"I think my teacher hates me", the student said as he slid into the chair from across my desk and flopped the pass I had written for him onto my desk. "Why do you think that?", I asked him. "When I do good on quizzes she tells me I did a good job and it makes me feel very proud and good about myself. But, sometimes, even when I do good, she gives me a look that makes me feel like I did not do well." I am guessing that he had recently gotten that look prior to our discussion.
In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek spends Chapter 6 building the case that human beings are meant to work together, that when we work together we accomplish great things-greater than we would on our own, and that the chemicals Endorphin, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin work together to provide us a chemical incentive to work together. Specifically he labels Serotonin and Oxytocin as the Social Drugs. "Serotonin is the feeling of pride. It is the feeling we get when we perceive that others like or respect us. It makes us feel strong and confident." (Leaders Eat Last, pg. 47)
While Serotonin creates feelings of pride in us for a job well done, like when we do well on a test, Oxytocin "is the feeling of friendship, love, or deep trust. It is the feeling we get when we're in the company of our closest friends or trusted colleagues. It is the feeling we get when we do something nice for someone or someone does something nice for us. It is responsible for all the warm fuzzies....Without Oxytocin we wouldn't be able to build strong bonds of trust and friendship." (Leaders Eat Last, pg. 49)
Oxytocin is the social lubricant that not only helps us develop trust and friendship, but also pushes us to do things that will help cement those trusting relationships. It is why the words of a teacher, or peer, have such power to both build us up, as well as unfortunately destroy us. Sinek's favorite definition of love is "giving someone the power to destroy us and trusting they won't use it." Sometimes, unfortunately, without meaning we create the opposite emotion from what we want.
The Power of a Positive Act. These are notes that we have created at Plymouth High School and the Weidner School of Inquiry @PHS that we have given staff members and students access to so that they can share positive thoughts with each other. Each month we hold a class meeting for each grade level in which we recognize a student as student of the month. In order to be nominated for this honor, the student must be recognized by a teacher for making a positive contribution to the school. When they are nominated they receive a certificate recognizing this nomination via email. Also at that meeting, teachers write and read positive notes that they then give to the students. Finally, we recognize a teacher of the month, but even those teachers who do not win are winners. The students write comments on why they believe the teacher they are voting for should be teacher of the month and those are then emailed to the teacher once we announce who has won.
All in all it has been an interesting journey as we work to create a more positive school environment, and put our natural chemistry to better use. Each month we send out certificates, recognize students publicly, and crown a few prize winners, but the real winners of this exercise are not merely the students who are recognized publicly, or even those staff members who win. The true winning comes in the lasting power of those notes. The ability to read them, reflect on those moment, and find the strength to carry on in midst of the daily grind.
How do I know, every time I look in the back corner of my office, and see the collage of positive notes I have received over my career, and the hard parts of the day get a little easier, I am convinced again of the power of recognizing the good acts and achievements we see in others.
Things I Learned from Students this Week:
- We should all love one another
- We shouldn't judge each other
Things I Learned While Visiting Classes this Week:
- Papules and postules are the medical names for zits.
- Glands that produce sebum oil (cause of acne) are located in the dermis
- The symbol for again in Chinese started as a drawing of a fish, which they would have for lunch and then AGAIN for dinner.
Things I Learned from my Reading:
- Wired tells the story of how trillions of clocks in our body keep time and the fascinating research around how they may be linked to cancer.
- Also in Wired, you can learn how Jon Hauser makes $50 per hour playing arcade games.
- In Fast Company I learned about the Trinity wind turbine. Which you can fold up and take in your backpack with you.
- Lifehack highlighted 3 things that about school that Elon Musk would like students to copy.
- The New York Times tells how the Lighting Science Group is making light bulbs that can help babies sleep better and teenagers pay better attention in class.
- Finally, in the sad but true department, The Chicago Tribune writes about a group of parents who are on a hunger strike to get better schools for their children.