Has complaining and negativity become a habit for staff at your school? There is no doubt that working in schools can be demanding. However, complaining and negativity are a kind of cancer in an organisation. It grows hidden beneath the surface, sometimes slow, sometimes fast but either way, if not caught, it eventually spreads to the point where it can and will destroy the organisation.
Wherever there is a communication void within a school, negativity will fill it. Communication voids between school leaders and their staff are especially vulnerable. However, communication voids between different teams and team members are also susceptible. Within these communication voids, negativity starts to breed and grow and eventually, like a cancer it will spread if it isn’t addressed.
In schools a communication void is often quickly filled with paranoia. Everyone thinks that everybody else gets a better deal than they do. Other teachers have smaller class sizes, they get more teacher aide support, others have less students with challenging behaviours and they even get to do their playground duty in the shade in summer, when I have to do my playground duty in the sun on stinking hot days!!!!
It’s vital that leaders do everything we can to prevent these communication voids from occurring and when they do occur, we must quickly fill them with positive communication and positive energy.
It’s vital as leaders, we focus on a positive culture rather than an overemphasis on outcomes. Consider the analogy of the root and fruit of a tree. If we focus too much on the fruit (eg outcomes, results, NAPLAN etc), at the expense of ignoring the root (our people, culture and teamwork), eventually the root dries up, just like the fruit. A toxic culture will not lead to good results.
I’m not saying we should not measure our success. Of course we have to look at numbers, data and results. It shouldn’t be our focus because people deliver the numbers. It is vital that our people should be our focus. If we focus on our people, they will deliver the numbers we want.
It is essential that leaders create a healthy, positive environment where success grows. It’s much harder for negativity to survive in such an environment. Although the results matter, our focus always needs to be on relationships and people. Creating a positive culture doesn’t happen by osmosis. It happens by relentlessly focusing on our culture and weeding out negativity. The best way to deal with negativity is to create a positive culture where negativity can’t grow and survive. Otherwise you’ll spend all your time fighting negativity rather than cultivating a positive culture.
It’s essential that positive energy flows from the top down in schools. “A fish rots from the head!” We must relentlessly make our culture and people a priority at all levels. One person can’t make a team that one person can break a team.
Staying positive is not about putting on a fake smile, it’s about being optimistic and living with hope. The measure of our success will not be determined by how we act during the great times in our life but rather by how we think and respond to the challenges of our most difficult moments.
Trust must permeate the school. The number one thing staff, parents and students want to know is “can I trust you and do you care about me?” In building trust it’s important that we say what we are going to do and do what we say. Clear consistent communication is essential in building positive energy and culture. It is essential that we fill any void with positive communication.
We can’t just allow this to happen by chance. We must ingrain this into our daily process. As leaders, we need to do a great job of listening to our people and empowering them to create solutions. One of the keys is the power of positive interactions and this starts with praising.
Try implementing “The No Complaining Rule”. Under the rule, staff are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their colleagues. If they have a probable complaint about their job, their school, their students, the parents or anything else, they should have the courage to bring the issue to their line manager or someone who is in a position to address the complaint. However, the staff member must be expected to share one or two possible solutions to their complaint as well.
You should never complain to someone who is not able to help with the solution. Habitual complaining serves no purpose and only sabotages morale and performance. It cultivates negativity and adversely affects both the complainer and the person being complained to.
Try starting with a No Complaining Day – it’s like a complaining fast. It starts by monitoring your thoughts and words and realising how negative you really are. You might be surprised!
The intent is to eliminate the kind of habitual mindless complaining that doesn’t serve a purpose and allow complaining that is justified and worthwhile. The difference is justified complaining is about things you CAN control and you identify one or two potential solutions. By thinking of possible solutions to our complaints we become problem solvers rather than problem sharers.
It’s important to be able to let go of the past. To stop being disappointed about where you are and start being optimistic about where you are going. Focus on the future. Ultimately we have a choice, to be positive and free or be imprisoned by our own negativity. To live in the past would be hopeful about the future. It’s a choice. And only you can make it.
It can be helpful to think about moving beyond thinking about yourself. Instead of focusing on your own problems, focus on helping others with theirs.
In coming weeks Happy School members will receive two articles about The No Complaining Rule and How to Implement the No Complaining Rule.
Read more on implementing “The No Complaining Rule” by reading Jon Gordon’s book “The No Complaining Rule – Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work”