Friday, January 23, 2009

Some reflections on sewing and scarcity

Several years ago, a friend introduced me to the works of Stephen Covey. I began with his best-seller Principle- Centered Leadership, moved on the The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and most recently read The Eighth Habit. In his books, Covey draws from the wisdom of the world’s great religions as well as his own insights. Two particular Covey principles have really helped me be a better principal and I’d like to share my thoughts about them as they relate to our school.

Principle 1: You reap what you sow:
The basic premise is simple. If you plant potatoes in your garden in January, you will harvest a crop of potatoes in July. In school, it works the same way for students, teachers and staff, and parents. For example, a student who sews seeds of disdain for school rules or towards her teachers will soon enough reap a harvest of phone calls to parents and referrals to the principal’s office. Conversely, a student who sews seeds of diligence in completing homework will reap a harvest of good grades and recognition. For school employees it works the same way. A teacher who sews seeds of respect towards his or her students will harvest respect. An EA who sews seeds of kindness toward her disabled student will reap kindness.

Sewing and reaping. It is elemental and it applies to parents and school as well. For example, I know parents who have the mindset that if a kids hits his child, his child is expected to hit back. When this seed is planted, it is no surprise that it often bears fruit in the form of fighting and physical aggression – often under the guise of self-defense. This happened recently when a girl got hit and she promptly turned around and punched the other girl in the nose. Bad seed. Bad fruit. How much better it would have been if the parent had planted different seed such as getting help from adults or even walking away. And so I ask myself on a regular basis, what kind of seed am I sewing? Do I plant seeds of hope and encouragement or do I plant seeds of anger and pessimism? I don’t really get to decide what kind of harvest is reaped. That is decided by the kind of seed I sew. This leads to principle #2.

Principle 2: Abundance versus Scarcity Mentality
Here is what Covey says about these two mentalities.

“Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. The also have a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people. The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flow out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.”

For schools, the implications of this are huge. No more grading on a bell curve. If every student mastered the assignment, then every student deserves a high grade. For parents it might mean that they don’t need to be stingy with their praise of their child’s grades. After all, success breeds more success. And for students, it might mean that there is room in their social group for a new student or a student who seems odd. All of which ties back to sewing and reaping. If you sew the idea that there is enough good stuff for everybody, then you will tend toward generosity and magnanimity. This is my vision for Taylor – that we become a school where every kid is recognized for his or her strengths and not chastised for his or her weaknesses. With your support, I think we can get there.

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