Attitude is Everything
Excerpt from the Inspired Educator, Inspired Learner by Jen Stanchfield.
Learners respond—even subconsciously—to a facilitator’s attitudes, demeanor, and expectations. We often communicate more than we realize with our body language and tone. A positive attitude is contagious. If you truly believe in the methods and activities you are using, participants will most likely buy in and respond to your enthusiasm. Conversely, if you aren’t comfortable with the material you are presenting, participants can sense that as well. People respond to your attitudes toward them. I believe if we expect the best of participants, they will usually perform their best.
Remember to acknowledge and believe in the abilities of the learners in your groups. At times, you may work with difficult groups and be confronted with difficult situations. Be aware of how you respond to the challenging behaviors that arise. If you find yourself focusing only on the negative behaviors, or if you are starting to feel there is “no hope for that kid” or a participant is “pushing your buttons,” then it might be time for some self-reflection. Take a step back and reflect on the positive aspects and achievements that have occurred; recognize the small steps and successes of the individuals and the group. It could be that it is time to get some support and new perspectives from a colleague. If possible, ask a fellow educator or facilitator to co-teach and observe and share his or her insights into the dynamics of the group and some possible new solutions.
During a recent conversation with some teachers about the challenges of working with middle school students, I said, “When I work with that 7th-grade group, I keep thinking of the comedy film What about Bob? (Oz, 1991). In this movie, the main character (played by Bill Murray) was guided by his psychiatrist (Richard Dreyfus) to repeat the mantra ‘baby steps’ as he gets over his phobias. I try to recognize each ‘baby step’ the group members are taking. If I don’t, I could become very discouraged.” One of the teachers responded, “Yes, we have to remind ourselves that we are looking for oak kind of growth rather than expecting mushroom kind of growth.” His comments have stuck with me over the years. I have observed that facilitators/teachers who regularly work with challenging populations are skilled at acknowledging and celebrating the small successes and adept at noticing the small, positive steps forward learners are making. Research on the brain and learning emphasizes the value of repeated practice for actually changing brain functioning over time. Practicing and re-practicing skills over time does lead to an oak tree kind of growth!
All of us occasionally question our effectiveness. Teaching and group work is not easy. It takes a great deal of energy and commitment, as well as a willingness to take on challenging interpersonal situations. Educators who continue to enjoy their work for the long term remain hopeful, keep their perspective of the big picture, and recognize that growth and change arise from the more difficult struggles with lessons. Consistently practicing patience, empathy, and the power of positive thinking reaps great rewards (Stanchfield, 2007).
“The last human freedom is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
Inspired Educator, Inspired Learner: Experiential, Brain-Based Activities and Strategies to Engage, Motivate, Build Community and Create Lasting Lessons
Tips & Tools: The Art of Experiential Group Facilitation by Jennifer Stanchfield. 2007. Wood ‘N Barnes Publishing Bethany, Oklahoma.