A few weeks back, we had a fundraiser kickoff where a salesman came and spoke to all of our kindergarten students as a group. The kids came in, sat on the cafeteria floor, and listened and laughed during the presentation. They oohed and aahed at the prizes being offered and played along with the salesman's antics. When he asked for quiet, however, several continued talking with their friends and teachers had to intervene. This disturbed me because I know our kids can do better and we had been practicing how to behave when we have guests. I was shocked when, as the salesman was packing up, he told me this was the best kindergarten group he had worked with in a long time. When I pressed him for details, he shared that he usually spends most of his time just getting kindergartners quiet, especially after the exciting parts of the program. Our kids, he told me, were excited at the right times, but got focused when they needed to. Being that this is my first year with kinder, his perspective helped me see that our students may be doing better than I realize. (By the way, 1st Grade was marvelous at the next presentation.)
This is not the first time this has happened. In my first year as an administrator, I was put in charge of the cafeteria where we had to feed close to 800 students in three 30 minute shifts. We had a system in place, but I never felt that it was the best it could be. To me, there was too much movement, especially as we were cleaning up, and the room was often too loud for my taste. One week, we had a substitute custodian who rotated among districts. About the middle of the week, he approached me to tell me how much he enjoyed working in our cafeteria. I thought, "Good gracious, why?" In his perspective, this was one of the most organized school cafeterias he had ever been in. "In most places I work, the kids are constantly getting up, are turned around talking, and they usually leave a mess. Your kids don't get up until it's time to put up and they clean up after themselves. It makes my job easier." After that day, I started to view the cafeteria a little differently.
When we are in the middle of a situation, our perspective can become skewed, often towards the negative. Sometimes, it takes the perspective of an outsider to shed light on the positives that are all around us. Does this mean that we should stop trying to improve? Of course not. It does mean, however, that we need to invite other perspectives and allow ourselves to celebrate the positives while working hard to reduce or eliminate the negatives.
(By the way, this can also work in the opposite direction, when we think things are going great, but others do not have the same perspective. We need to listen and learn in both cases.)