Creating Positive Relationships: Surprising Lessons from a Conventional Context

Over the last few years, I have worked on an exciting project with three wonderful people, Katherine Heynoski, Mike Thomas, and Gretchen Spreitzer. We spent much time doing workshops and also interviewing highly effective public school teachers.   Our work turned into a book called The Best Teacher in You. We also wrote a chapter for an edited book.

The chapter was called Co-Creating the Classroom Experience to Transform Learning and Change Lives.  The focus was on how highly effective public school teachers get extraordinary results. What we learned is that they operate from non-conventional assumptions. They turn classrooms into positive organizations. In those classrooms, discipline and love operate simultaneously. We wrote the chapter for managers to show the universal nature of positive leadership.  Here, for example, is an excerpt from the chapter.

Consider the following, contrasting statement; “When a child is disrespectful, I immediately correct the child, but I do it while modeling complete respect for the child.” Here the problem is addressed, but it is addressed in a way that transcends directive assumptions. The teacher is exercising the self-discipline necessary to model unconditional positive regard. To correct a disrespectful child while showing “complete respect” for the child is to model something the child has probably seldom experienced. The teacher is modeling behavior that attracts reflection, discovery, and change. This behavior is based on a complex perspective; a perspective that gives the teacher unusual power.

A child who is exposed to such a message is having an atypical experience. He or she is being honored and corrected simultaneously. The student cannot help but pay attention because the reaction requires sense-making. In the process, the child may come to new assumptions and consider new behaviors. That is, the child is positioned to have a personal transformation. The teacher is effective because he or she breaks the self-reinforcing, transactional cycle. The teacher’s transactional students can begin to love the teacher because teacher loves them first. As one HET said, “How are you going to change them, by resenting them?”

Another teacher told us of a time a student decided to erase another student’s name on a paper and replace it with his name: “I calmly asked him to meet me in the hall … I knew from looking at the paper that it was not his work.” She paused, and instead of yelling at the student or disciplining him in the way in which he expected, I waited for the student to speak. He expected to get in “big time” trouble for the “mistake.” He said it was the worst thing he ever did in his life. Years later when the teacher ran into the student at a store, the student stopped her to tell her that he is now a preacher who tells this story to others as an example to aspire to. The teacher closed the story by saying “I suppose I love teaching because we are constantly setting examples for children. They have so much potential! We influence them every day with lifelong learning values. It is a real privilege to shape the future of so many young people!”

We were thrilled a few months ago to learn that the book won the Benjamin Franklin Award as the best book in Education for 2015. Recently the chapter was also recognized. It received a 2015 Emerald Literati Network Award for Excellence. You can find the chapter here:


What does it mean to correct with love?

How might this skill be acquired and used to create a more positive organization?

How could we use this positive passage to get better?


One thought on “Creating Positive Relationships: Surprising Lessons from a Conventional Context

  1. Being a parent and part of a business, it is interesting to reflect on each environment and see the similarities. Each holds elements of leadership and instruction that if handled properly or improperly will have long lasting ripple effects on those we interact with. An excellent reminder to monitor our words and actions carefully.


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