“Strengthening organizations one connection at a time,” is the recommendation from The Connection Coach, Tara Brown. Connecting to emotions and being valued is critical among leaders and staff if we want to have it present in classrooms for students.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 00:29 Building connections: a foundation for trust. Joining us today is Tara Brown, the connection coach. With a background in teaching, coaching and professional development and a keen interest in driving success for all students, Tara’s a sought after speaker and consultant. I asked
Tara if she would talk with us today about the role of connections that school leaders need to build with and among a school staff. Welcome Tara.
Tara: 01:02 Hey Steve, I am thrilled to be here.
Steve: 01:06 Tara would you start with some reasons that connections is the word that you use to guide your work?
Tara: 01:15 Absolutely. Neuroscience is very clear that we are hardwired to connect. That doesn’t mean that it’d be really nice if we had friends, that means at our cellular DNA level, we need desperately to connect with other human beings in order for us to thrive. And so when we’re looking at an organization, how those individuals in the organization feel connected with and how connected they feel to the organization and those they work with, it drives everything. And so when we’re talking about the connection piece with leaders, it really is looking at when that person closes that car door and walks into this organization, do they feel seen and heard and validated? Do they feel connected to… And so we’re looking at how best to increase performance on whatever level, it does start with the foundational piece of how we are wired as human beings and that’s to connect and feel a purpose and a part of.
Steve: 02:22 On your website, you describe strengthening organizations one connection at a time, and I’m wondering what are some actions that administrative leaders, instructional coaches and teachers would take that you would label as a connections building kind of action. Some specifics
of what that would look like or sound like.
Tara: 02:48 Sure. Marriott, their leaders are very good at managing while walking around. That’s one of the things that I have admired about their model. They are out of their offices, they are on the property, they are saying good morning and talking to people and calling them by names. They’re going to the banquet staff, they’re talking to the desk people. They’re working on driving those relationships deeper. And so, again, it’s that matter of what are we doing to help people feel valued and seen? Jack Mitchell has a clothing store. It’s multi-generational clothing store and he’s written books, and he’s a sought actor speaker and he wrote a book called, “Hug Your People.” And that’s a metaphor for doing anything and everything that you can to help that person feel like, wow, this organization really values me. And so when you have a principal that takes time to write a hand note, that has the ability to get to know that teacher on a deeper level so that you can remember that their partner’s name or their dog’s name or their child’s name, or their birthday, or a relevant whatever.
Tara: 03:58 And you’re having in those non-con contingent conversations beyond, you’re a teacher on my staff to, you’re an individual that I wanna drive this deeper. So it’s the emotional deposits that you’re putting in bank accounts. And it doesn’t matter if you’re five or 92, we all thrive on someone honoring us in a way that says you’re important enough and I’m gonna spend time with you. And so principles and instructional coaches creating the environment that says, I’m going to get to know you, and I’m gonna help in my actions, you feel valued beyond your role in this organization. It’s powerful.
Steve: 04:39 It’s connecting back to me the number of times I’ve pointed out to administrators that almost everybody plans that activity of getting to know people somewhere in those three days that we have teachers before the school year starts, and then it doesn’t happen again until the next year. And if you happen to join the staff late, like, you get hired in October, you missed the one chance we have versus leaders that I’ve worked with, who, that’s at least a part of every staff meeting is creating that among the staff, while the leader’s looking to create it him or herself with individuals on the staff.
Tara: 05:32 Yeah. It really is just being mindful of opportunities to connect in whatever way that looks like. Understanding that when I’m walking in the hallways, I mean, I remember working with a principal every time I saw him in the hallway looked like he was about to go kill somebody.
Tara: 05:51 I’m like, dang, it can’t be that bad all the time. And so those moments where you’re in the hallways and you’re out and about, on the other side, I remember a principal that would take his desk and he would sit out in the commons area where students had to pass going to lunch. And I remember one of my own students came in and he is like, Ms. Brown, how did he know my name? I said, because you’re important and he wants to get to know y’all, that’s how. He was shocked, but it made such an impact. And so those levels of just, what more can I do to drive the connection deeper? It really is looking and being aware that there’s so many opportunities during the day, whether it’s a three second smile or a high five or whatever, those things matter a lot for us.
Steve: 06:40 Yeah. One of the skills that I work on in coaching is the ability to give approval to a person and how that differentiates from from from praise and approval being that you’re giving a person positive feedback for something that is in on their agenda. It’s something that’s important to them. So as a teacher, I could sit down and get an entire positive evaluation from my administrator and have received no approval. But an administrator who was in my class for three minutes could say something to me on the way out the door and I get this warm feeling all over because they zeroed right in, but the administrator has to make the investment to know what those things are or you aren’t in a position to do it.
