Being positive matters.
This is much more than a euphemism; it's science.
Harvard Business Review reports that the most successful teams share almost 6 positive comments for each negative one when they collaborate.
And while that statistic might not seem unusual, consider your current classroom conversations. You may even want to videotape or audio record your classroom to see where your ratio stands.
Here's a short transcript from a recent lesson I taught in a 4th grade classroom in Toledo:
Me: Today, we are going to be thinking about what is fair. Take 1 minute to talk about your tables about what it looks like and feels like when something is fair.
Students: Talk collaboratively.
Me: Josh, share your thinking. What does it mean to be fair?
Josh: Being fair means that everyone agrees on the outcome, whether or not it was their first choice.
Me: Hmm, I like how you are thinking there. (THAT'S ONE) Anyone else?
Amber: Being fair means that everyone has the same. Like in division. That's what we think.
Jane: I like what Amber said. (THAT'S TWO) Our group said the same thing. (THAT'S THREE)
Me: Ok. So, to be fair, everyone has the same amount of something. I see. I like how you made a connection to math there. (THAT'S FOUR)
Jake: Well, our group doesn't think everyone should have the same for something to be fair. Sometimes different people need different things. Like my Grandma needs a cane and I don't. (THAT'S A NEGATIVE)
Me: Jake, thanks for pushing our thinking there. (THAT'S FIVE) Sometimes we come up with even better ideas when we consider lots of perspectives. (THAT'S SIX) Take one minute and talk in your groups about what Jake just said.
Students: Talk collaboratively.While I'm certain that I don't always hit the ratio, I try very hard to ensure that my verbal interactions and my students' verbal interactions are mostly positive and generative. (Yes, this takes considerable modeling at the beginning of the year!)
However, being positive all the time isn't enough to guarantee success. Consider Jake's role above. While he inserted a negative comment, it was a necessary comment to broaden our conversation and steer the lesson towards my ultimate goal of distinguishing equity from equality.
So, the power of the ratio is that it gives us a way to conceptualize that lots of agreement moves us forward, but some disagreement keeps us out of a group-think laden echo chamber. It also gives us a structured framework to monitor and guide the interactions and exchanges that happen in our classroom.
So, give it a try. Track the ratio of positive to negative interactions in your classroom.
Do you hit the golden ratio of 5.6:1 ?