What we can learn from FISH…

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We just came back from 9 days of camping on a pristine, isolated beach. One intermittent bar would flash up on my mobile every now and then, taunting me during my digital withdrawal and delivering the odd email from the real world. During this time I had a chance to really (and properly) sit, think, reflect, and read- all of which are sadly precious and rare in my world of crazy-busy. It was pure bliss.

This holiday I sat and devoured 7 books. The last couple of books in my holiday pile were texts that were not necessarily for pleasure, but for self-improvement. One that I want to discuss is called FISH: A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. (Stephen C Lundin, PhD., Harry Paul and John Christensen). I chose to read this book as I had an interest more in its sequel, Cats: The nine lives of innovation, by Stephen C Lunden PhD, which I’ll talk about another time.

FISH describes how to achieve an ideal workplace: one where the staff are motivated, inspired, energetic, passionate and positive. Through a narrative the book outlines 4 strategies to achieve this:

  • Choose your attitude;
  • Play;
  • Make Their Day; and
  • Be Present.

The scenarios highlighted within the story relate to staff working in customer service and an operative group within a bank. By adopting the above strategies, the groups involved experienced greater job satisfaction, client satisfaction and an overall improvement within the workplace and productivity.

These 4 strategies seem like common sense- there is nothing particularly ground breaking about them. However, the beauty is in their simplicity and ease of implementation, particularly within classrooms where the ‘clients’ are our students.

The cornerstone of this approach is the first strategy, ‘Choose Your Attitude’. In this, the authors encourage us to change the way we approach our day. They assert that ‘there is always a choice about the way you do your work, even if there is not a choice about the work itself’. We can choose to do the best that we can do, with energy and passion, or we can choose to hang on to feelings of negativity that promise to burdon us with a miserable day as well as drag others down with us. We can choose to step away from the negativity of ‘that’ co-worker who tends to suck the life out of the room, or we can choose to feed and multiply that negativity through its interaction. In this, we are reminded that we often can’t control what happens to us (such as the idiot that cut you off on the way to work this morning), but we can control our reactions and behaviours to these things. We all make a choice, be it conscious or unconscious in how we behave. ‘Choose Your Attitude’ implores us to make the conscious choice to be positive, to approach what we do every day with pride and energy, no matter what the task.

I love this philosophy because I can see how it can be successfully translated to improve my class environment and (hopefully) increase the energy and overall happiness of my students. By encouraging my kids to ‘Choose Your Attitude’, we are asking them to walk through the door each morning having made a choice about how they approach their day. A positive attitude towards their peers, their  work and their school experiences would have to result in a utopian classroom, would it not??

I’m sure that any teacher that reads this is by now muttering that many kids find it difficult to be sunshine and roses all of the time because their lives are hard, for a variety of reasons. What I am saying is that if a culture of choice and consideration is fostered within our classrooms, then our classrooms (and our workplace) can become a sanctuary and not just another battle that they (and we!) have to get through every day. If our students are taught over time to modify their reactions to negative behaviours and to choose to celebrate and embrace the positives they encounter, we are fostering life skills. Above all, it is vital that we as the adults in their lives model these behaviours.

The remaining three strategies would only serve to build upon this strong foundation for a happy, productive, energetic classroom.

The strategy of ‘Play’ is one that any good teacher uses on a daily basis. Kids learn when they have fun and learning through play is a no-brainer. ‘Make Their Day’, the third strategy,  is something we often need to put more thought into. ‘Make Their Day’ refers to making our ‘clients’ feel special, creating positive experience that students will remember and cherish. Sadly, for some of my students, basic kindnesses are enough to make their day. A conversation unrelated to school where you actively engage. A smile. A shared joke. These are not things that you should consciously have to remind yourself to do, however sometimes we need to identify and ‘bank time’ with students who would benefit from someone putting the effort in for them and showing that they care.

The last strategy is ‘Be Present’. In terms of the modeled workplace in the book FISH, ‘Be Present’ describes employees are entirely focused on their work and their clients. This is complicated when we relate it to the classroom. On one hand, the day flies by at warp speed that there is no choice but to ‘live in the now’ and focus on the task at hand. On the flip-side, however, it is for this precise reason that we can benefit from again reminding ourselves (this is not a new concept!!) to interact with our students while they are working to really learn how they feel about a task, and if they are benefiting from it. Is what you are asking fulfilling their needs as a learner? Is what you are asking the best way for this particular learner to learn?

I want to reiterate that I know what I’m saying is nothing new or groundbreaking; none of these strategies are things that we haven’t heard before. What I really enjoyed about this book was its simplicity. It served as a fantastic reminder in a job full of complicated theories and practices of ways to not only be a better teacher and co-worker, but how to foster a better classroom environment for my students, my clients.

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What we can learn from FISH…