Tara: 07:32 That is a great point. That is a great point, Steve, because what’s important to you, might not resonate with me. And that’s where getting to know your staff on an individual basis allows for you to understand, does that person need acceptance, approval? What is it that’s gonna resonate with them? And I think that probably goes back to emotions are not soft skills, it’s hard science. Because when you’re able to understand how that person receives and what they need to hear, and what’s important to them, it’s a game changer. And we know that affirmations are powerful in changing brain chemistry and affirmations look different for different people. And that’s kind of along the same line that you’re talking about with that level of approval, what is it that’s going to resonate with that individual person? And you have to have the time spent putting those emotional pauses in that person to go, okay, got it. I understand what that person needs to hear from me, what’s important. And so that’s a really great point that you just made.
Steve: 08:44 It can make all the difference for a coach, simply when you’re pre-conferencing with a teacher to purposefully be listening for what one or two of those phrases, words, or beliefs or values that the teacher has. And then regardless of what they had you observing for in the classroom, to be able to come back and mention this thing that you saw, that you know is high up there on their list, and as you said, that emotion then opens them up for other more difficult conversations that might might come out of a change process.
Tara: 09:28 Right. You’re spot on. And I’m sitting here thinking as a coach, I better know which athletes I can get in their face and which athletes need my arm around their shoulder to get the same results. I better know that, and I better figure it out really quickly. And I can’t do that until I in get to know them on an individual level. So it’s the same thing. Just finding out which avenue to take, to get to where we need to
go to help unleash their potential.
Steve: 09:58 So I think we’ve hit on one piece on this next question that I had laid out for you. I like to use the words with the leaders of, modeling the model. So I describe that if people watch the leader, that it’s the behaviors of the leader are easiest to pick up through their modeling. If I take it back to a classroom, I talk about when a teacher can be a model learner, the best way for the kids to learn about learning is watching their teacher function as a learner. So I’m wondering, what connections do you see between the kind of behaviors you’re looking for school leaders to take on where they’re actually modeling a behavior that they’d want teachers to be implementing back in the classroom?
Tara: 10:52 There’s a couple of things that jump jump to my mind. Harvard research is really clear that the mood of the leader, the enthusiasm of the leader, has a huge impact on employee motivation and engagement. And I’ve seen that to be true across the board in my classrooms. And when you have a principal who is crushing customer service, when you have a principal who is out there and they’re exuding positive energy, and they’re enthusiastic, and they’re smiling and they’re slinging dopamine, I talk about slinging dopamine all the time. There’s so many ways you can sling dopamine, but man, when you have a leader who’s doing that from the jump, from the time that child gets off the school bus, when that teacher walks in the office, that level of how your energy is impacting other people, because we’re gonna have an impact on each other.
Tara: 11:55 We’re energy. That’s what we are and the ripple effect of how we show up. So a leader modeling that level of energy and enthusiasm and passion for their work can be infectious and teachers need to feel that from those people that they’re turning to for support. And I know you have experienced this, you walk into a building, Steve, can you not feel the energy? Isn’t that amazing? It’s palpable, either one way or the other. And when you’ve got a staff that’s led by an administrative team that is positive and they’re excited and they’re enthused, you can feel it. And it has a ripple effect through the whole entire building. And to me, I think that probably is one of the biggest modeling that administrators can take on and work on and improve on, is making sure that every day it’s that energy of, I love being here, man. I just love being here. I love you. I love being here. I love what I’m doing. It’s infectious.
Steve: 13:02 And that’s what the kids need to see when they walk into their classroom.
Tara: 13:06 Right. I mean, good grief. I taught American history at 7:05 in the morning Steve. Come on, teenagers. Hello! I better bring
something up in there other than I just love history.
Tara: 13:18 I better bring some energy and some enthusiasm. They might not like history, but at least she crazy. So sometimes that energy, it can cover you.
Steve: 13:33 For sure. For sure. Tara, I know that I’ve read on your on your website, the importance of trust. So I’m wondering, as you’re walking through a school and walking through classrooms, what does it look like and sound like when you know that trust is is part of the environment?
