Assuming Positive Intent

You did it!  You made it through the first week of remote learning and survived!  I couldn’t be more impressed with the sheer persistence, determination, and patience of our staff as a whole.  Through technical issues, confused students (and parents), and tremendous amounts of trepidation about this new format for learning, we made it through!  Overall we’ve received praise and celebrations from our community.  I spoke to one person who has been working with three students at home who said, “We’re just so thankful, I can’t even imagine how much work this is for the teachers!”  So for all the squeaky wheels that you heard from last week, please know that there are a lot more people who are thankful and supportive of all that you’re doing to help our students be successful!!

Remember a couple weeks ago when I asked you to share your advice for your first-year teacher-self?  A lot of you said things like, “One day at a time”, “Don’t give up, you’ve got this”, and “It’s okay not to know”.  All of those bits of advice are perhaps even more crucial as we continue into the second week of the school year, have a look back if you need some inspiration.  As the initial adrenaline rush starts to wane and we begin to settle into a new routine, I wanted to share my advice that I would give myself as a first year teacher…I realized that I asked you to share but I didn’t share mine 🙂

The advice I would offer myself is something I learned well into my career and it’s something that I fall back on constantly, both in my professional life and outside of school.  “Assume positive intent”, was the advice given to me by my mentor when I first became an administrator.  When he first told me this I was skeptical, which is why he taught me this lesson in the first place!  See, I was so “good” at looking at everything “critically” that I became skeptical about everyone and everything.

I started off this school year by asking you to think positively.  One of the best strategies I know for helping to do that is to assume positive intent.  I find that when I approach a difficult situation or conversation by remembering that the other side is just as well intentioned as I am, I have more patience and am better able to empathize with their perspective. On the other hand, if I forget to assume positive intent, then I have a hard time listening critically and I often get too upset to have a calm conversation.  By assuming positive intent, I know that I am going into a conversation with an open mind and an open heart.  Being willing to give the other side the benefit of the doubt allows me to better understand their perspective and, eventually, reach a common understanding about how we can move forward together. 

I had to remember to assume positive intent a lot last week.  Every time I got an email or phone call from an angry parent it would’ve been very easy to get defensive, be angry that they’re not appreciating all the hard work we’re putting in, or just write them off as a constant complainer.  However, doing that wouldn’t have been fair to that parent.  Every complaint is rooted in that parent’s desire to see what they believe to be the best for their child.  They are advocating for their child, wanting the best for them.  It’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, these parents want what is best for their children!! (Note: Just because they have positive intentions for their child doesn’t mean they are right about the methods or arguments they’re making…but remembering that they are advocating for their child usually helps me stay calm!)

By assuming positive intent in any conversation, you are giving the other side the respect that you want them to be giving you.  There are, of course, people who don’t always have positive intentions but those occasions are so rare that we have to realize they are the exception rather than the rule.  By starting with a default of “positive intent” we will get a lot further in our conversations as well as our mental health!  

Whether it is a conversation with a parent, a colleague, or a stranger, assume positive intent and you’ll be off to a good start.  

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