Welcome to November’s "From the Fountain", brought to you by longtime 'Friend of NESA', Jenny Canar. As we continue to navigate toward well-being and bettering our collective human capital, we hope this monthly column brings a bit of reprieve from the day-to-day. This month, “Let's Give Them Something to Brag About”!
Let's Give Them Something to Brag About
BY JENNY CANAR
“There’s a difference between asking someone what would make something better versus what would make them tell everyone what they know about it.”
— Brian Chesky, CEO Airbnb
I haven’t booked with Airbnb as many others have. First, I don’t have children of my own and therefore, don’t require the extra space. I’m married to someone who enjoys room service as much as he loves the opening pitch of a Cubs home game. And honestly, the thought of a day of travel ending without an absolute guarantee that I’ll be greeted by someone to get me into said accommodations for a hot shower is not worth the floral, matching mugs stowed in a stocked kitchen cabinet.
Although not a patron of Airbnb, I can imagine that Brian Chesky’s quotation is what he hopes to achieve with his business concept, which I’d like to think boils down to: Let’s not just give them something to talk about, let’s give them something to brag about.
Brian Chesky’s quote and Bonnie Raitt’s song are the inspirations for November’s column, “Let’s Give them Something to Brag About.” Mr. Chesky first caught my attention with his open letter to employees in May of 2020, when the world was essentially shut down and lay-offs were imminent, especially in the travel industry. The above quotation crossed my path in a recent webinar given by Education Elements: 7 Ways to Plan Powerful Moments for Those You Coach and, like Chesky’s open letter, the quote left an impression. I was reminded once again of his compassion (business model criticisms notwithstanding) and hopeful transparency.
We are in the depths of November and all the telltale signs that Gratitude is Coming are flooding our Instagram feeds with the myriad of holiday traditions that spark joyous gatherings and togetherness: from the infamous pumpkin spice lattes to Friendsgiving recipes to Hallmark movies, there is no shortage of prompts to bring loved ones together around a shared interest or experience, giving that ol’ gratitude strength a gentle nudge.
As international leaders, these gatherings are unique in that loved ones are likely colleagues, direct reports, parents of children we’ve taught or coached or tutored (or disciplined), etc., rather than family tree branches. In other words, the personal complexities have the ingredients for a potential $#&*! fest versus a brag fest. In the weeks ahead, whether you're hosting a dinner party, participating in a camping trip, commingling at an Airbnb, or leading a faculty workshop, let’s construct the care to craft the narrative and give them something to brag about!
As a reflective exercise for your commute home or next walk around the block, ask yourself, “What’s everything I wish to hear our team brag about?” Start with big picture responses such as, “My team respects me.” Then, go more granular, and ask, “How do you know your team respects you?” And list what that looks and sounds like, which may include: My team understands boundaries; my team appreciates me; my team values me. From there, list acts that would accomplish boundaries, appreciation, and value. They could be separate acts or acts that are inclusive of all. They could be acts that were started at the beginning of the year and abandoned. Or, they could be acts already in place but need to be refined or amplified. Start small. Big acts usually garner big asks.
Now it's your turn!
Below are a few ideas, each taking no more than 4-5 minutes, to give your team bragging rights just in time for the next gathering:
1. Let brevity be your friend.
Sometimes there is an email to write. Sometimes there is a story to tell. Rarely are those sometimes simultaneous. This is a lesson I learned late. In October’s article, we discussed when to have a meeting and when to send an email as well as ensuring the right people are in the room and that a purpose is clearly defined. The same goes for email. If you are going to send an email, keep it brief (this two-minute read is exactly what you need to help shave the read). Maybe even only three sentences. And include only those that are necessary. (The rule: No more than three on a Cc is one that is easy to follow and remember.) That will give them something to brag about!
2. See something. Say something.
Nothing beats a handwritten thank you note, but my handwriting is atrocious. And, my hand actually hurts if I physically hold a pen/pencil and write continuously for more than 2-3 minutes. Unfortunately, this gave me a lazy excuse to not be as committed to writing thank you notes and happy grams as I should have been. Then, I discovered Greetings Island eCards and Canva. There’s a bazillion ecard options out there. I like Greetings Island because it’s super easy, the free designs are ones you actually want to use, and you can send your creations via WhatsApp. And Canva … well, it’s a no-brainer for walkthrough shout-outs. Trust me. Give it a five-minute whirl and you’ll be asking yourself, “Where has Canva been my whole life?” Need help framing the Thank You, check out To the Person Who from Character Strong. For a collaborative group shout-out, try Kudoboard. Each of these free tools will result in a pretty cool and thoughtful expression of appreciation in no more than a few minutes. That will give them something to brag about!
