Written By: Hans Appel
TIME. How often do you think about time? For the past month I’ve been thinking about it…...A LOT!
A couple years ago, our office team knew it was time to make a serious overhaul to our SEL, PBIS, and School Culture. After an exhaustive search we found dynamic programs and people to help us usher in a new an improved Enterprise Middle School. In January of 2017, we began creating a vision and plan for how, when, and why to carry out these much needed changes. During the next 7 months, we took an inordinate amount of time to prepare our staff, students, and community for real….meaningful change. My friend, John Norlin says “sometimes you have to walk slow in order to run fast." And that’s certainly what we did.
The cultural results have been incredible! Since implementing Character Strong and PBIS Rewards we’ve gone on to rebrand our school as #WildcatNation with a unified focus on Character, Excellence, and Community. If you were to ask many of our students, staff, and community….they might tell you that this intentional effort to promote kindness, service, and empathy have resulted in one of the best school years they’ve been involved with. In a recent survey, 100% of staff said they’ve seen acts of kindness increase at EMS. 95% of staff have observed students demonstrating greater empathy towards others this year. Furthermore, 98% of staff surveyed said they had seen CharacterStrong positively impact the culture and climate of EMS. On top of all of this, our school took on 1:1 devices, established a strong social media presence with our community, established a PBIS matrix, and made a concerted effort to increase school/home connectedness with home visits, collaborative events, and transparent communication. In fact, this school wide focus has been so wildly successful that we were selected to receive the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award for the State of Washington.
Naturally, the most common question we’ve received from educators, schools, and districts…..HOW DID YOU GET PEOPLE TO BUY-IN? Universally, this continues to be asked over and over. We’ve met with educators and schools, blogged about it and even presented at a recent educator conference. Our answers have been, what you might already expect...some combination of vision, planning, training, ongoing PD, etc. But a couple months ago, my counseling partner and friend, Nicole, reminded me that perhaps the biggest reason for our successful buy-in was…….TIME. As a staff, we discussed the new programs for months and allowed people the opportunity to ask questions, think about the changes, and process where we were all heading. Clearly, time had been crucial to the successful launch of all these new changes at EMS. As Maya Angelou reminded us “All great achievements require time.”
And while our office team had talked about the importance of TIME, I’m not sure it really sunk in for me completely until last month. Riding the wave of successful buy-in, our office team suggested our school apply for a tech grant, this past May. With a unified school, focused on doing what’s best for students this new tech opportunity seemed like a natural fit. It was presented at a staff meeting...staff voted….and ballets were tallied. It was UNEQUIVOCALLY shot down! Staff wanted no part of buying in to this new tech journey. There would be more money, professional development, and additional staffing. This felt like a can’t lose proposition. But it failed.........miserably! WHY?
We simply forgot the power of time. Indeed, Time influences a person’s opportunity to buy-in. Less you think this is just an educational specific phenomenon, I would suggest to you that the power of Time isn’t just limited to schools. Indeed, the power of time shows up in other aspects of life.
As a counselor or therapist one of our first lessons in a clinical setting is the use of “silence” in session. Counselors learn that a client, student or patient can accomplish much personal growth when the counselor simply shuts up and allows the room to fill with silence. While this can be highly uncomfortable for the rookie counselor, with practice this becomes a powerful strategy to help others look inwardly, for the purpose of meaningful change. Time even shows up as a powerful construct at the end of therapy sessions. Any experienced therapist will tell you that sometimes the most impactful revealings are shared by folks in the last 5 minutes of a session. Why? Often times, people have had time to warm up to the idea of bringing up the subject matter that they most want to talk about. Plus, they realize that their time is almost up for the session and feel compelled to share something that they’ve been holding back the entire period. Additionally, the person feels safe knowing they won't have to talk in great detail about the last minute subject they've revealed until next week. They've essentially bought themselves more....time. For this reason, therapist will sometimes point out to clients that they only have a few minutes left to remind them of the time; and thus, compel them to share what they've been reluctant to share. Furthermore, there’s a theoretical orientation among some therapist that believe that counseling should only be short-term. Rather than having clients or patients for years and years, these experts believe that an endless number of counseling sessions make it less desirable for people to make the changes and growth they seek. Thus, well planned termination of counseling can trigger amazing results, when handled appropriately by a talented therapist because people can anticipate and time their capacity to do necessary work for themselves.
