Positive culture matters. It matters especially in places where we want humans to be lead by purpose, feel inspired, and work hard to learn, thrive, and grow.
What exactly is culture? In any environment, culture is essentially that feeling you get when you walk into a room. You know the one... the feeling that makes you cringe when you witness one person address another in a particularly awful way. Or, the other one that makes you smile within the first 10 seconds. That feeling. It's the culmination of what could be described as the "temperature" of the room―the one well established by expectations, values, ethical decisions, habits, and social behaviors. Culture tells us how people are treated and how we are expected to treat others.
The culture of a work or school environment can be the difference between a space that thrives on success or a space contaminated by conflict and struggle. Humans work better in places where they have a sense of agency and purpose; where they can make an impact and make things better for the group and themselves.
Positive cultures matter.
Listed below are 20 mindful ways to cultivate positive culture. All engage natural reciprocity and can help shift the entirety of an environment to a higher level.
20 Mindful Ways to Cultivate Positive Culture:
A smile is a human social behavior. It increases levels of serotonin in both the giver and the receiver of a smile. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, important for cognitive functions, especially the functions of memory and learning. Smiling is a cross-cultural form of communication that fosters connection, relationships, and naturally causes people to relax. A smile is a simple act of kindness.
Kindness cultivates empathy, decreases stress, boosts the immune system, and reduces negative emotions. Negative and positive emotions are contagious. Kindness is a decision one makes... a sign of grit, strength, and resilience. It's what good humans do.
3. Tone of Voice
In communication, your voice is the most powerful tool. The tone of your voice can foster courage and bravery or eliminate self-worth and authenticity. Use it wisely.
Adults who use harsh tones can cause trauma through shame. “…consider whether you are unwittingly replicating a trauma… yelling at somebody who is already out of control can only lead to further (emotional) dysregulation… we humans respond to harsh voices with fear, anger, or shut down, and playful tones by opening up and relaxing.” - Bessel van der Kolk
Hang on to it hard for yourself and others. Whatever you are trying to get across may not stick the first time around… or the second, or third, or sixth. Teaching, guiding... growing humans requires great patience.
Take time to get to know others. Talking fosters connections and relationships. We are by nature social creatures. Face-to-face interactions are an important part of our mental health and well being.
Touch is the "most natural way that we humans calm down... It helps us feel intact, safe, protected, and in charge." Human touch promotes trust, safety, and security. This important human behavior can occur in the form of a handshake, fist bump, hug, or my favorite… a high five. It is a form of communication that requires literal human contact.
Listening is the key to all effective communication and all positive human relationships. Effective listening develops neurol residence skills, or the ability to adapt successfully in the face of stress and adversity. All it takes is for you to… stop, watch, notice, and not speak.
“People won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” This one is self-explanatory. Students are not numbers, scores, or statistics. We don't have to tell them how we feel about them, they can feel it.
"The brain and the heart both have electromagnetic fields..." The brain's electromagnetic field can be measured a distance of about two inches away from the body. The heart's electromagnetic field can be detected 10 to 15 feet away from the body. "Because the electromagnetic field carries with it an emotional content, we all quite literally effect one another's vibrations―good or otherwise."
Set people up for success. Always. Young humans learn more by our actions than by our words.
Children and adults affected by trauma function with a different nervous system. “(E)very new encounter or event is contaminated by the past…” Take purposeful time to teach, guide, and model. Be the example.
“Shout praise, whisper criticism.” – Jon Gordon. Hold the bar high for all kids and celebrate the good stuff out loud for all to see and hear. Expecting a student’s best gives a student the opportunity to believe in themselves.
It’s okay to apologize when you are in the wrong. We are human, and humans make mistakes. Show your students what it looks like, authentically.
Often, students are told to apologize. Forced apologies are inauthentic. According to Dr. Fredric Neuman, Directory of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plans Hospital, “Forcing the person to pretend to be sorry does no good. It makes that person less likely to feel sorry.”
Be honest with students. Trust happens when we practice honesty.
Trust first. Keep expectations clear, put yourself out there, and show students how to trust by trusting them first. Take purposeful time to reflect and use student feedback to guide the learning. Honoring feedback and using it to make change not only builds trust, but it helps students have ownership of their learning process. Keep your promises―follow through is hands down the most important component for building trust.
“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde. Making decisions congruent with what you value, teaches others to do the same. If you believe kindness is important, be kind to others. Walk the walk, don't just talk the talk.
Give it, model it, and then expect it in return, but don’t expect that it will come quickly. Good things take time to develop.
Give yourself grace first. You are better to others when you are good to yourself. The best way to teach grace is to gift it to yourself first.
We must hold onto hope, all of us. Hope is a dynamic cognitive motivational system. ”Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope… the place of truth-telling… the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be...” Hope, by Victoria Safford
"We are what we believe we are." -C.S. Lewis. If those around you do not yet believe in themselves... believe in them first, until they can begin to believe in themselves.
