Judith W. Umlas is Sr. Vice President, author and trainer at International Institute for Learning, Inc. (IIL), a global corporate training company. She wrote the ground-breaking books including: The Power of Acknowledgment, Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results, and You’re Totally Awesome! The Power of Acknowledgment for Kids. In 2016 she founded the Center for Grateful Leadership whose members from around the world are committed to practicing and implementing the Grateful Leadership initiative in their organizations.
Daniel: Sometimes when it comes to your values or your personal philosophy or mission. One way to identify what you're about is to tap into what drives you crazy or what things you just cannot stand. In today's conversation with Judy Ulmas, we are brought to a moment when she was still in the business world and pregnant at the time. Her male colleagues were just doing things that were driving her crazy until she had had enough. She ended up writing an article that had and incredible ripple effect, and it was called How Not to Talk to a Pregnant Buisness Woman. You'll want to continue listening to hear that conversation. I think there's insights for women in leadership, women who might be pregnant and also male colleagues and how to interact with, um, women, especially when they're pregnant. More importantly, Judy is an expert when it comes to grateful leadership and she has a tool and a framework called the Five CS that I'm really excited to introduce you to. Hey, it's Daniel. Welcome to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. We'll be right back after these messages from our show sponsors
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Daniel: Hello, Ruckus Makers. Today I'm joined by Judith Ulmas, the senior vice president, author and trainer at International Institute for Learning Inc. A global corporate training company. She wrote the groundbreaking books, including The Power of Acknowledgement, Grateful Leadership, using the Power of Acknowledgement to engage all your people and achieve superior results andd You're Totally Awesome.The power of Acknowledgement for Kids. In 2016, she founded the Center for Grateful Leadership ,whose members from around the world are committed to practicing and implementing the grateful leadership initiative in their organizations. Welcome to the show. Judith.
Judy: Thank you so much, Danny. I'm really delighted to be here for a lot of reasons, which we'll, I'm sure emerge as we speak.
Daniel: Absolutely. Judy, there's a great story and so much to unpack that has to do about the power of the written word,, CBS TV. There you are, you're pregnant and you stayed at work and you just lost it one day. You had an experience and I'd love for you to tell us that story.
Judy: Yes, that was my first real exposure, as they say to the power of the written word, because I got so upset the way people started to treat me. I'd been a manager there for 10 years and I was treated with respect and appreciation and all that for years and years, until I announced that I was pregnant. Suddenly the people couldn't do enough for me, but of the wrong things. "You want to sit down, can I get you on anything?" It was really weird and it got weirder and weirder as time went on until people were like patting my belly in elevators, male colleagues and everybody asked me when I was leaving. Nobody asked me, "When are you coming back?" Which was my plan. It was just demoralizing. One day I had had it. Our head of the department, I won't mention in case one could still track it back to her all these years ago, but she said, "What did you do? Swallow a basketball?" and that was the one that did it. I just left from my lunch hour. I went up to this place on the top of the CVS roof, we could get to at that point, and I just started writing. I was writing and writing and writing and this image in my mind, kind of crystallized, I'm writing an article and it's called How Not to Talk to a Pregnant Business Woman. I said, "I have to change this this is wrong. This is just not the way things should be done." At that time not many women stayed until their due date. I ended up doing that. What happened was they would announce it and many would leave early and some would come back and many wouldn't.
Judy: Things were different then in the 1980s. I wrote that article and I started submitting it to magazine publisher after magazine publisher, and after magazine publisher. I'll tell you a little trick somebody gave me because everybody rejected it, everybody. Somebody said, "You need an agent." I said, "How am I going to get an agent?" She said, "Oh, my nephew just graduated from college. He'd love to be an agent when he grows up." He became my agent. He sent it to the same magazines. Somebody bought it, Working Woman Magazine bought it. It was their main story of the month. In fact, they had a booking for me on Good Morning America to teach the world how not to talk to the pregnant business woman. And Danny, I have to say that for years afterward, people would come up to me and we didn't use the internet then, but they would come up to me when they heard my name. They said, "I made a Xerox copy of your article and I put it on all my colleagues desks and it made a difference." I've always written. I used to get compositions marked, too wordy all the time by my English teacher. I love to write, I love to tell stories and that's how I got launched in the make a difference. That was my first ruckus making article.
