I had the good fortune to spend a day at the Swan Boats in Boston, my home city, this past week. I met a friend of mine whom I have known for over 20 years, Cathy. Cathy’s 2nd grader, Dori, and my 4th grader joined us for a fun day.
As Cathy and I sat at the playground watching the girls play, we exchanged stories about work and life. Cathy teaches college at Babson, her alma mater. She runs a program where students have to present and are graded on the presentation. There are two professors, including Cathy, observing and grading. On this particular day, Dori accompanied Cathy to the presentations and sat quietly watching them. Cathy relayed that Dori took several pieces – about 30 – of blank paper from her and as the students presented, she wrote (in big letters) on each one, “OSM”. Cathy couldn’t figure out what she was doing, but couldn’t really focus on it since she was intent on watching the students present.
After the last presentation, Cathy and her colleague began to go through and give feedback to each of the teams. When they were finished, Dori jumped up out of her chair and ran to the center of the floor. She looked at the students and said, “I have feedback too for each of you. You were ‘AWESOME!’” and then she proceeded to hand each group the piece of paper with the letters spelling, in her second grade hand, “OSM” or “awesome”.
The students conveyed to Cathy later in the term that they were so inspired by Dori’s genuine enthusiasm and willingness to put herself out there. She didn’t worry about what her mom would think, or whether she had the word spelled absolutely correct, or whether the students would laugh at her for giving the feedback. With excitement in her heart, she just launched in to show the students that she was listening, that she cared and that she was thrilled for their performance. And it touched them so that it actually improved their performance for the remainder of the term.
I was struck by this story. I started to think about how many times I have hesitated to be overflowing with my gratitude or positive feedback, and instead been guarded and measured in my response. I thought about the times I have watched people feeling regret when someone close to them has died, because they didn’t give enough of themselves, of love and unconditional support while the person was alive. I thought about times that someone I know has been “on stage” only to be disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the audience – wherever that stage may have been. I thought about my own teaching and how wearing it can be on days that students aren’t interested or seem to fall asleep during discussions! My mind started to play all of the vignettes where a person jumping up and saying “You’re awesome!” and handing me a note to that effect would have been a welcome and unexpected response.
That’s the beauty of children, isn’t it? They don’t have the same worry about self as we grown-ups do. They are honest and heartfelt in their reactions. They’ll tell us when they don’t like something, but they’ll overwhelm us with their love when they do. Why can’t we capture some of that unbridled enthusiasm from time to time? Why couldn’t we just jump up and throw our arms around someone we love spontaneously and say, “You’re awesome!”? Why couldn’t we tell someone that we don’t even know that well that we admire something they did, or noticed their talent and their drive?
Whatever it is, we need to find more times to write on that piece of paper “OSM” and give it out on a daily basis. When my kids were younger, I had “Good job!” pieces of paper that I wrote up. When I caught them doing anything well or “right,” I gave them one. They couldn’t wait to look at the end of the week and find how many they had received in total. And of course I gave them very generously, so there were usually a lot.
Sometimes, in a given week, I’d love for someone to hand me a “Good job!” sticker or an “OSM!” page of my own. I know if I would like that, others would too. Find someone who is OSM this week and let them know!