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Assuming Positive Intent

Last year was the first year that the HMS staff officially took on the challenge of having a year long professional development theme. We chose the theme of Assuming Positive Intent. This came on the tail end of reading the book Mindset by Carol Dweck and fit into our Montessori philosophy quite nicely.

The idea is that in all interactions, we assume that the other person’s perspective comes from a place of good intention. It’s different than the common “he means well,” which is often accompanied by a shoulder shrug and a grimace. In assuming positive intent, we slow down and ask ourselves to see things through the eyes of someone else. We remind ourselves of the many possibilities that someone might act a certain way-maybe the other person is going through a hard time, had a rough day, is going through a big change, was stuck in traffic, didn’t get enough sleep last night, is cutting sugar out of their lives etc, etc. Instead of making a judgment about that person, we create a link of empathy by assuming the best rather than the worst. When we practiced assuming positive intent we found that we were able to build deeper relationships with that person.

In the classrooms we talk about conflict resolution and in the elementary and middle school classes we have weekly community meetings where time is set aside to work out any problems. Our expectation is that students try to see things from each other’s perspectives and take responsibility for their role in the various interactions. We expect our students to slow down and spend some time in the other person’s shoes. It just made sense to have the same expectations for ourselves.

The truth is, as educators, we tend to easily assume positive intent when interacting with students, but find it sometimes more challenging with adults. From the start, our real work was assuming positive intention with the grown-ups in our community and giving them the same level of grace that we give our students. Our staff quickly agreed that this simple change in mindset helped us to develop a fuller and more compassionate picture of everyone we talked to throughout the day.

Last year, many of us found that assuming positive intent crossed over to other aspects of our lives. One staff member said it changed the way she interacted with her spouse, her children and just about everyone else in her life. Not only do we become more empathetic toward others, but when we assume positive intent we can stop taking things personally, too. Just because someone has a different communication style or a different opinion, doesn’t mean they don’t like or respect us. This information is truly freeing.

Believe me, we all had bumps sometimes. I had a few conversations with people that might start with “I’m having a hard time assuming positive intent…” or “please help me see the positive intent in…” These, of course, are the times that we grow the most and really challenge our own character. The best work that we do is rarely easy, but during these times we learn as much about ourselves as we do about the other person.

As a staff we are very close and feel safe with one another. This allows us to call each other out and say “Wait, I don’t hear you assuming positive intent right now.” I’ve also heard people stop mid sentence and say “Oh, I’m not assuming positive intent right now, am I?” Assuming positive intent helps alleviate gossip and allows us to have respectful and courageous conversations with one another. Not too long ago I picked up the phone just to rant to one of my friends about something. Before I finished dialing the number I heard that little voice in my head ask me what my positive intent was in making this phone call. I didn’t have one. So I hung up.

At the end of the school year we met as a staff to reflect on our practices. Part of that reflection was to evaluate our theme. The consensus was that assuming positive intent helped us grow in our relationships with our families and our co-workers. Everyone agreed that the idea aligned perfectly with the Montessori philosophy of grace and courtesy, too. Instead of checking off the theme as complete, we decided that assuming positive intent needed to be part of our culture. Corey Peterson (Upper El assistant) asked us “What if assuming positive intent was just what we do? Just who we are?” We all liked the sound of that.

And so, we would like to invite all members of our HMS community to participate in a culture where we assume the best intentions and we take a minute to try to see things from other people’s perspectives. We encourage you to share stories with us that highlight the constructive changes that assuming positive intent bring. We invite you to talk with your children about the benefits of assuming positive intent, as we truly believe it is another step toward building a better, more tolerant world. Thank you for your partnership in our school community.


For more information on the book Mindset check out these reviews:

There is a lot out there about assuming positive intent. If you are interested in learning more, start by checking out these quick reads:

In next week’s blog, I’ll talk about this year’s professional development theme: Service

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