Daniel: Yeah, well, it certainly did cause a ruckus and a very positive one. I appreciate you sharing that story. To highlight for the Ruckus Maker, listening the importance of stories because we connect and bond with people in that way. You're speaking your truth. I think providing sort of, non-examples like avoid this at all costs type of stuff is really helpful. How not to talk to a pregnant business woman and it's so cool to see when you show up and you speak your truth, you put that out there and the feedback you received that made a difference where I work. Amazing, thank you again for sharing that story. I'm just curious for the listner, maybe if it's a principal who is pregnant or a colleague of a principal, who's pregnant, just any sort of advice that you might like to give at this point, and then we'll move on to other topics like feedback and some other things?
Judy: Not as much of an expert now that I have grandchildren as time has passed. I do remember if you're asking somebody when they're taking their leave, be sure to ask them when they're coming back. If they say, they're not going to though that's fine, but make sure that they know they're part of the continuity and that you anticipate that there'll be back, don't bend over backwards to highlight their condition. You let them know once if you need anything, let me know if you need to take a rest, do it that kind of thing, but don't make such a big deal out of it. It's two worlds, one the known and one the unknown that are going to have to join and pregnant business woman, I have a lot to deal with lots of managers, so kind and courteous as you would with any of your colleagues.
Daniel: Thank you for that advice. I know one of your zones of genius is this topic of feedback and explain to the Ruckus Maker, listening, why does feedback matters?
Judy: Well, feedback in any form is important, but a lot of people say, "Okay, I'm going to give them the negatives and the positives" and they usually start with the negatives and then they'll throw in a little bread on the sandwich. The negativity is the meat, the substance. I focused totally, let me tell you, I don't worry about constructive feedback because in a culture of appreciation that a leader establishes. People want to know how they can improve. They will come to you and say, "How can I do my job better? What am I not doing as well as I could be doing?" They feel visible. They feel known. They feel appreciated when you give them their feedback. That's positive that who they are as human beings makes a world of difference.
Daniel: To rephrase that or reflect that back to what I'm hearing is, if you establish a strong culture of appreciation, then sort of this feedback sandwich, or even the anxiety that might come with having tough conversations, you don't have to worry about it. I think what you're saying is if you create this culture of appreciation, people will run to you to say criticize or telling me how to improve because I want to grow and I enjoy being a part of the culture.
Judy: It also involves the concept that's come into the marketplace in recent years, psychological safety. Amy Edmondson of Harvard has written several books on that. I really believe that acknowledgement and appreciation and gratitude create that psychological safety. I'll just give you one quick example that our CEO Laverne always says to us, "we celebrate our mistakes. We want you to make mistakes so we can learn. Obviously, we want to get it right eventually, but don't be afraid to share your daring dues even if they might not be exactly what we would authorize or approve, certainly let us know about them. If we say, "Okay, go ahead and try it" and something fails. We will learn from it. We will go to the next level of excellence.
Daniel: How does it play out within the culture though? What I've experienced is a disconnect between sort of the executive leadership saying the right thing. We're going to celebrate failure and learn from mistakes. When you make the mistake, they punish you for it. I'm hearing a congruence. How does that play out when people do make mistakes?
Judy: Certain organizations, for example, NASA, they have a publication called My Biggest Mistake and people compete to get into that magazine. They want to take their failures and make them public. They're given a Pat on the head because people learn from other people's mistakes too. There are other organizations that have failure celebrations, and they go out for champagne when there's like, really a big mess up, how are we going to fix this? There are ways that a leader can make it real. It's not just verbiage and that's how I feel also about acknowledgement. You have to make it real. You have to let people know that this is your organization's way. This is your culture. I have all sorts of tools and tricks and courses and books and things that I can facilitate that, but it really comes from the leader. I've seen it come in many companies from the grassroots and they just shake the the timbers until the up there pay attention. There are many ways to get that reality factor in them. Some people are just close to it and then you have to go over, under and around them.
