At the beginning of each school year, I would receive a massive stack of folders on my desk. The folders came with yellow, white and pink papers or better known as student records.
Every fall, I was expected to read former teachers’ notes, recommendations, and test scores for all of my incoming students. However, along with these records came labels.
The teachers before me labeled my students. There was nothing unusual about this fact, as it was part of our teaching routine. The teachers didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.
My new students were trailing with various notes home, phone calls to parents, disciplinary actions, grades, and learning needs.
However, that’s when I realized that these were their former relationships, not mine.
My first year teaching was overwhelming. I was told to read through all of the student records carefully to assure I knew each student well, what to expect, and how to best meet all learning needs.
I read each document carefully. I envisioned each student before they ever walked through my classroom door.
As a young teacher, I followed the rules. I envisioned every student before I met him or her. And, I was wrong.
I set up my classroom through the eyes of four former teachers, and not with my own eyes. Teaching from another educator’s point of view did not lead to a successful school year.
I knew I would have to use my lens and recognize the unique perspective and background each student brought into my classroom-this was key to becoming a better teacher.
I chose to re-evaluate my strategy the following school year.
My second year, I skimmed through the stack folders checking for concerning conditions (health or mental concerns) only. I didn’t read through previous teacher comments. I didn’t look at grades, test scores or phone calls home.
I wanted to meet my students for what they brought, and for who they would become in my classroom, including what they would teach me.
On the first day of class in my second year teaching, not one student walked into my classroom with a label. I learned about my students from the relationships I built with them. I had conversations with them, noticed their strengths, and learned about their background knowledge. After that, I honed in on their skills, and provided guidance so they could shine through their talents.
I was no longer unjustly biased, and it was the best gift I could have ever given to my students. That school year, my students taught me a lot about life, as they did every year that followed.
You may wonder, what does this story have to do with entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurs can apply the same strategies as effective teachers. These practices can lead to a stronger work culture, thriving relationships, and a better chance to meet financial goals. Teaching and working at startups have taught me about business. Now I can see how entrepreneurs and leading teachers can similarly run their classrooms or boardrooms.
The most effective teachers are the ones who guide their students, provide growth opportunities, instill creativity, make room for curiosity, leave labels behind, and teach with compassion. In the workplace, these strategies can run parallel to entrepreneurs who want to better their leadership skills.
And, when you’re an entrepreneur, self-reflection, compassion, perspective, checking for understanding, and practicing gratitude can have a substantial effect on your business and relationships.
Where to Begin
Self-Reflection: Know your background and who you are as a person in the world. Understanding yourself, where you came from, and where you want to go can have a critical impact on your work and business relationships. Also, knowing yourself well provides the opportunity to create a strong company culture, one that is warm and welcoming.
Self-reflection can also allow for greater awareness of concerning performance and provides an opportunity to seek out solutions. When you develop a performance plan for an employee, you can also create one for yourself. This strategy can help with both personal and career growth, and increase your leadership capacity.
Also, keeping track of the areas in your business that worked and note those that failed. Reflect on those events, and pivot when necessary.
Compassion: When you work in any environment, pay attention to the perspectives of others. Keep in mind that they too are looking at everyone and everything through a different lens. Lead with compassion.
Wharton conducted a study regarding compassion in the workplace. They found the power of a compassionate workplace had profound effects on happiness, motivation, productivity, and the bottom line.
Glassdoor named Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, one of the top 10 most-liked leaders in 2018. With a 97% approval rating, Weiner leads his team with compassion. You can get an idea regarding some of his strategies in the video below.
Perspective: Perspective is one of the most critical aspects to finding success not only in the classroom, but also in the boardroom. To succeed in any leadership role, it is beneficial to learn about the perspectives within your workplace culture. Employees come to work with different ideas, motivation, life backgrounds, and expectations surrounding their work. When you can understand how people feel, you can interact most effectively.
Understanding and applying perspective consciously every day can be a challenging task. Start in small increments. Make note of the situations that worked, and the ones that didn’t work.
For example, working with a new team can bring different concerns. Your employees all come in at different levels with various visions based on their background.
And, you do, too.
Check for Understanding: Having a meeting? Although many of us think we speak the same language, it is imperative to check for understanding–especially after a meeting. Have you ever sat in a conference after the speaker left and listened to the comments? Who got the message? Who didn’t? Was it clear? Did you speak up if you didn’t understand? As business leaders, it is essential to check for understanding.
Gratitude: Leaders should make note and appreciate the unique talents everyone brings to the table. Let your employees grow on their own, listen to them, and make sure they know their voices are heard.
Our diversity in skill, knowledge and life experience can all make for a better work environment.
No matter whom you work with, when you go in with a deep understanding of yourself and a conscious recognition that we all see things differently, you can begin to create a thriving working environment.
Let’s leave the old folders closed and let the genuine, talented, relationships begin.