From the desk of Dr. Soumakian

Dr. Soumakian
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© Tiffany israel/OUHSD
Dr. Gabe Soumakian
Positive and Negative Leadership Language on a Winning Team

The Blueprint for Greatness is the Board/District Priorities that function as a road map to support student achievement and address the sanctions of Program Improvement. As Professionals and Educators we support our District’s mission to prepare students for their career or college that guides them to become a productive citizen in our community. The District’s motto of Student First, Every day, Every school, Every classroom provides a laser focus for what matters most and for how adults can dramatically influence the lives of students. As Professionals, we must believe that all students not only can learn but want to learn no matter their circumstances. This fundamental belief and core value determines whether we choose to be a great district or whether we choose mediocrity. The Promise to Learn and Be Proficient, the Network of Support for Students and Staff, and the Distributed Leadership and Courage to Lead, are three essential elements that drive our District Priorities to achieve Greatness.

The District is at a critical point where we must exit Program Improvement status or face sanctions by initially moving to “safe harbor” status; a distinction that a school has successfully met its targets two years in a row. We must create this sense of urgency as Principals begin to implement Dennis Parker’s Strategic Schooling through the vessel of a Professional Learning Community. Dennis made it clear that if we want students to show what they know and be able to do well on the CST test, we must align the taught curriculum with the blueprint standards, check weekly to monitor that they are taught, and a laser focus on critical standards that are being assessed on the CST. This fundamental strategy has proven to get schools results who have implemented Strategic Schooling. What else matters, well Dennis believes that it is important to get kids to like you. If you get kids to like you, then they will do anything for you. I would say the same applies for administrators, building relationships with kids and with colleagues just makes it easier to build trust and work just seems to flow easier. So how do we do this, well it starts with positive language and by building and distributing the leadership all the way to the student level.

In a recent leadership seminar, an essential question was asked, “How do leaders build resilience in themselves and their organization to thrive in challenging times?” The answer is, keeping a positive can do attitude, as Martin Seligman, author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, shares how positive and negative language impacts organizational success. He identifies specific behaviors and actions that affect well-being, such as an adult’s use of language. Seligman identifies five elements of the Well-Being theory: Positive Emotion, Engagement (with students and adults), Meaning (for students and their work), Positive Relationships, and Accomplishments.

Seligman cites research and a study conducted in over sixty organizations which transcribes every word in a meeting or interaction amongst workers to code each sentence for positive or negative words, then the researcher took the ratio of positive and negative statements. They discovered that organizations with 2.9 to 1 ratio for positive to negative statements flourish and those below the ratio are not performing and in-fact may be considered dysfunctional teams. That ratio implies that there are more positive than negative statements, and constructive comments may be seen as positive depending on how the recipient receives the message. This ratio is known as the “Losada Ratio,” named after the Brazilian Marcel Losada who discovered this theory.

Seligman also cited another study conducted twenty years ago where quotes from players and coaches from two NBA teams were transcribed from press clippings to determine how they responded in the following game after a defeat. The study took positive quotes and negative quotes from coaches and players of these two teams and ranked, on a scale from 1 to 10, as either positive or negative comments in terms of their response to a recent defeat. The results of the study indicated that the players and coaches from the team who made positive comments created a sense of optimism resulted in resiliency as a method of building assets. The team who used positive quotes won more games after a defeat which demonstrated players drawing a connection with happiness and the powerful role a leader makes by selecting positivity and nurturing the well-being of those on their team.

The element of Distribute Leadership in our Blueprint for Greatness emphasizes that leadership in a flat organization empowers staff to have a voice with the responsibility of impacting every student in every classroom. Students listen to adult language and closely watch adult behavior as we give them permission to emulate what we do as adults. If we as adults choose to believe in students by using positive language and behavior, then students will mirror the messages and be successful. If we as adults choose to use negative language and negative behavior around adults, students or athletes, then don’t be surprised if they mirror our behavior by responding in a negative manner which may lead to academic failure or losing on a team. As educators and professionals, we can choose to espouse Stephen Covey’s Habit of Being Proactiveand the power to choose the use of positive language around students and adults. They just may surprise us and exceed our expectation by learning and even becoming proficient.

Have a great week and let’s continue to support our students and support one another! I encourage you to download the new flyer for the Blueprint for Greatness. – (en Español)

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