Learning requires vulnerability. Vulnerability is the center of love, belonging, and joy. Without it, we cannot have courage, empathy, trust, innovation, creativity, accountability, adaptability, hard conversations, feedback, problem-solving, or ethical decision making.
“The greatest casualty of trauma is vulnerability.” – Brené Brown. Environments where shame, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty are allowed, vulnerability cannot and will not exist.
Empathy is the ability to recognize the perspective of another person. Pay attention to what others feel, ask what they are feeling, and make a commitment to understand.
It is most powerful. It is what drive us… it is what should drive us. Whether you do or do not love working with kids (or other humans), it shows. Take time to think about and notice your own impact. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” -Mother Teresa
Positive cultures lead by purpose, inspire humans to learn, thrive, and grow. These environments nurture creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Here, humans are driven to their fullest potential.
When every human experience shapes the brain, environments that practice mindful positive human interactions do more than help us feel good, they change us.
"We don't have to offer some grand gesture to students to make our interactions memorable and meaningful." We can begin with one small positive interaction at a time.
How will you begin cultivating positive culture in your environment?
References & Resources:
The Power of Positive Leadership, by Jon Gordon
Daring Classrooms, by Brené Brown (YouTube): Click here.
Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth, by Aaron Hogan
Culturize, by Jimmy Casas
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
Enlighten Up, by Lynell Burmark & Lou Fournier
Scientific American, How You Feel What Another Body Feels: Click here.
Years ago, I caught sight of boy’s fist flying into the stomach of a much, much smaller boy. Focused on that single hostile action, a mother-bear voice came bursting out of me from somewhere deep inside. My reaction can only be described as an innate response to serious threat. I was in charge, they were my students, and it was my job to keep them safe. In that moment, I was pushed into my brain stem.
If you’re a teacher, you’ve probably heard the term “brain stem” before. It’s often used to describe a child who cannot be reached because he or she is in a state of fight, flight, or on few, but painful occasions, in a state of total shut down. All of it connected to our innate struggle for survival. We are trained to give these students time, give them space, and let them cool off.
What happens when time to cool off is not enough? How do we help students begin to feel safe, learn, and move forward?
Before we can help, we must first understand.
Diving deeper into our favorite blogging activities.
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As I write this, I take a breath and wonder… how did I learn to love writing? I’m certainly not that great of a writer, so how did words become for me significant impactful drivers of language, communication, and passion?
Was it a worksheet? Ummm… no. Simply no.
Worksheets do not grow writers. Authentic, meaningful, purpose driven writing grows writers.
So, how do worksheets fit into this space? Well, they don’t really… not really. At least, not the “drill-and-practice” kind. There are some worksheets that do well to support the process of a writer, and then, there are those that absolutely, unequivocally… do not fit.
Is there really a difference? Yes. One benefits the writer, and the other does not.
In the summer of 2017, I attended the Heart of Texas Writing Project Summer Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. It was at the completion of my 12th year of teaching 4th grade dual language, in College Station, Texas. What happened that summer was simple. I learned to become better at what I already loved. I learned to become a writer, a stronger guide for the learners in my classroom, a leader for my district, and a growing voice in the world of education.
I was not always a teacher.
About two years ago, I began blogging with my students. The experience changed my classroom. It changed the way my students took on learning. It changed the way I took on learning and teaching those kids… you know them… the ones who have and use technology as almost an extension of who they are.
The experience impacted all of us.
Kidblog: Dual language podcast, listen to student and teacher perspectives!
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I keep a quote wall in my classroom. It holds quotes by some of the humans I most respect in the world. On it are the words of Aristotle, Einstein, some Chinese proverbs, along with the words of some of my former students. Hanging above our classroom pet snake, Fluffy, is a quote by one of those former students. It reads: “I’d like to go to Harvard, but I’d rather go to Hogwarts.” It is a sweet reminder that we are all obligated to make our own path to push and learn more.
Last week, one of my former students and I accomplished our first podcast. It was one of the most challenging and extraordinary experiences I have had the pleasure of having.
The experience exhausted me, both physically and mentally. It was amazing to have lived it… all eight plus hours of it. The best part was inviting a former student and author of the Hogwarts before Harvard quote, Josefina, to join me.
Podcasting is only one of many experiences that grew out of our adventures into blogging. What we learned most from blogging was much more valuable. We learned to grow.
Published March 21, 2018 on
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For the past two years, my students and I have been purposely learning how to move about in this world of technology to write, learn, and grow. We learn together, and we blog together. It has been, and still is, a priceless experience for all of us. I have learned much about teaching, guiding, and this world, their world, of technology.
What I discovered is that today’s students do not need us to teach them how, they need us more to show them what is important and why. Most students already know how to take the world they have at their fingertips and find, within seconds, how to do pretty much anything.
Marina Rodriguez (@mrodz308) is a California native, National Writing Project, Heart of Texas Writing Project Teacher Consultant, dual language teacher, and Kidblog Ambassador living and teaching in Texas.