways to make our jobs a little better than they were last year.  Few would choose to work in a depressing environment, yet in times of teacher walkouts, over-testing, and resentment over “top-down initiatives,” it isn’t unusual for educators to find themselves struggling to maintain a sense of joy.  There are many proactive things we can do to build a more pleasant place to work.

  • Go ahead and vent.  Sometimes we need to do that to process our emotions.  But choose who to vent on, and when to vent, carefully.  We don’t want to drain the life out of others.  Choose someone who might be able to see a silver lining we have overlooked and, ideally, maintain an attitude of curiosity.
  • Keep informed.  At least read the headlines of education news. I like ASCD, Smartbrief, and Education Weekly and have an uplifting personal learning network on Twitter.  I am always amused to see the “new” top-down initiatives arrive in my district a year after I read about them.  I know what’s coming and why.  I’ve already figured out how I will adjust if I haven’t already.  I’m proud of my leaders who understand research and are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to move us forward.
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt.  It’s easy assume we know a simple solution when, in reality, we don’t know what we don’t know.  Ask questions when a decision doesn’t make sense.  A good leader (or anyone else) should appreciate an opportunity to answer those questions rather than being the target of resentment victimized through parking lot accusations.
  • Stay off drama triangles.
  • Don’t expect everyone to agree with you or you will be disappointed by every exception.  The word “tolerance” sometimes gets confused with an expectation that everyone abandon their core values to go along. It takes humility and sometimes determination to empathize with those who march to a different drummer.
  • While it is important to tolerate conflicting perspectives, we need to stand up to bullies.  It makes sense why leaders sometimes kowtow to squeaky wheels.  One only needs to look at Common Core math to see how a few loud and determined people can influence perceptions by the masses. The squeakers don’t have to be right to drum up bad press.  We can help protect our leaders by being informed well enough to oil the squeaks before they get out of control.  Whether it’s bad-mouthing in the lunch room or negative posts on social media, there are opportunities to influence the overall climate by infusing hope, good will, perspective, and positivity.
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice.  That’s not a trite Bible verse.  It goes along well with, A sound heart is the life of the flesh, but envy is the rotteness of the bones. If we compare and compete, we’re likely to find ourselves resenting others who challenge us instead of growing along with them.

Maybe we can’t turn our hallways into mirrors of paradise, but we can certainly make a difference.  As we reflect on our new conversations, we can view each positive statement as a reason to celebrate.  And celebrating can become contagious.




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