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Practice Over Perfection: Boosting Mental Fitness Through Positive Intelligence

With the ultimate goal of building a foundation of mental fitness, 77 faculty and staff participated in a six-week program with bestselling author and Stanford University lecturer Shirzad Chamine.

In an annual effort to support their professional and personal growth, Convent & Stuart Hall encourages its faculty, staff and administrators to engage in a number of professional development opportunities. These opportunities may reflect the specific teaching and learning taking place in a particular division, such as literacy training for all K–3 teachers at Teachers College, Columbia University, or may inspire learning experiences that are not directly related to the life of the classroom, such as the annual Key West Literary Seminar, which draws an international audience for readings, panel discussions and workshops.

"All professional development is meant as an invitation for the adult community to see themselves as learners within a vibrant, learning-centered community," says Rachel Simpson, Chief Academic Officer and Head of Convent High School. 

The latest opportunity took the form of New York Times bestselling author and Stanford University lecturer Shirzad Chamine's six-week Positive Intelligence Program — which, Rachel notes, ties seamlessly into the school's K–12 social-emotional learning scope and sequence.

"As a Sacred Heart school, we're committed to the development of the whole person — mind, body, heart and spirit. There's a belief in promoting mental and spiritual wellness, and the Positive Intelligence Program is a wonderful match for the Sacred Heart values of helping each person define their sense of purpose and discover their unique gifts and strengths," she says. "Within a community that values connectedness and interconnectedness, Positive Intelligence — with its focus on empathy and strength in relationships — is again a fitting match for the core values of our school."

With the ultimate goal of building a foundation of mental fitness by strengthening three core muscles — Saboteur Interceptor, Self-Command and Sage — in order to shift the balance of power from their inner Saboteurs (negative self) to their inner Sage (positive self), 77 teachers, staff and administrators participated in the program, which ran from January 29 through March 12. 

It all started with an introductory webinar and Q&A on January 19, co-hosted by leadership and mental fitness coaches Rhonda Farrell Lloyd and Natalie Siston. Roughly two weeks into the program, on February 16, the entire school community gathered in Syufy Theatre to hear Mr. Chamine speak.

"The general theme centered on being able to recognize the Saboteur voice that debilitates us, perform what are called Positive Intelligence Reps (shifting attention to the body and any of the five senses for at least 10 seconds), and operate from the Sage part of our brain, where the power to empathize, explore, innovate, navigate and activate is the source of our response to stimuli," recalls Dennis Estrada, Stuart Hall for Boys Elementary Dean, Grades 6–8. "In stressful situations, perhaps when faced with a difficult conversation with a colleague or a child, we have a choice — and hopefully, our response comes from our Sage self rather than our Saboteur self."

Both Rachel and Dennis served as Pod Leaders for the duration of the program. Pods — comprising 5–7 participants — met weekly to reflect on the week's practice and develop a sense of shared commitment, support and accountability.

"With the program's focus on practice over perfection, there's a shared sense of relief among participants that there's room to grow and develop," Rachel says. "The space to dabble, practice, iterate and not judge ourselves or others harshly is an amazing gift for teachers, who generally struggle with wanting to do things 'exactly right.'"

Fifth grade history teacher Josiah Paye is no stranger to this feeling. His propensity for perfection, Josiah says, quickly revealed one of his top Saboteurs — what Mr. Chamine calls the Stickler.

"During the program, I came to a realization about how I often critique myself and my actions past the point of helpfulness, and how that was affecting my life," he explains. "Positive Intelligence has allowed me to recognize those times when I'm being unreasonable or too harsh on myself — and instead, promote self-care and forgiveness for my mistakes."

Through Positive Intelligence, members of the Convent & Stuart Hall community have built powerful, positive habits of mind that will last a lifetime.

Written by Jared Scott Tesler, contributing writer for Convent & Stuart Hall.
Photo credit: Blake and Hailey Anderson