As a part of launching EdioLabs, I’ve spent countless hours observing childcare facilities and K-3 classrooms. And man, I’ve learned A LOT.  You may have caught me saying “Observing classrooms has made me a better parent” in some form or another – and that is no joke. I’ve noticed a change in how my son engages with me, and I’ve also noticed a change in how I react to him. Instead of pushing each other’s buttons, my inquiry and challenge skillset has become more nuanced. And as a result of this, so has his. It’s been quite a remarkable journey so far – one that I hope continues for the long haul.

I’ve consolidated some of my key takeaways that are quick yet massive wins for both parents at home and leaders/managers in the workplace.

Define the Desirable

With young children, as well as with adults where there may be a lack of established rapport, friendship, and/or trust, it is important to define as explicitly as you can what success looks like. In the classroom, words like “acceptable” vs. “unacceptable” are used.

Define the Desired State
A poster exercise which defines what is considered acceptable and unacceptable choices in a second grade classroom.


Defining desired vs. undesired should not be used interchangeably with “good vs. bad” behavior, as what you may find is the undesired behavior or outcome may lead to something that is contextually “good” in the end. For example, my 4 year old son reverted from the 7 year old legos back to the Junior toddler legos for a few weeks because they were laying around and easier for him to play with. While that was an undesired behavior on my part, it did give me the opportunity to visualize with him a juxtaposition of the large vs. small legos, and explain the confusing idea that “bigger kids use the smaller legos and younger kids use the bigger legos” due to better fine motor skills. Up until this point, my son had a direct correlative, meaning big kid should use big legos. And today when I picked him up from school, he was explaining the concept succinctly to his teacher to her surprise.

In the workplace, “positive outcomes” or simply “goals” are frequent definitions of the desirable, yet we do not often define the undesirable.  I would posit that the “undesirable” state in the workplace would not be “anything but attaining this exact stated outcome”. Especially in business when so much lives along a spectrum, it can be extremely helpful to teams if they also define what the “undesired” state is.

Word Choice Matters

The language in classrooms has shifted radically from when I was in elementary school 30+ years ago. Words are carefully selected to have both literal and implied meaning, and are often intended to extend the weight beyond school boundaries. This is no different than a private sector branding exercise – except in the classroom, think of every object as needing to be branded with intent towards encouraging growth mindset and college bound kids.

Word Choice Matters
Words to describe people, things, challenge, and outcomes are carefully crafted in the classroom.

Another word I hear a lot in the classroom: strategy.

Surprised? I was. The context is usually a teacher inquiry like, “What is your strategy for tackling this challenge?” or “Can I show you a new strategy?” Notice the line of questioning – open ended inquisitive. It is an offer of a new tool for the toolbox. Particularly in the second example “Can I show you a new strategy?”, there is no defined right or wrong – there is just another option being presented. What I appreciate about this line of reasoning is that in the real world, very little is as black and white as “right / wrong”. Instead, there is almost always more than one way to overcome a challenge.

Visual+Words > Words Only

More than just the Steve Jobs school of Powerpoint presentations, visualizing through imagery or movement is so important to helping the lights go off in young minds. At home and work, this is no different.

First grade classroom performing an exercise to learn about how the Sun’s position affects our sense of day and night.

When I was getting MBTI Practitioner certified last year, the most powerful module was one where all 40 of us stood up in the middle of the room. As we started answering questions about ourselves, we were moved to different places. At the end, we were spread across a 4×4 box that was the physical manifestation of the MBTI Indicator Grid and it cemented in my memory who amongst the group represented which Type. It was a quick 20 minute exercise, but that coupled with the prior three days of getting to know these people, this one exercise really committed the entire program’s content to memory.

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Proactive Alternatives

Do you recall the last time you simply gave up on something out of frustration? I do. My husband had gotten me this awesome gift one Christmas of Mahabis, which I still wear daily. They are special because they have a foot sole that you can remove with the snap of a button and just wear the slippers indoors. Brilliant, right? Well, when I opened the box on Christmas Eve, I tried for maybe 15 seconds to get the foot soles on and for some reason simply gave up because it was taking too long. Tom’s uncle then picks it up and tries an alternative strategy and snaps the foot soles on in maybe three seconds.

What did Tom’s uncle do? He tried putting the foot sole on from another angle. That’s all. I failed to consider an alternative and instead simply gave up. And yes, it still sits with me, a year and a half later.

Kids will give up too unless we provide them with both the guidance that there is almost always more than one way to solve a problem and the tools for how to explore alternatives. In the workforce, this is no different and I would argue that it’s the manager’s responsibility to ensure that their teams are doing enough diligence on considering alternative strategies before agreeing on a go-forward plan.

In the album below, I’ve highlighted the teacher’s proactive, growth oriented alternate positioning of common frustrations she’s seen in the classroom after nearly 15 years of teaching.

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There is a lot more to extract from the classroom, and much of it can be applied to leading in the workforce. I keep going back to this question of  “how effective would managers be if they took an early childhood development course?” or “how much of a better parent would I have been if I took a childhood development course three years ago?” Infinitely. Infinitely better.

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