Getting to know those you lead / work with / work for

During one of my master’s classes, my professor taught us about Edward de Bono’s work on the Six Thinking Hats. We learned about the fact that different people have different personalities, thinking styles, and perspectives. When you seek feedback from someone, and you know what hat they typically wear, it will help you to understand the type of feedback they are likely to share, and by getting feedback from different perspectives you will be able to examine the problem and possible solutions from a variety of viewpoints. I found a short article on De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats here.

The knowledge from this task has led me to believe that in order to be able to work with someone, lead someone, or even work for someone, it is important to understand where they are coming from, and what they need.

In my classroom as a teacher, this meant building relationships with my students so that I understood how to motivate them, how to pick them up when they were feeling down, or how to support them so that each student could be their best self. Initially I started with anecdotal notes on my students where I’d jot down things I learned about my students as I got to know them better. Over time it advanced to an actual spreadsheet where I could put notes into different columns that represented different categories. Not only did this knowledge about my students help me in the building of relationships, it also allowed me to know who my potential experts might be for a topic we were learning about.

I carried this knowledge into my leadership role. In a previous post (It’s all about Relationships), I wrote about the “Coffee Chats” I held in order to get to know the members of the Fishers Elementary staff. I wanted to know what drove them as a teacher, what they loved about teaching, and most importantly, what goals did they have. Just like with my students, knowing the members of our staff in a meaningful way helps me to be able to better serve and support them.

Recently, my assistant principal suggested that the members of the leadership team at our school should do some work to learn more about our strengths. She suggested that we use the Gallup CliftonStrengths. This assessment helps to identify and rank the order of the 34 CliftonStrengths themes. We then worked with a coach to learn about how the various strengths in these themes interact with one another. After meeting with our coach, I walked away with a better understanding of the strengths, triggers, growth opportunities, and needs for the members of our leadership team. In the long run, this knowledge will help us to be better at project management with the tasks we’re working on.

Then, this week I was listening to a recent episode of the George Couros podcast where he interviewed Laurie McIntosh. The conversation covered some great things, but what stood out to me was when she was talking about the concept of “D.N.A.” which stands for “Dreams, Needs, and Abilities” (you can find a link to the podcast here). Laurie is a kindergarten teacher, and she shared her use of DNA inventories in her classroom. For each student, she asks her kids to tell her their Dreams, Needs, and Abilities. She then posts each student’s picture with their DNA attached. As Laurie says “knowing this information about me will help me connect with you and will positively impact my learning.” While I loved gathering the information in my notes and spreadsheets for my own knowledge, I never thought of making that knowledge public. Not only are other adults able to learn about the DNA of each student in the class, but students are able to learn about each other’s DNA. In retrospect, I wish I had thought of a way to make what I knew about my students more public!

Whatever your role in education, pause for a moment to think about how the knowledge of what makes someone tick might help you better be able to work with, support, or lead that person. It’s powerful stuff! As I write this, it’s got me thinking about what I need to do to better know the people I work for and with. What are their Dreams, Needs, and Abilities? How would that help me be a better leader or colleague? And how can we share this among the whole staff, not just with one another!

As a side note – as I was completing this post today, I ended up on the blog post from Laurie McIntosh where she talks about DNA. As I was reading the post, I saw a picture of a bulletin board in her classroom where she posts the pictures of her students and their DNA. I stopped and looked at it, thinking it was so familiar. Then I realized why – one of the first-grade teachers in my building is already collecting and posting the DNA of her students. I walk past the bulletin board daily, but somehow in listening to the podcast I did not make the connection. I just had to go tell the teacher about it!

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