A graduate class on literacy leadership and literacy coaching that I was teaching recently came to a close at the end of a full semester. The class is one of the last classes that students getting their masters degrees take. One of several principles of the class is the importance of giving feedback. Feedback is explored in a variety of ways throughout the semester. On this last day of class, students experienced one more way of giving and receiving feedback. For a closing activity we sat in what I call an Appreciation Circle. The fifteen of us face one another and one by one we give the person receiving a bit of appreciation feedback.
It goes something like this, “Deborah, what I appreciate about you and your leadership is….” Then it goes to the next person. “Deborah, what I appreciate about you and your leadership is….” Through the circle till all in the circle give appreciation feedback and then the receiver responds simply with a thank-you. No other words. Just receiving with a thank-you. One person scribes the feedback so that the receiver can keep it. We go through the circle one time per person. The feedback is a word or a phrase—not a speech. People can repeat a phrase if it is something that they want to acknowledge. If four people said something similar, then the receiver can look at that feedback as something that is more strongly perceived by others. As we continue with the Appreciation Circle we go on to the next person and the next and then next till all receive appreciation.
Students are not used to receiving or giving appreciation. It is something that can be taught, though. And even after a semester of feedback in many forms, simply receiving appreciation is difficult for some. At the beginning of this circle nervous laughter filled the empty space. And by the end of the process, you could hear a pin drop, the empty space filled with the acknowledgement of what we did as something special. The respectful sharing of insights about the others in the room inspired. The receiving of the appreciation with simplicity provided openings of caring. What I appreciate about you and your leadership is that you are a good listener. What I appreciate about you and your leadership is that you see the whole picture. What I appreciate about you and your leadership is your kindness. What I appreciate about you and your leadership is your playfulness. On and on till the room was full and our hearts were fuller.
As teachers, a goal is to provide an environment that supports a community of learners—whether they are five-year-old or adult learners. We want to create classrooms of emotional safety and connection. Appreciation is one key to developing communities where learning happens and learners thrive. After that last graduate class the emails to me floated in. “Thank you for the class and thank you for our closing. I didn’t know that people thought I was….” “It felt good for me to say what I appreciate about others.” “I haven’t gotten to know my classmates in the same way that I was able to know them in your class.” “Thank you for creating a comfortable environment for us to learn. I learned so much about leadership by how you led.”
Most of us are not used to giving or receiving appreciation. And honest and positive acknowledgement of another is a link to strong individuals and strong community. Who have you shown appreciation to today? How can you acknowledge your students and your loved ones in a way that will create a deeper link? As you end your school year, how can you celebrate with appreciation the bonds that were created and the learning that has occurred?
Stacey and Ruth, what I appreciate about you and your leadership is your generosity in providing a wonderful forum of sharing.