Beyond therapy, time's impact on our lives shows up as a critical part of learning a new skill (i.e. juggling, golf, coding, studying for a test, or lifting weights). You simply can’t get great at anything all in one day. For instance, if you work on your golf game for hours and hours on one lone Saturday, you will NOT become a good golfer overnight. Believe me...I’ve tried! You may remember cramming for a test, the night before, only to later forget some key details. The research is clear: small, bite-sized chunks of sustained effort are far superior to learning new concepts. Successful people know that a growth mindset focused on a little bit of work each day over an extended amount of TIME, makes for greater outcomes. Wouldn’t it be glorious if we could get in shape in just one really intense work out session. Of course, we all know that’s not how it works. It takes several months for your mind and body to “buy-in” to the process and start seeing results. Whether working out, learning a skill or working toward personal growth, people need time to see real change...and ultimately buy in.
The influence of time also shows up in people’s buy-in or conviction, when watching performance art. Great musicians, comics, speakers, and magicians intentionally build into their act “applause breaks.” Applause breaks provide an opportunity for the audience to emotionally catch up and process what they’ve seen or heard. These scheduled breaks allow audience members to take a few moments to demonstrate their appreciation for the performer and allow their own enthusiasm to build. But great performers know that building in 1 big applause cue at the end of the show isn’t enough. These moments of time need to be sprinkled throughout a performance to build toward a natural crescendo, in the form of a standing ovation. And perhaps you’ve been witness to the most moving example of the intentional use of time in the form of an Encore. An encore is another planned longer applause break which provides one final opportunity for an audience to crystallize their intensity of buy-in for the performance. World class performers recognize the influence of time.
As you start to recognize the influence of time, you may start to identify ways in which you already bend time to influence others. Teachers use a strategy commonly referred to as Wait Time in order to allow students processing ability. This standard class activity shows up everyday in schools around the country because teachers know that learning occurs during these moments of silence.
Of course, the use of time isn't limited to teachers in education. Administrators can benefit as well. I recently had the pleasure of reading Sean Gaillard’s, The Pepper Effect, which is a masterful book which I found both inspiring and illuminating...all while grounded in practical educational strategy. Absolute must read for all educators (Beatles fan or not)! Sean details the concept of “Visible Listening.” Visible listening occurs when we “visit classrooms and engage students and staff.” The purpose of this is to put our finger on the pulse of the school by being authentically interested in learning more about what makes the school tick. Of course the implication of visible listening is that we have to intentionally set aside….Time. A few students or staff are not enough. It’s not like visiting one classroom or talking with a handful of students/staff will help us gather the necessary buy-in to create our “masterpiece.” I would postulate that Sean uses visible listening regularly as he forges new connections around the school and further develops his relationships. Perhaps, the look of these interactions change over the course of a relationship but the heart of intentionally setting aside time to listen and connect is always a part of great leadership. Rome wasn't built in a day!
So, if we all understand and agree that time has a powerful influence on others capacity to buy-in to something new, then why isn’t the use of Time to implement new ideas, thoughts, or programs already widely considered best practice?
*Are we providing the silence for our folks to ask us the really hard questions? (I.E. Why now? Why This? What makes you think this will work?, etc.)
*Are we willing to truly listen to divergent thinking in an effort to allow everyone time to gather excitement for the necessary growth?
*Are we transparent with our hopes and dreams for the school? AND Are we willing to communicate our goals, vision, and TIME-LINE to achieve those hopes/dreams?
*Are we allowing time for people to process and make connections to the “New”?
*Are we willing to demonstrate humility, when students, staff, and community remind us that we didn’t allow enough time?
In the end, our teachers were right to reject the new tech initiative, as this gave us a great gift of feedback. It’s also given us time to relook, re-listen, and remind all of us what’s most important with any new movement: How will this benefit our students? We all need Time to buy-in to new ideas, thoughts or ways of looking at the world. Even places with award-winning culture need TIME. Whether your a teacher, administrator, or counselor.....How might you use TIME, with your next great idea, program, or initiative?
About the Author:
Hans Appel has been a school counselor in the Richland School District for the past 17 years and at Enterprise Middle School since it opened. He's passionate about school culture, servant leadership, and kindness.
Enterprise Middle School received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness. By creating a culture of kindness, service, and empathy we've taken student leadership to an epic level.