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I was reading Bernie Schein’s  If Holden Caulfield were in my Classroom when I came across the phrase “…there is no substitute for a cast of contagious teachers.” I immediately thought…what a great description for creative, effective middle level team teachers!

Contagious in their…

  • Love of and belief in the young adolescent
  • Belief that learning should be engaging, challenging, and fun
  • Excitement for the subjects/topics they teach
  • Conviction that all students can achieve at high levels
  • Desire to model life-long learning
  • Certainty that with their students they can build a team culture that is welcoming and inclusive

There is research that supports the concept of contagious emotions.  One definition I found is “a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes.” This quote is attributed to  Sigal G. Barsade, a professor at the Wharton School of Business. In a recent article in US News and World Report,  Justin Ewers writes that “Two business professors, Sigal Barsade of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Donald Gibson of Fairfield University, found in a recent study that employee moods have a measurable effect on just about everything anyone does at work-job performance, decision making, creativity, turnover, teamwork, and leadership.”

Another study done at Harvard found “Happiness really is contagious, according to a new study released by Harvard Medical School. Happiness can spread through social networks like social contagion. One happy person can trigger a chain reaction that benefits friends, friends’ friends and friends’ friends’ friends.

Obviously, then, the team’s teachers’ attitudes, actions, words, and body language are going to have a huge impact on the team’s culture.  The next question might be…what can a team do to nurture a contagious positive environment for both their students and themselves?  Some things to consider:

1. Be crystal clear about your purpose as a team.You need to know what your contagion is!

  • Why will your students be better off for spending a year with all of you?
  • How is your whole (team experience) more than the sum of your parts (individual classes)?  (Aristole’s thought, not mine.)
  • How will you create synergy–“… may be defined as two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable.” (Wikipedia)

2. Develop rituals that focus on the positive.

  • Weekly meetings with the entire team to build community and spotlight accomplishments (Avoid team meetings to chastise everyone —praise in public, discipline in private.)
  • Team teachers eat lunch together once a week to chat and laugh
  • Celebrate birthdays
  • End of the quarter celebrations of learning

3.  Set a team goal that everyone believes in–goals might focus on any one of a variety of things:

  • Add more interactive lessons
  • Increase technology integration
  • Improve advisory
  • Review lessons together to ensure higher level thinking skills are embedded

4. Help students assist others by adding service learning component–check out…

5. Ask yourselves before every lesson–would I want to study this topic in this fashion or read this text?  If the answer is no… find an engaging alternative! Don’t settle for mediocre curriculum and materials.

Sometimes it is hard to stay contagiously upbeat. Throughout the year go to Ted Talks or search RSAnimate on YouTube  and view one of their  videos.  The ideas will pump you up and send you back to the classroom  with a positive, can-do attitude.  Some of my favorites are below:

RSAnimate on Daniel Pink’s book Drive (motivation)

RSAnimate in Changing Education Paradigms

Sir Ken Robinson & Creativity

After School Writing Program

Tinkering School

Child Driven School

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