Daniel: I'll say to the Ruckus Maker, listening if you want to get some of those tips and tricks or have access to the courses we'll link up, Judy's our resources in the show notes. You can make sure to grab that stuff there. One way we can challenge the listener is what would it look like within your school or your district to create? It could be a Twitter. It could be a part of your school newsletter or something internal in terms of communication, but like our greatest failures I was reflecting actually, I didn't know I was in talked about this, but I'm glad you brought it up. I was reflecting on some content I've created over the years and I was looking at a website called Medium, which you can post articles to and that kind of thing. One of my top performing articles is my biggest failures in 2017. I just put them all out there and said what I learned. I realize I haven't written an article like that for a few years now and this is a good reminder for me to do that. Thank you, Judy. I appreciate it. I'd love to transition to this idea of the five Cs. If you could unpack what those are and what they mean to you.
Judy: Yeah. I created the tool, the 5 Cs of Acknowledgment when people took courses in classes and they said, "How do we put this into practice?" Many people who come to my sessions are already naturally inclined this way, but they want to get better. They want to make a bigger difference, a bigger ruckus, as you say. I've had people who are so motivated so I created a poster, a downloadable poster of the five CS of acknowledgements. The first C and interrupt me any time you feel like it because each one I could spend either a minute or an hour on. I'll go closer toward the former than the latter. Consciousness is really the first crucial step to accessing our ability to acknowledge other people. Consciousness is simply being aware of the acknowledgements that throat float through.
Judy: That's an interesting slip, float through one's brain and we never bothered to let the person know about it. Like, "Oh my gosh, that woman is amazing. I could never survive without having her on my team." What do you tell that person, how vital and important she is to your team? Many people would not. Being unconscious is you're not just watching these acknowledgements anymore or say, "Ooh, that's nice. That's great. That's wonderful." Like you're looking at pretty colored tropical fish in a tank. Now you're going to do something about it, but that's the second C, choice and choices. How am I going to do it? Or am I going to put it off? Am I going to do it later? If you do it later and you'll never do it, I promise, or I can give you like a 97.6 chance that you will not do it if you say "I'm going to do it later."
Judy: There are people who can be a little to the extreme with it. I was once giving a keynote presentation to a thousand people and somebody just came down from the top bleachers. She came down, climbed up on stage and gave me a big hug. She said, this is amazing. I had to do that and there were some groans and a lot of applause. She knew if she didn't do it, then it wasn't gonna get done. So that's choice simply choose it, do it. I say, do it in the moment. Courage. Courage is really what it takes for many, many people to deliver a heartfelt acknowledgement. I'm not talking about "good jobs" and "you did a really good job on that project" or "You created a better school out of being a better leader, good job."
Judy: No, it's Danny, "You have changed the world with what you're doing in the school system." "You make such a difference to so many people. I'm one of them, my district is one of them" and "You do it from your heart and that takes courage" because sometimes when I'm talking to a person and I'm expressing my heartfelt motion and really true acknowledgement of that person, I get a little teary-eyed or they do. I've had people like burst into tears when I'm acknowledging them. You you're nodding as if that you've seen that happen or felt that happen. Is that true?
Daniel: Yeah. I experienced that as well. I want to be a leader that leads with heart and to have the courage, to offer that specific feedback, to let people know how important, how meaningful their contributions are. It resonates and yeah, I have experienced that.