3. Bring the science of wellbeing to your meetings.
Include a gif, comic, music video, emoji, picture, meme, quote, or post from Upworthy, provoking a shared experience and fostering relationships (as well as a communal guffaw). This same practice can transfer to your weekly/monthly notes, celebratory shout-outs, and faculty presentations (BTW … Canva also has awesome presentation templates). Walking into a meeting with someone’s favorite tune playing (creating a playlist of your team’s favorite songs goes a long way) definitely gets the positive emotions flowing. HBR Meeting Management reminds us, “Many meetings simply don’t benefit from an agenda – and for those that do, it’s important to define only the details that matter”. (Read the full article, Is Agenda Theater Ruining Your Meetings? by Ashley Whillans, et al.) Dump the agenda altogether – do you dare? If that’s too risky, try Kim Scott’s 3+3 Formula for agenda’s specific to Leadership Team or Divisional Team Meetings. In particular, the ‘snippet’ approach can help with cross-divisional/departmental communication. That will give them something to brag about!
NOTE 1: There is no better clip to show your faculty when it’s that time of year to review your evacuation protocols.
NOTE 2: Happy vibes to commence holiday celebrations.
4. Add a fun, interesting, did-you-know mystery box to the end of your weekly/monthly notes to faculty/teams.
I learned this trick from the SideKick newsletter and LOVE it. A few mystery boxes that have generated positive feedback include: Radio Garden; Puzzle Party; Notable People; Infinite Stories (in French but it’s just as cool on mute); Essays that Became Books; treeFM, and ASCD Free Webinars. That will give them something to brag about!
5. Say, “please” and “thank you”. Manners matter.
From the Fountain would love to hear what gives your team bragging rights. Tell us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Fountain…
Check out From the Fountain's additional resources, links of interest, and ideas:
- Gratitude is one of my signature strengths according to the VIA Character Strengths survey, and it’s something I deliberately practice every day. Complete the survey yourself and see where gratitude lands on your list of strengths. Gratitude is a strength in all of us but it’s not a “signature” strength in all of us, therefore exercising this strength may require some extra nudging.
- When I read about the Local vs Tourists Framework, I couldn’t help but make the connection to international school settings and overseas hires versus local hires. It may help reframe your approach to teaming and better understand the complexity of perceptions that have stood the test of time, especially for leaders who are keepers of the nightmares versus leaders who are keepers of the dreams.
- If you’re looking for a quick list of fun and reflective discussion questions for your next gathering, consider the list created by Greg Isenberg, who asked one billionaire, one PhD math professor and one 99-year-old man what self-reflection questions they asked themselves, and then shared them in a Twitter thread as a list of questions. Great creative interview questions as well! Or, each take a turn completing the sentence stem: By this time next year … with personal goals.
- It’s time to circle back to all those new hires. If you haven’t already, schedule a check-in meeting to see how it’s going. A question worth asking: “Now that we are in the throes of the school year, what is something you experienced at a prior school that you think we should try?” Or, maybe these questions that could easily be revised for adults?
- The holidays are here! Check out Gretchen Rubin’s Holiday Jump Start, subscribe to the weekly newsletter Recomendo for unlimited recs and ideas, stay updated with Wirecutter’s best of the best, or lose yourself in Potato Parcel wacky gift ideas. Do you have a coffee lover or tea lover on your gift list? Check out Wirecutter's list of accessories. The person impossible to buy for? Check this out!
- Planning your upcoming break away from school? Consider the 12-hour walk experience. I’m going to guess a smaller version, say six hours, could also be life changing.
Jenny Canar is an international educator and leader with over 20 years experience in the field, from the fountain. Her career began as a Middle School Math & Science Teacher before heading overseas, working at the John F. Kennedy School in Berlin, Germany; Surabaya International School in Indonesia; and Shanghai American School in China.
Jenny moved to the NESA region 12 years ago as the Elementary School Assistant Principal at the American International School - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. There, Jenny held several other leadership roles including Elementary School Principal, PreK-8 Managing Principal, and Director of Academic Affairs/Assistant Superintendent. Jenny is no stranger to NESA, having served on the Professional Development Advisory Committee (PDAC) for six years and as a zealous workshop presenter at the NESA Fall Leadership Conference and Spring Educators Conference.
Since Riyadh, Jenny has exchanged camels for llamas and now resides in Lima, Peru, working at Colegio Roosevelt as the Head of Operations.
As we continue to navigate toward well-being and bettering our collective human capital, ‘From the Fountain’ will bring a bit of reprieve from the day-to-day in hopes to laugh a little and ponder a bit.
Send your thoughts, questions, and feedback directly to Jenny at email@example.com.