Our older kids are about to embark upon a KidzLit project centering on the timeless classic by Dale Carnegie, “How To Win Friends and Influence People.” For a group of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, I am sure this will be quite a challenge as many of the cultural references, not to mention the language of the prose itself, is quite dated.
But as soon as I began re-reading the book, I realized why this is such an important book for not just kids, but everyone, to read (and re-read if you haven’t gone over it in a few years). In the first section of the book, Dale Carnegie walks us through his three big ideas on getting along with other people. He quotes a young Charles Schwab admonishing us as we walk through life to be “hearty in our approbation and lavish in our praise.”
I have to admit that of late, I have been in that crowy winter funk, and my doling-out of both approbation and praise had been on the wane, especially around the children. So, freshly inspired by the reading, I made certain to change my ways.
First test: Cleanup Time.
For awhile now, we’ve been working on the idea of “community,” especially around the area of cleanup. I’m happy to report that the group of kids functions on a higher plane now than it did a year ago, especially around responsibility and care for our things, as well as the actual cleaning up process. However, it still remains an irritant to see some children not engaged in the process… and a temptation to do specifically what Carnegie says never works… to criticize. So this morning, I purposely and forcefully took the opposite tack. I praised.
Two of the older junior staff members (our 4th and 5th grade leadership crew) had done simply a wonderful job in the reading area, carefully insuring that all the books on the bookshelf were placed facing the correct way and that litter and other toys had been picked up from the couches. Two of our younger charges (including one who often uses cleanup time to do, well, nothing) took great care in the play-kitchen area, putting the play food back correctly in the refrigerator and cupboards, and stacking the dishes neatly on the shelf. As the kids came together after cleanup time, I boomed out, “all right! So, who was responsible for the reading area this morning!?” As soon as NO HANDS went up, I got my first clue that maybe I hadn’t been showing much appreciation recently. The kids responsible shot furtive glances over to the reading area to see what might have been missed. Cal said, “um, it was Travis.” Travis immediately shot back, that, no, it was Cal who did the cleaning this morning. At that I said “Oh… that’s good- I’ll tell the both of you then… the reading area looks outstanding! In fact, I haven’t seen the reading area this clean and organized in a very long time… you both did an amazing job!”
The looks on the faces of both the boys melted into… I suppose sheer happy pride is the best way to describe it. I have a feeling that both Cal and Travis will be giving commensurate effort in the future, probably taking over the responsibility of overseeing the reading area.
I repeated the process with Sally and Candace who cleaned the play kitchen area. Both had seen how it went with the boys, and were eager to take the credit for helping. Again, from the looks on their faces, I have a feeling, at least for the short run, we’ll have no problems keeping the play kitchen clean.
The mood of the whole room, and might I be so bold as to suggest, the whole day, hinged and changed on those two minutes. And I, and the rest of the staff, were reminded of the power of acknowledgement. Thank you Charles Schwab, and thank you, Dale Carnegie for sharing your “big secret in dealing with people” so many years ago. It’s effects continue to reverberate.