“If you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Teaching and leading are incredible jobs! The days are long, but the rewards are great (when we have the patience to wait for them!). As educators, we must be staunch defenders of our amazing profession; this vocation that called to us and that keeps us coming back despite the many challenges. Too often, we allow the judgments and criticisms of others, or worse, our own negative self-doubt, to tarnish the work we do. To combat that, I am embracing the idea of presuming positive intentions.
I don’t know a single teacher or counselor or support staff member who gets up in the morning determined to ruin the lives of children.
I don’t know a single administrator who gets up and skips into work, hoping to torture the adults or students with whom he or she works.
I’ve heard many versions of the statements above. By presuming positive intentions, I can “shut out the mental noise of judgment,” as Carolyn McKanders says in this Learning Forward article. I can take time to build relationships with my fellow educators so that when I don’t understand their actions, I can empathize with them instead of criticizing.
When I visit classrooms with fellow administrators, coaches, or teachers, I like to begin any debrief by asking, “What can we celebrate?” So often we are quick to jump to conclusions and make statements that appear judgmental and negative after viewing just a few short minutes of someone’s hard work. When we see a very small window of a much larger landscape, we are wise to remind ourselves and our colleagues to presume positive intentions. Even if we, as visitors don’t know, understand, or agree with what we observed, when we begin with celebrations we come from a positive, strength-based stance.
If we can celebrate our work from within, some of that enthusiasm is bound to sneak out to the public. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to open a newspaper or magazine and read positive, uplifting stories about the incredible work being done in schools all across America?
I encourage you, as educational leaders, to presume positive intentions when working with your staff, your students, and your colleagues. Help make the message positive! Tell OUR story OUR way (instead of the way many non-educator journalists often do).