Judy: People are terrified of that. Some not all, some are thrilled that they're getting an emotional reaction either from the person or from themselves. Sometimes they're really surprised, but you have to find the courage somehow. It involves allowing oneself, even if you're a senior leader, the principal, the superintendent, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable because that's what it takes. It takes vulnerability to deliver this on the level I'm talking about. I'm sure you know the work of Brene Brown and the power of vulnerability. She's written book after book, after book about that vulnerability is a strength and it's what connects us to love and creativity and appreciation of all the people in our lives. Courage is a challenge, but when you step up and somebody wants to ask me a funny question and the question wasn't funny, but my answer was a little dumb and yet it was true. She said, "Well, what's the right way to deliver an acknowledgement? What are some of the words I should use?" And I said, "Okay, write this down, get a pen, write it, or type it out." And she's "okay, I'm ready. I'm ready." I said, here's what you say. You say, "I don't know how to say this. I feel so awkward. I feel so embarrassed to tell you this, but I don't know how to do it. I just have to tell you that you are an incredible influence on me. You've been a phenomenal boss." What I'm saying is it's okay to be embarrassed. It's okay to stutter. It's okay to stammer. It doesn't matter how you deliver it. You can own your delivery being really poor but they don't care about that. They don't care if you sound polished. The recipient will appreciate that you are being real because real is the basis for this. You can never acknowledge people to get them to do something that is manipulation, but when it's real and when you're stuttering or when you're giggling or what crying, whatever you're doing, I've done them all. Then they get it and that is true acknowledgement when it can be received.
Daniel: We do that in the podcast, too. Sometimes I have guests ask "Will you edit out the ums and the likes and this or that, or a verbal tick?" And I say, "no."
Judy: It's real. It's real.
Daniel: I'm just not going to invest my time or resources into taking that out, because then you sound like a robot or overly polished. And that's just not like you said, real or authentic. If people ,my mentor tells me time and time again, "people crave authenticity" and this is why we leave that type of stuff in. So Judy, the first three CS are heard consciousness, choice, and couraged, which I've loved so far. I think we'll take a quick break here for a message from our sponsors. But when we come back, let's hear about the last two CS and a few other things before we wrap up. Learn how to successfully navigate, change, shape your school's success and empower your teams with Harvard Certificate in school management and leadership program, get online professional development that fits your schedule. We're now enrolling for February and June, 2021 courses include leading change leading schools and leading people applied firstname.lastname@example.org/leader.
Daniel: That's hgse.me/leader. Are you automatically tracking online student data during COVID innovative school leaders across the country have started tracking online student participation using Teach FX because it's one of the most powerful ways to improve student outcomes during COVID, especially for English learners and students of color. Learn more about Teach FX and get a special email@example.com/BLBS. That'steacheffects.com/BLBS. Today's show is brought to you by Organized Binder. Organized Binder develops the skills and habits all students need for success during these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings. Organized Binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed. Whether at home or in the classroom, learn firstname.lastname@example.org. Alright, and we're back with Judy Ulmas and she's senior vice president, author and trainer at International Institute for Learning. We've mentioned a number of the books that she's written, and she's also founded the Center for Grateful Leadership. We were talking about the Five CS and we ended up unpacking consciousness, choice and courage. Judy, what is next?
Judy: Consciousness, choice and courage if I may be so bold as to correct. What did I say? I thought you said unconsciousness.
Daniel: If I did, I'm glad you corrected me. Let's be real. Let's be real.
Judy: It goes both ways, right? That's right. That's right. Anyway. I'll have to check my listening when I hear the podcast. All right so the fourth C is really one of the most straightforward it's communication. How are you going to communicate your heartfelt and authentic? Remember those two are the main characteristics of a heartfelt thing of a real acknowledgement, heartfelt and authentic to a recipient. How are you going to do it? Are you going to do it face to face? That's a lovely way. It still is possible. In some circumstances, is it going to be on zoom? I've done that. Is it going to be an email or a text? An Instagram? Whatever means you choose it could be Skype. It could be skywriting, it doesn't matter. Whatever you choose will work for your recipient. Along the way, you may want to think about whether it should be private, one-on-one, or public.
Judy: Do you write to the person's boss and copy the person you're acknowledging or do you do it the other way. You write to the person and then copy the boss or need to know how the person you're acknowledging is going to feel about. I mean, I've made a couple of mistakes along the way. I acknowledged somebody who literally almost crawled under a desk when I did it. What I mean? They started to slither down and I apologized afterwards. She said, "Next time one-on-one please." I've had somebody who wrote a great blog post for me about public and the acknowledgement and how it can go awry so you just need to know.
