Dr. Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin, the author of Creating a Positive School Culture: How Principals and Teachers Can Solve Problems Together joins Steve to examine the importance of the adult environment that will be critical to schools having the social-emotional environment that is important for students. Many school leaders focused on the care of teachers during virtual and hybrid teaching months. How will we keep that focus as classrooms open and new learning communities form?
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Steve: 00:27 Partnering with teachers: creating the school environment we and our students need and deserve. I was initially introduced to Dr. Marie-Natalie Beaudoin, a licensed clinical psychologist from Sunnyvale, California, when I read an article that she had written entitled, “The Focused Brain.” Dr. Beaudoin has joined us for a podcast for teachers on strategies to support students’ focus and a podcast for parents on helping students heading back to school. Dr. Beaudoin is the director of SKIPS – skills for kids, parents, and schools, where she offers counseling services and social emotional skills projects in schools in California. As I researched and connected with Marie-Natalie, I found out that she was also the author of, Creating a Positive School Culture: How Principals and Teachers Can Solve Problems Together.”
Steve: 01:40 After reading the following description of her book, I knew that I had to invite her to join us. Here was the description of her book: “principals and teachers have very different perspectives, pressures, and struggles. As a result, problems of negativity, isolation, or censure often develop among staff members. This may cause principals and teachers to spend a tremendous amount of energy addressing these issues instead of focusing on the primary goal of improving student achievement.” I know that longtime listeners to this podcast will know why that intro caught my attention. So Marie-Natalie, thank you so much for joining us.
Marie-Nathalie: 02:26 Thank you.
Steve: 02:29 Would you share a little bit about your background and the interest that you have in looking at school cultures?
Marie-Nathalie: 02:38 Yeah, so I’ve been supervising a counseling program in many schools of the San Francisco bay area for over 20 years and since school experiences are profoundly shaping of each person, I’ve been really wanting to contribute to the communities of school. To the children, the parents and the teachers.
Steve: 02:57 This is an important time for that. Educators across the globe have been challenged by the pandemic in these past year and they’ve worked to meet students’ learning and social emotional needs. What impact does this have on school leaders as they look at the start of a new, and hopefully different, school year?
Marie-Nathalie: 03:20 Yeah, I think the impact of the pandemic and the impact of having to do remote schooling has been – there’s been many impacts of having to do remote schooling. And one of the biggest one that I’ve been hearing about is that there’s been an increased demand on educators to put all their material online and to keep an audience engaged online and a decrease in their satisfaction level because most educators are in this profession because they love to be around young people and interact with young people. And so, this setup of more demands and less satisfaction has been leading to more burnouts and more exhaustion and more disconnect between the teacher and the students, and more disconnect between the teacher and their teaching communities. So that will be something that will need to be addressed as everybody is going back to school.
Steve: 04:18 So I’ve been using the phrase that no matter where we are come this fall, whatever students and teachers are returning to, it’s not going to be “normal.” I’m wondering if you’d respond to that thought.
Marie-Nathalie: 04:36 Yeah, definitely. I think it will have to be a reset because the students will be different. They’ll have different expectations. The teachers have developed new ways of teaching, some of which can be very helpful. Many teachers have become quite creative and gone above and beyond to find engaging material for students and a lot of that can probably be integrated to in-person learning. And then there’s going to be the awkwardness of the six feet apart and the mask wearing, which hides facial expression, which creates a barrier between teachers and students and really, sometimes for students kind of, helping them sustain the attention to see the facial expression of their teachers and for teachers to see how engaged students are. So there’s going to be a little glitch in non-verbal information there that may need to be acknowledged.
Steve: 05:41 So if you were seated with a group of principals and instructional coaches who are leading the staff, what do you think are the best ways for them to support re-engaging the in-person school community?
Marie-Nathalie: 06:02 Well, I’ve often said that the only power a leader really has is to create a context where people can flourish. And I think that’s going to be really important in the upcoming school year. Teachers work incredibly hard and most of the time they feel underappreciated by parents, by students and by the administration. So anything that a leader can do to energize teachers and to bring enthusiasm to their work and appreciation is worth it. And in some ways, every meeting is an opportunity to uplift the staff. Whether it’s having teachers writing little notes in a basket to a randomly selected person or teachers sharing an effort or an experiment that they did that week and how it went, all of these things that engage people into talking to one another – that exchange is really important.
Marie-Nathalie: 07:06 I’ve also been interested in, I know Google here in Silicon Valley – so I know Google here has this program where they do blind date lunch between staff. And I was thinking, oh, that’d be so cool in a school. If teachers could be paired, you know, I don’t know how often, maybe once per month or once per year with a staff that they know very little about and that the school district could pay a lunch for these two to talk and get to know each other, that would be such an exciting, unique way of building community. So anything that builds communities is really important. I think another big step would be to help teachers have more self-care time and perhaps have an opportunity once per week to have a little yoga class during lunch, or a little mindfulness training program for self-care and rejuvenating.