Tara: 13:57 When you’ve got increased engagement and collaboration and kids who are involved in the process, that tells me that they feel safe. Learning is a risky endeavor and learning also is a collaborative relational process. And so when I walk into a classroom and I see kids that are collaborating with each other, when they’re engaging with the teacher, that tells me that there has been work, that’s been done to create an environment that says you are safe, you are part of this family. We are in this together. And all of that is a foundation of trust that has to be there before that motivational on switch is gonna flip on. And when you’re dealing with kids in poverty, if the relationship piece isn’t there, you can forget it because that motivational on switch is not gonna flip until that child feels like you like them, they’re safe. And so it is a huge piece that has to be there. It’s foundational.
Steve: 15:06 So I could carry your same thought over that teaching is risky.
Tara: 15:13 Absolutely. It’s risky if we’re gonna get outside of the comfort zone, which for a lot of teachers, Steve, and this is part of my work, going back to the emotional piece, they feel very comfortable in their content. You want me to pull the curtain back and show me as a real person? Yeah, I do. And that’s risky for some teachers. Perfectionism runs rampant in this business. There are a lot of perfectionist people and hey, you can’t get in the messy and the creative, if you’re worried about making sure it looks right all the time and kids can’t relate to that. And so, yeah, teaching can be risky if you’re gonna get outta your comfort zone and serve those that you’re teaching in a way that’s gonna be impactful for them.
Steve: 16:01 So I need leaders who create that trust for teachers to take the risk in order to have the teachers back in the classroom creating the trust for the kids to take that risk.
Tara: 16:14 Yeah. You can’t be creative in an environment where you don’t feel safe. You can’t encourage people to take risks and get out of the comfort zone if they don’t feel safe. And it’s paramount for the administrative team to encourage and reemphasize constantly, that willingness to take risks.
Steve: 16:39 It’s interesting. I was just in a conversation today with with two coaches who are in a small district that has instructional coaches for the first time and that environment hasn’t been built yet. And in this case, the support of the administration to build that environment hasn’t hasn’t happened yet. And so the teachers aren’t at that risk taking level so the teachers are missing a whole lot of growth and learning opportunities because the school hasn’t pulled the environment together yet. And I know that’s gotta be having an impact back on what’s happening in the classroom with those teachers. If the teacher doesn’t feel that safety, it’s pretty hard for the teacher to create it for kids.
Tara: 17:27 Yeah. And that that’s heartbreaking to hear, but I know that that is the reality in a lot of schools and a lot of districts, depending on the messaging. You know, when I’m talking to administrators, sometimes one of the questions is when they say, oh yeah, I encourage relationships. I want them to spend time. And the question is, are you sure that that message has been translated in a way that your teachers hear it and believe it? Because if there’s a disconnect between that, then the teachers aren’t gonna take time for those non contingent conversations. They’re gonna worry about, oh my God, Tuesday at 10:30, it’s supposed to be right here on my…and so there’s got to be a conscious awareness from educators from the administrative team to make sure they hear me, they believe me, and we’ve relayed it enough to where they know that that’s what I’m really meaning.
Steve: 18:22 Yeah. I’d say that comes out in the questions that you ask. So, are you asking as many questions about how you know kids or what you know about kids as you are about what the scores look like on that last district assessment? And I’m not saying that you’re not gonna ask that question, but the degree to which that question is asked and the others aren’t, teachers draw a message from that.
Tara: 18:49 Yes. Thus, rigor, relevance, and relationship, that order sends a strong message and unfortunately it’s really tough to change mindset sometimes.
Steve: 19:01 Tara, I wonder just before we close out here, if you’d share some of the things that you do when you go out to work with a school or
district and then we’ll let folks know how they can get in touch with you.
Tara: 19:13 I do everything from professional development, working with staffs to yearlong engagements, where we’re really working on looking at the culture and climate and things that we can do to change that. There’s been a lot of really interest in understanding stress and trauma and how we can navigate a population that’s dealing with that. So trauma informed care and the neuroscience. We’ve learned more about the brain the past 10 years than we have in a very long time. And so a lot of these educators who’ve been in the trenches for a while, they don’t know about that. And so helping them understand, priming the brain for learning and what that looks like. And then working on bringing in the leadership style that is conducive to creating that environment that will unleash the potential of the teachers, which will then ripple down into the classrooms like we talked about with that level of trust. So it really is about great customer service and figuring out what does it feel like when we walk in our building? And so we do a lot of culture and climate work as well.
Steve: 20:24 Well, Tara, thank you for everything that you shared here with us. Wanna tell folks easiest way to get in touch with you?
Tara: 20:32 Website is theconnectioncoach.org.
Steve: 20:35 Okay. We’ll be sure to put that link in the lead-in to the podcast.
Tara: 20:39 Thank you, Steve.
Steve: 20:42 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.