Daniel: Yeah. I have a story with that. When I was a principal in Texas, I was very much wanting to show appreciation for, uh, educators who are living out our values. There were awards and all sorts of celebrations around that. A veteran teacher on the staff said, "Hey, people don't like that." So I took it away and then a lot of the staff said, "What are you doing? We love that." What I learned was that the veteran teacher, and maybe a few of her peers, but definitely her, she didn't want to be publicly recognized in that way. It made her uncomfortable. To your point, you have to know people are designed differently, but the other learning lesson was when somebody is speaking on behalf of the staff, rarely is that true? Do your homework and find that out.
Daniel: I want to share two other ideas too, for the Ruckus Makers listening. I like to use a tool called Loom, which can be free. I do use a paid version of it, but it's just recording a quick video. And like today, part of my big three things that I want to achieve is going over people's dream list that I coach, and I'm just doing a 1 to 92 second video talking about, "Hey, how are things going?" I'll just say, Jessica wants to run a nine and a half minute mile for five to 10 miles. So I said, "How's that going? Is there anything I could do to encourage or support? " It was specific and she knows that I'm paying attention to her dreams. The other thing that I wanted to add is for my business banker, I know that she is going to have surveys that come out from corporate.
Daniel: How is she doing? Are you happy with service? Well, that's how everybody provides feedback. And they're only looking at the numbers in terms of where that survey result comes. What I did was make a two minute video just talking about how much I loved Karen and her attentiveness and whatever. I put it on LinkedIn and tagged people and it's blowing up within their bank. Right. Because nobody does that. Right. So she's feeling all the goodness there. People are acknowledging her and what she does, and it's going to be a side benefit, but I think I'll get better service too, at the end of the day. But the reason I did it is I wanted to go above and beyond and really just say, I couldn't do a survey, but instead, I'm going to tell you why I love working with Karen and it really, it really landed.
Judy: Oh, that's beautiful. What a great example have to get you to tell that story. When I do podcasts with you, I called the art of grateful leadership. That is a fabulous story.
Daniel: Hopefully I won't forget, but yeah. Cool. So after communication, Judy, what's the Fifth,
Judy: The fifth C, some people would argue with me that I need a sixth one. I'll tell you about that afterwards. The fifth C is for commitment. Once you've gotten a taste of how much of a difference, this little action you can take any day, anytime, no cost. It's just a matter of how you choose to do it. When you choose to do it. I acknowledge people in the middle of the night. Sometimes if I can't sleep and then they get it when they wake up the next morning, unless they're in Europe and then they get it right when I send it.
Judy: But how are you going to implement this? I'll tell you, a lot of people have taken the poster of the five CS of acknowledgement. I know somebody who shrunk it down and put it on her laptop keyboard so it's right there every day. Somebody put it as a little sticky on their screen. I went to do a presentation at a pharmaceutical company and right next door to the company was a Starbucks. Starbucks had a five foot poster of the Five CS there because before I came, the people had already started to implement it and practice it. They let me take it home. I shouldn't have. I said, "no, no, I'd rather it stay up there." And they said, "no, you should have it." So now I have it.
Judy: But anyway, there are many things to do to commit to it. It always involves getting senior leaders management involved in this and saying, "this is something we must implement." This is something we want to just make our corporate culture be a culture of appreciation. So people feel visible, noticed, appreciated approved. They know that they exist. They know that they can make a difference. And I practically every public speaking engagement, I have somebody comes up to me and says something like I quit my job because I didn't get any of that. Now I'm in the job where that is the corporate culture. You have to know how to look for when you're looking for a job. Right?
Daniel: Yep and use it as a filter to find that ideal spot for you.
Judy: Yes. And of course, I would just say joining the Center for Grateful Leadership will keep things going and practicing any with any of these tools as well.
Daniel: What have people suggested? I heard you say maybe a sixth C so, what is it?
