As the school year wraps up, take a moment to remember your favorite teachers. They didn’t just teach you about academics. They taught you about life. They inspired you to want to learn. They showed you how to work successfully with others.
We’ve met many dedicated educators who use the FISH! Philosophy to improve the lives of their students. Here are 4 lessons we can apply to our adult lives:
1. Build relationships with patience
When teachers build positive relationships with their students, research shows, students are more motivated to learn and less likely to act out. But some students aren’t interested in a relationship, at least at first.
Maybe they haven’t had good role models. Maybe they’ve been hurt and aren’t ready to trust. It takes a lot of patience to be fully present for someone who may frustrate you. When teachers show they care—over and over—students learn it’s worthwhile for them to care about themselves and others. When that happens, they thrive.
You probably work with some people you don’t like or connect with. Maybe they bring their own baggage to work (as we all do sometimes). Will you Be There for them anyway? Will you take time to ask how they are doing—and really listen when they tell you? Will you Choose Your Attitude and treat them with the respect you give your friends?
To build trust, someone must reach out first. Why not you?
2. Believe in what people can become
Great teachers inspire you to give your best. They balance high expectations with lots of encouragement. They don’t just see you as you are now. They see what you can become.
As adults, it’s easy to make a judgment about people’s weaknesses and limitations, and hold onto it. Our “story” affects how we think about and treat them.
Every person has the ability to grow beyond what they are now. Psychologist Carl Rogers calls this the “process of becoming.” When we see people as stuck in one place, they often respond in a way that confirms our view. But if we treat them as being in a “process of becoming,” they tend to act in ways that confirm their potential.
Adults need someone to believe in them just as much as kids do. Encourage the people you work with to stretch past their fears and doubts. Celebrate with them when they make progress and be patient while they grow and make mistakes.
3. Create a sense of purpose
Our best teachers didn’t just make us follow rules. They helped us see that the classroom belonged to all of us. We wanted to make it work because we felt a sense of ownership for it.
Pay, benefits, and promotions are essential, but they’re not the whole story when it comes to engaging people. A LinkedIn study revealed half of employees would actually do their same job for less money if they felt a greater sense of purpose.
To feel that ownership, people need a voice. Encourage them to contribute ideas about what the company can do better. Ask for their honest opinions. When criticism is accepted as a gift, not a threat, it leads to improvement.
To drive purpose, it’s important to know your organization’s values. It’s even more important to live them. The worst thing an organization can do is preach its values, while allowing leaders or “star” employees to ignore them. The best thing it can do is celebrate and recognize those who do.
Help people find meaning in their work by finding out how they like to be thanked or recognized. Then Make Their Day with a sincere word or gesture that feeds their unique needs.
4. Create enthusiasm through Play
The best teachers make learning fun. They use different methods, from games to humor, but they share an essential quality—enthusiasm. As teacher Julie Chadwick told us, “If you aren’t excited about what you are teaching, how can you expect your students to be?”
Setting that tone at work is just as important. We’ve never seen a productive, innovative workplace that didn’t feel playful and enthusiastic. By contrast, we’ve never seen a humorless culture that didn’t feel toxic and tight.
The first step is to let go of fears about Play. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that would happen if people took a few moments out of their day to share a laugh? Might it help them bring more energy to work? Would customers notice how good it feels to be served by people who are smiling because they want to—not because they have to?
Then ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that would happen if people never laughed or had fun at work? You know the answer. It would suck the life out of them—and their passion for helping your organization succeed.
Generating Play is possible when you live the other three FISH! practices. When people are being there for colleagues and customers, making their day and choosing helpful attitudes, everyone feels safe and supported. That leads to more enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment.
These lessons are just a few examples of how our teachers are still helping us learn and grow. Be sure to thank a teacher. It will make their day.