No matter your role: teacher, coach, program director, home visitor, family support specialist, “I notice” statements can help you be more effective as you interact with colleagues and families with the ultimate goal of promoting the wellbeing and learning of young children.
When you provide strengths-based articulation, it is as if you are a mirror, calling attention to moments of effectiveness. You state the facts, without judgment, and then offer a clear statement about the impact of the other person’s words or actions.
By calling attention to effective decisions you empower the person you are working with to use these same words and actions with greater intentionality.
It sounds simple. Yet though we have been writing about and practicing this Powerful Interactions change strategy for many years, we are still honing our skills and deepening our understanding of the impact it has on people’s lives – professionally and personally. In this blog, we share 5 insights from our work and that of colleagues. Whether you are considering using “I notice” statements for the first time or like us working on becoming more skillful at “noticing”, we hope you will find these insights helpful:
- “I notice” statements focus your attention on looking for and identifying strengths. Strengths aren’t always easy to see. Especially in settings where you walk in and immediately see changes to be made. If safety is an issue, that needs to be addressed. If not, we encourage you to take a breath, be present and look carefully until you find a strength, even it if is what Diana Courson, associate director of Childhood Services at Arkansas State University, calls a “sliver” of effectiveness be it a labeled container of markers on an art table so crammed with stuff there is no room to work or a “Welcome” sign for families in a program where the adults are so busy they do not stop to say “good morning” at arrival time.
- When you notice, the person you are observing feels seen. This is fueling in itself in our field where people often work in isolation from peers, whether that be in a classroom, family child care home or office. As Catharina Oerlemans, Family Support Supervisor at FirstStepNYC . who was leery of “I notice statements” thinking they sounded hokey, explains, “When someone says, “I notice” you can take a breath, you feel highlighted and seen. And when someone tells you what you did well, it makes you want to do it more often. How could you now want to give that to someone else?”
- As our work evolves, we are discovering that being seen allows people to see themselves. This in turn makes it possible to see others, a prerequisite to building trusting relationships, getting to know and appreciate another person and extend learning.
- “I notice statements” create opportunities for a person to use themselves as their own best resource – to see themselves as a decision-maker whose decisions about what to say and do matter. The behaviors you highlight -- or that someone highlights for you – become strategies to add to one’s tool kit inviting a person to begin seeing themselves as their own best resource. It is as if you are putting actions and words out on the table where people can see, think and talk about them together which can then motivate people to think more deeply about their work and can motivate them to explore new ideas and approaches (Anning & Edwards, 2006).
- Photos and video clips that y capture a moment (or sliver) of effectiveness can help others identify their strengths. They ensure specificity and focus and keep the conversation factual. As you look at a photo or video together and “name” the behavior/strength (articulation) and why it is important, the other person can see it, own it and intentionally repeat it.
- Articulating the “why” words and actions matter is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. We are wondering if there are developmental steps to becoming effective. Margie Brickey, who directs the Infant and Family Development and Early Intervention Program at Bank Street College, shared that when she started using “I notice” statements, she often found herself saying things like , “You decided to read a book, or set up the sand table or ….. That is important because it is fun.” It took time before she could give reasons that pertained to social-emotional or cognitive or physical development. Now sometimes she decides to point out that a teacher’s words and actions are important because they are fun – and as Margie says, “fun is important.”
We invite you to experiment with "I notice statements." We believe that using Powerful Interactions strengths-based articulation begins to make ripples of positive change in programs. A few days after her first experiment with using "I notice" statements, one director said: I have already begun to write and say, "I notice" statements and it encourages me to be more specific. What's more, I am getting such appreciation back from teachers. We all want positive encouragement. I feel energized and ready to keep doing this work."
© Dombro & Jablon 2015. Based on Jablon, J., Dombro, A. & Johnsen, S. (2014). Coaching With Powerful Interactions. Washington, D.C.: NAEYC.
 Anning, A., & Edwards, A. (2006). Promoting children’s learning from birth to five: Developing the new early years professional. 2nd ed. Maidenhead: Open University press.