Steve: 08:06 I’m aware that many leaders figured those things out during this past year and as I was listening to you say them, I’m hearing a reinforcement that they need to hold onto those things as they go into this new year. In other words, it isn’t back to normal. So just the way those things were important when people were understanding the pressure of teachers doing the virtual teaching, that teacher’s going to need many of those same things in the new in-person environment.
Marie-Nathalie: 08:45 Yes. And I strongly believe that there will be a need for transition discussions. We can’t just go back to school and start focusing on academics and the set up right now, I think it will be really important for leaders to have a conversation on how it’s like to go back to school. What are they grieving? You know, some teachers have liked teaching from home, so what are the losses that they are experiencing coming back to school? And what are the things that they’re looking forward to and what are the teaching methods that they’ve developed during this pandemic that they want to keep? How have they grown as a teacher? Certainly this last item I think is just crucial to talk about, either one-on-one or as a group discussion so that it’s on the table and articulated, and then we can move forward from there.
Steve: 09:39 It’s so interesting. I just heard a school administrator say that he actually caught himself and kind of stopped dead in his tracks because his leadership team was meeting and they were starting to plan for opening school in September. And they pulled their usual opening school set of events and, you know, it was like, pull out last year’s calendar and everything that’s supposed to go in there. And he said they were in the throws of it when it finally hit him – we can’t do this. I know we feel like we’ve been waiting for 18 months to go back to normal and so when the kids and the teachers have the summer, we can come back in September and open up that thing, but we really can’t.
Marie-Nathalie: 10:24 Yeah. And I think a lot of things that schools do at the end of the year, such as fairs and athletic events and all of that would probably benefit from being done early this year. Like maybe the first week of school, so that students make new friends or reconnect with old friends and rekindle liking going to school. That it’s not this scary place where they’re going to be micromanaged as many students are telling me, but a place where it’s fun, where they can be with friends and they learn and they do things. So I think if I had the freedom, I would definitely start the first week of school with lots of fun activities so that the kids are engaged and then it’ll make the rest of the year easier.
Steve: 11:09 Bingo, bingo, bingo. You’ve hit an issue that was on my radar long, long, long before COVID. I’ve never understood the field trip at the end of the year to celebrate that the year’s over. The trip makes much more sense to me at the beginning of the year, to give a group of people, a common experience that they can bind around and then play off of, you know, for the whole rest of the year. I was so pleased when my niece went into middle school and you know, they had a three-day camping trip, the first week of school as a sixth grader coming into a new school.
Marie-Nathalie: 11:48 That’s perfect. That’s absolutely perfect.
Steve: 11:50 As school leaders, we really need to be about the same things for the staff.
Marie-Nathalie: 11:55 Absolutely. I’m a strong believer in team building retreats and you know, being spoiled a little bit so that people feel comfortable and open up. And at some point for that book, “Creating a Positive School Culture,” I did a whole research project where we interviewed over 200 educators. And really what was the most important was the friendship. Friendship, and feeling supported and having a best friend on staff. All those relational elements were really what was energizing the staff and making them want to go back to school every day. And then that enthusiasm would trickle down to the students.
Steve: 12:36 So it’s going to be more important this year – it’s always been important and is now. In many ways, COVID has kind of shined a light on things that we weren’t doing correctly before and that we actually have to do more correctly now because of what we’ve learned.
Marie-Nathalie: 13:00 Yeah. I think we can reset education and enrich it in many ways with the learnings from last year. And there’s a lot of ideas in your book, Steve, the “WOW” book is very interesting and so creative and I think it would be a wonderful place to start for many leaders to start planning fun and engaging activities for the staff and the students.
Steve: 13:26 Well, I’m thinking of a quote I took from Simon Sinek that I frequently use. He makes the statement that leaders aren’t responsible for the results, leaders are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results. And I think as a school administrator, that’s an awesome way to look at your task, which I think mirrors the same thing for the teachers going to the classroom. The students are the real workers in the classroom and in many ways, the teachers are responsible for creating that environment.
Marie-Nathalie: 14:02 Yeah, definitely. You know, I think leaders – the best leaders we know from research lead by trust and respect and by bringing the best out of their people. And that’s going to be more true than ever this coming fall or even now as some schools are reopening.
Steve: 14:24 Well, Marie-Natalie, thank you so much for joining us. Would you tell listeners the best way to find out about some of the resources and books that you’d have available that they’d be interested in?
Marie-Nathalie: 14:37 So the best way is to look at my website at mnbeaudoin.com, which is essentially my name.
Steve: 14:50 Alright. We’ll be sure to put that in the in the lead-in to the podcast so for those people who are out jogging as they were listening to us, when they get home, they could hit the podcast and be able to bring it back up. I’ve really appreciated all the time that you’ve provided us.
Marie-Nathalie: 15:09 Thank you, Steve.
Steve: 15:11 Thank you.
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