Interactions – The Ripple Effects

   Coaching with Powerful Interactions. Jablon, Dombro, & Johnsen. 2014. NAEYC. Available from iBook.


Coaching with Powerful Interactions. Jablon, Dombro, & Johnsen. 2014. NAEYC. Available from iBook.

Amy, Shaun and I have finished our newest book Coaching with Powerful Interactions now available through iBooks. The cover of the book shows ripples in water because we believe that interactions both positive and negative cause ripples — in actions, moods, relationships, and learning.

My first realization about the ripple effect - how adult interactions influence interactions with children – happened a few years back when I was working in a school in Connecticut. At the end of the day I talked with program directors about ways they could help their teachers to sustain the Powerful Interactions conversation. I suggested that they think about interacting with teachers in the same way we/they want teachers to interact with children. I said, “If it’s desirable for teachers to focus on children’s strengths, then we also have to focus on the strengths of teachers.”

Mary, a director in the group, raised her hand and said: “As you are talking, I realize I’m feeling ashamed. I never thought about how I talk with teachers. If I heard a teacher talking to a child the way I sometimes talk with teachers, I would fire that teacher immediately.”

Of course we empathized with her remarks and simultaneously encouraged her to see her insight as an accomplishment. Now she had a new awareness and could use this mindfulness to affect how she interacted with teachers in the future. I suggested she begin to adjust her way of communicating with teachers to offer feedback about moments of effectiveness, highlighting the impact these moments have on children.

For example, Mary, the director, might say to one of her teachers: Ms. Thompson, I see that you have displayed children’s work so that they can share what they have done with the topic of families. By including their dictation and hanging the display at children’s eye level, you help children to feel validated about their efforts while building bridges between home and school.

Several weeks later I got an email from Mary. She reported that since our meeting she was making efforts to make one validating observation each week to each teacher, either face to face or via email. She said that the mood and tone among staff had become much lighter and that teachers were coming to her to resolve problems in a much more collaborative way.

Giving strengths-based feedback to anyone can result in positive ripples. Not only does the person feel seen and validated, s/he is likely to repeat the action with greater intentionality. For example, with a child you might say, “I see you added many details to your drawing. The colors and details really capture my interest and make me want to study it more carefully.” To a teacher you might say, “I noticed you added photographs of buildings to the block area. That helps children get ideas for their structures.”

Whether you are a teacher, parent, coach, or supervisor, think of a time your actions and words as you interacted with someone else caused ripple effects. Were they positive? Negative? What happened? Perhaps you might want to try offering someone feedback in which you simply state a moment of their effectiveness and the impact it had. I look forward to hearing how it is going. That way we can all learn more about this!