Judy: Oh yeah. Okay. Well, quite a few people have said contagious, contagion, or contagiousness, but in this day and age, I'd rather not use that word. Thank you. It's a thought because once one person is doing it and people see how wonderfully it can make a difference with other people, they will want to do it as well. They would say, "Yeah, I really noticed that you let people know all the time, how great they are. Does that make you feel uncomfortable? Does it make you feel scared? Are they going to ask you for a raise? Yeah. People have all kinds of obstacles to acknowledging others reasons. Good reasons for not acknowledging them." Right.
Daniel: Great. Well, Judy, I've really enjoyed this conversation. I'd like to ask you the same two questions that I tend to ask other guests and this might be new to you. From off the cuff, whatever you would answer would be great. If you could put a message on all school marquees around the world for just a day, what would the message read?
Judy: Something like make sure to acknowledge someone or many someones today because it needs to be done consistently. What I love an opportunity like this one to reach a whole new audience. I have a mainly in the corporate sector, the academic sector so I love this. Every one of your listeners has an opportunity to inspire a hundred other listeners in different ways or a thousand, depending on what they do with it. It's letting people know how important it is. I just want to add one quick thing. I think acknowledgement is the antidote to bullying. I really believe that, and we can do another podcast in the future, but it is because when I think bullies are very vulnerable and weak feeling people, they need to make themselves stronger. Let them feel strengthened and that's what my book, The Power of Acknowledgement for Kids focuses on, how to make a difference in that way, too.
Daniel: Judy, if you were building a school from the ground up, you're not limited by any resources, your only limitation is your imagination. How would you build this dream school? What would be your top three priorities?
Judy: Well, one would certainly be what they call the social emotional skills. A great focus on that. I know that they have that in many schools now, but I would them to know that that is as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic and whatever else you want to add to that. There is nothing more important, I think, than having a curriculum and having all, I would have all teachers trained in this work. Like they would have to go through the full day, grateful leadership course where we really go deeply into all of these things. I've just touched upon today. I'd have them practicing. I'd have funds for teacher training, administration, training, and student training, where they practice with each other and then the teachers can teach them how to do it. So that's just one aspect. Of course, a lot of nature. I love nature and outdoor matter what season it is, but enabling students to be outdoors whenever possible, forest bathing, as they say. So those are a couple of my priorities.
Daniel: Beautiful. Well, Judy, thank you so much for being a part of the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcasts of all the things we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
Judy: Do it now. Go find somebody right this minute, wherever you are, wherever you're listening, drop what you're doing. Put this interview on pause right now. Okay. You got it. You got me. Okay. And go either get up out of your seat and go to somebody or send an email or a text. Somebody, it could be your, your wife or your child or your, superintendent. It doesn't matter. Don't be afraid to acknowledge awkward either. A lot of people are afraid of that. So just do it right now. I want to know who took my advice and did it.
Daniel: You'll be able to connect with Judy, her email and other important links will be in the show notes. Let her know who you acknowledged and maybe what you appreciate about this episode and this conversation.
Judy: Yes. And I may feature some of them if people want me to, if I have their permission on my podcasts and blogs on the Center for Grateful Leadership. Wonderful. Thanks again for being a guest.My pleasure.
Daniel: Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@betterleadersbetter schools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the better Leaders Better Schools Podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter @alien earbud and using the #BLBS level up your leadership at betterleadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.
- The power of the written word & How Not to Talk to a Pregnant Business Woman
- Why feedback matters so much
- Avoid the feedback sandwich and establish a strong culture of appreciation instead
- Psychological safety engages people in growing the culture
- Five Cs framework and tools for every leader
- 97.6 chance that you will not do it if you say this
- The difference between recognition versus acknowledgement
- Celebrating failure and successful mistakes
- Acknowledgement is the antidote to bullying
“Make our corporate culture be a culture of appreciation so people feel visible, noticed, appreciated and approved. They know that they exist. They know that they can make a difference.”
– Judy Ulmas
Judy Ulmas’ Resources & Contact Info:
- Grateful Leadership
- The Power of Acknowledgment
- You’re Totally Awesome
- Center for Grateful Leadership
- The 5 Cs of Acknowledgment
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