A second grade teacher taught the Alpaca team the most important question we ask at our weekly staff meeting.
Recently, our team learned a great management lesson from a second grade teacher. It’s a simple question that we’ve adopted to ensure alignment and build community on our team.
We had the opportunity to spend a day at Nelson Mandela School here in Omaha, shadowing teachers, students, and parent volunteers all day. This school takes an innovative approach to building a school culture, from their curriculum to their philosophy on recess.
My day started in Ryan Margheim’s second grade circle time.
You remember these little circle times, right? Weather, Word of the Day, that stuff. It started like I always remember: wiggly kids getting settled on the carpet. Every kid hoping to be called on by Mr. Margheim.
And then, Mr. Margheim asked this question:
“Is there anything we need to restore or repair today?”
The question is part of the school’s focus on social emotional learning and restorative practices. Mr. Margheim builds ways to address conflict in peaceful ways into many parts of his daily schedule, starting with circle time.
Just like that, the wiggles stopped and kids went pretty quiet. No one answered. So Mr. Margheim said, “Well, I have something that needs repairing.”
He explained that the behavior at yesterday’s assembly didn’t meet his expectations. He said it calmly, without blame or negativity, in a tone that felt relatable. Just a healthy feedback loop with his students that happens every day. It caught me off guard, so I listened (and watched) intently to see what happened next.
Then he asked, “Does anyone want to say anything?”
It took a minute, but one by one the kids started raising their hands, owning their behavior, and making amends. Even with each other.
“I’m sorry I was distracting you and not letting you listen,” one student said. The kids relaxed after that. Mr. Margheim relaxed after that. With the problem resolved, they were ready to learn.
I couldn’t stop thinking “what if weekly meetings in our companies included this question?”
No conflict. No back channeling. Just a quick clearing of the decks to ensure that everyone can focus on the work ahead.
The same question, “Is there anything we need to repair?” every time, so that everyone knows it’s coming and everyone knows they’re free to answer (or not). Truthfully, it felt too touchy-feely to try at work. I chickened out for 3 weeks before I asked it the first time.
But then I did. And the answer was “Nothing to repair here. But I’m really grateful that you asked. Can you please ask next week?”
Teachers are extraordinary managers, with the most thoughtful ways of making a group of people feel ready to share and learn. There is no better place to learn management techniques than a room full of 8 year olds, and no better management coach than a classroom teacher.
Thanks, Mr. Margheim!
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