Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

Balanced, and Fair

One time I was kept waiting by a movie manager I asked to see. I waited five minutes, then ten. Frankly it was frustrating. Every couple of minutes I wanted to just leave, but I hung in. After all, I had something I needed to say. Finally, the manager appeared. I was glad, too, because the conversation with the manager allowed me to practice what I preach.

What I believe is simply this: when you have got a complaint, air it. Air it respectfully (sometimes a struggle), air it directly, and of course, air it tactfully. That's my philosophy, but that is not all of my philosophy.

I also believe that if you're willing to register a complaint when warranted you ought also be at least as willing to register a compliment when one of those is warranted. Most people don't.

It's not that people don't compliment or are not thankful; my experience is that most folks are. However sometimes we are more parsimonious about our time when it comes to complimenting vs complaining. When an impediment arises, like waiting a few minutes, well..frankly, who has time?

At the movies, in fact, I was waiting to tell the manager how one of his employees went well out of her way to help me resolve what might have been a costly mistake. I was grateful, and wanted to be thankful as well, but more importantly (can't shake the teacher in me) I wanted to make sure that the extra effort was rewarded with a bit of extra effort as well. What better way is there to promote positive behavior than to reward positive behavior with positive behavior.

I think about this especially when I am observing classes and see a teacher being parsimonious with even truly earned compliments and praise. But it is also clear how this is played out in the way education professionals communicate with home. The ratio of complaint calls home about students outnumber positive calls somewhere around 10 - 1.  Why? The answer is actually frighteningly simple: complaints really serve us directly. Compliments, though they serve us also, serve us indirectly.

When you call home to complain that little Billysuebobbyjo is misbehaving, disrupting the class, essentially we are making the call for us. What we're doing is asking for help to limit such disruption, and there is not a thing wrong with that. Parent must be partners in their children's success however the willingness to call Billysuebobbyjo's mom when she or he has had an amazing day? Well, somehow, when it comes to extolling the virtues of that same child for a job well done, we just can't find the time, and that is a problem.

There is little doubt that being enraged and needing satisfaction,  or the desire to ask for help, is a great motivator for getting us to find time to get done what we need to get done. But in my world, if you are willing to do the former, you damned well better be willing to give the same level of commitment when it comes to doing for others.

An education professional, really anyone serious about building collaboration, communication and partnerships, will find this simple action a very good place to begin.