4 Lessons from Mrs. Lynch’s 2nd Grade Classroom
What we can learn from a skilled teacher about workforce management
What did you get for Christmas? I hope a memorable gift like Mrs. Lynch got.
She and her second graders were talking about pets and Mrs. Lynch told a few stories about her family’s now-deceased dog, Chips. Madison asked to see a picture of him. The next day Madison came in with a styrofoam bobble head dog she had found in her closet and drawn on with a black magic marker to look like Chips. “She told me I could keep it on my desk to remind me of Chips everyday”, says Mrs. Lynch, “but I will mostly remember her sweet gesture.”
Why lessons from Mrs. Lynch’s 2nd grade classroom? Because what goes on in her classroom is an excellent example of how to create a culture, build a team, hold people accountable and how to motivate them; the same things you and I talk about in a workshop or coaching session.
Mrs. Lynch is my sister, Jeanine, and when I go home to Des Moines I visit her classroom. I’m totally in awe every time I visit. I smile at how comfortable the children are in their surroundings. I’m thrilled at how happy the children and Mrs. Lynch seem (although they all have their moments, but you knew that.) I marvel at all they’re learning. I have seen so many parallels to business people management in what this talented teacher (and lovely sister) does in her classroom and I want to point them out to you.
Let’s take developing a culture first and the other topics in later blogs.
Build a Culture of Pride
Elementary teachers know how to develop culture big time. They do it by building pride at all levels: school, grade and class. They emphasize that each child contributes to the reputation of the school. They make it cool to be a second grader (but cooler to be a third grader.) Mrs. Lynch makes them feel very special to be in her class. Principal, teacher and staff, every person interacting with a child expresses clearly and often what’s expected of the child to live up to being a member of the group. Walk down the halls of a grade school and you’ll see it. It’s fun.
Now you may say, sure, it’s easy with elementary kids.
But I see many of you who do it very well.
Some of you don’t feel it’s necessary. They’re adults, you say. They should be internally driven. But it is part of your job as a manager.
You may feel you’re not a cheerleader. Ah, but you are.
You may feel you’re tired of saying the same things all the time. Spend a few minutes to organize. Like a marketing plan, draft a schedule of activities over a time span, list some activities and focus on one a month. That will give you some variety and also make sure you don’t get boring for your employees. Tell stories that warm hearts. Share stories. In Mrs. Lynch’s classes she tells stories about Chips and she hears stories about pets. Don’t be the manager who either never shares anything or the manager about whom employees know everything but they don’t feel he or she knows them. I’ve seen them both.
Good managers are good communicators and you need to do more culture building I’m sure. (Everyone does.) As a business coach one of things I do is pay attention to what you do right and encourage you to do more of it even if you’re tired of doing it or don’t think it’s “who you are!” So, do more of it!
One way to build pride it is to ask your people what they like about their jobs. You will be pleased. I ask that question as part of the pre-work for a Leadership Seminar and managers usually have big smiles on their faces when they hear the responses.
Here’s how I do it. I ask participants ahead of time to write three things they love about their job and one dissatisfier. They tell the group the three satisfiers at the beginning of the session. Their answers almost always come from the heart.
The key to making the exercise successful is to ask them to write their answers and have them do it ahead of time. They’ll be much more thoughtful. Ask for only one dissatisfier and require that they offer a solution to it. Take up the “dissatisfier” with each person alone or discuss the issues in the group without giving names. Believe me, if one person mentions an issue, others probably have thought the same.
Use what you hear. Bring up what Marsha said she loved about her job at another time. It’s a tremendous thank you when people remember what you said and when your boss remembers, it means a lot. Keep at it to generate more pride, more sense of belonging, and a feeling of being in the right place.
Speak of Values and Goals Often
How else does Mrs. Lynch create a positive culture in her classroom? She reminds her students every day of their job: to learn skills and knowledge and also to learn to work with others and how to be a good friend. She tells them that it won’t always be laugh and giggle fun at school, but school should always be fun. Right there you have some values and goals you can use!
She sets the culture. She verbalizes the culture. You set the culture. You verbalize the culture. A good manager is a good communicator. And oh, what a rich culture you can create by getting your words together and using them. Do more of it!