When my daughter Ahna was in first grade, she secretly stuck a note in my purse that read
I hope you have an extcnt day Mom. Spis!
(Translation: I hope you have an excellent day, Mom. Surprise!)
Ahna’s blossom of kindness was in stark contrast to my inbox with an email that began, “I thought you’d want to know what my whole class didn’t like about the lesson you wrote up.” Sigh.
In the spirit of paying it forward, I pulled out my collection of thank-you cards, selected one with a monkey holding bananas that reads, “Thanks a bunch,” and composed a note of gratitude to a teacher who had collaborated with me on the aforementioned lesson write-up. Inside the envelope, I placed two organic dark chocolate squares and wrote, “One treat for you, one treat for someone sweet. Pass it on.”
My bottom left-hand drawer has several bags of dark chocolate squares for the purpose of making a chocolate connection. Not a day goes by that I can’t genuinely thank a fellow coach, teacher, or administrator. I just need to stop and do it.
Make It Personal
I learned that not everyone is a “words of affirmation” and chocolate fan when I read the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. In simple summary, the book reminded me that everyone likes to receive in different ways. Five ways, in fact: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. My primary love language is Quality Time—when I have someone’s undivided attention, it meets my needs in a powerful way.
I have two secondary love languages. The first is Acts of Service. When my children clean up just so we have a more comfortable space or my husband makes dinner on a Friday because he knows I’ve had a long week, these say “I care about you” in my language. Then there are Words of Affirmation. My editor sends personal handwritten notes that I treasure—and they keep me writing.
Love languages in the workplace require some minor revisions. For example, even though Physical Touch might be someone’s love language, there is less of an opportunity to explore that professionally, leaving us with four:
Words of Affirmation—Written or spoken? There is a difference. Some people love to have their work publicly acknowledged, whereas others (like me) appreciate a thoughtful handwritten note.
Quality Time—Personal or professional? Some educators appreciate the time to talk about their lives outside of school, whereas others really want to focus on work.
Receiving Gifts—What kind? What do people get energy from? One office professional I worked with loved cinnamon, another treasured fruit juices, still another valued great books. Knowing the difference makes a difference.
Acts of Service—One day many years ago, my principal brought me a cup of steaming hot tea while I was teaching. I’ve never forgotten that. Good Earth tea, as a matter of fact. Another colleague wrote sub plans for me so I could be a labor coach for my friend who was giving birth (the day before spring break). That sticks with me, and I think of it whenever I see her.
Any leadership position in education requires communication with many different people. Some of those people have impeccable communication skills, and even if they disagree with you, they will do it respectfully and work toward outcomes that meet both parties’ needs. Other educators write emails when they are angry, and push Send before they think it through. I’ve received a few of those.
One day a few years ago I received three of them. I decided that not only was I not going to answer those emails until the next day, but I was going to turn the energy around. Three random educators would receive a note of appreciation from me.
I closed my eyes to think of what I was grateful for that day and wrote a note to a teacher I’d passed in the hall who was holding a little girl who had forgotten her lunch. “Thank you,” I wrote, “for touching my day with your kindness toward your lunchless student.”
I wrote another to the PE teacher who had clapped a sixth-grade student on the back and said, “Nice job, man. That’s the first time you’ve ever scored. That’s awesome. You are improving.”
And I wrote the third to a new teacher in the district: “I was thinking of you and I’m so glad you were hired. I appreciate your energy and enthusiasm.” I left that day with my heart and mind in a hopeful place.
Over time, that’s become part of my practice. I take a challenging interaction, a critical email, or even someone rolling their eyes in a meeting, and I turn it around. I send it off in a positive way. “When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears” is a quote from Anthony Robbins that describes my experience. Every person in general, and teachers in particular, benefit from an attitude of gratitude.
Thank you, Ahna, for the reminder. I will have an extcnt day.