Sunday, August 22, 2010

Creating a positive herd

In Switch, Dan and Chip Heath discuss how to convince individuals and organizations to change the ways they operate when the initial inclination is to resist change at all costs.

There's a lot that is interesting in the book--I received my copy as a gift at the NAIS conference in San Francisco last year. Instead of reading it all at once, I've been reading it in quick snippets for months. I'm not totally sure how that happened, in the intervening time I've read a number of other books in the more traditional (start in the front and work your way through to the end, one book at a time) methods.

The upshot of this though, is that I reached the section on the power of the herd just as the school year was beginning at Cannon School. At the end of the first week, I said to our Dean of Students "You know, I haven't seen a single sullen face all week."

Now, I'm sure there were at least a couple of students who weren't quite ready for summer to end. However, the culture at the school is "we're happy to be here with each other." I saw smiles, heard many offers of help from/to students and adults, and witnessed more helping hands than I could count.

Not all the new students wanted to be here. Yet, when I checked in with the new students during the week, the universal observation was "I'm feeling happy to be here, everyone here is so great." It's hard to be sullen when those around you are cheerfully showing you where to put your stuff, helping you navigate the lunch line just because they can tell they haven't seen you before, and translating words to you in whispers during class (we have several international students). In other words, the herd at Cannon gives the message that here, we look out for ways to help each other. There's an ad for a financial or insurance company that implies the same thing-folks in the ad see someone help a stranger struggling with a package, then go on to restore a baby's fallen toy to the stroller, someone else sees that and so on.

I credit the two Deans of Students with creating the kind of "herd" that encourages new students to enter the community with a positive outlook. They are, without a doubt two of the most positive, yet non-Pollyanna educators I've met. They act as a team, make their contributions unselfishly, all of which makes them role models for everyone else in the community (students and faculty).

Earth shattering research? No, we all sort of knew this already, but seeing it in action is powerful. It's going

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