Watch out for the 3Ps.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Happy New Year, etc. have all passed for this year. They are days of celebration in most cultures and families. There are also people who do not experience these celebrations as happy times.

There are kids and adults, for different reasons, that are subject to painful memories and/or experience tough emotional times during holidays.  What I am suggesting is be aware and empathetic of those who are less fortunate or have a difficult time during the holiday season.

I am reminded of a couple of students I was talking to at the end of May.  As the principal, doing lunchroom, duty I said, “I bet you are looking forward to summer vacation.”  I was.  Their response brought reality to me.  They said, “no, do you know what it’s like in our neighborhood in the summer?” Police sirens, street gangs, parents working multiple jobs, and the list went on. Yes, this was an urban school.

I have since gotten a similar response in suburban schools although for different reasons.  Students in suburban schools talk about being alone, some are bored, playing video games all day, and they miss their friends at school.

Please pay attention to those kids who may not have the same positive experiences you may have had during the holidays.  You may have the same negative experiences in your history as some of our young people.  WATCH OUT FOR THE 3Ps

Martin Seligman (1990) wrote Learned Optimism.  He included some surveys to predict optimism, depression etc. for students and adults.  I try to pay attention to people (kids and adults) who verbally or nonverbally express the 3Ps Seligman wrote about. These can foreshadow depression,  at least, a ‘red flag.’

  • Permanence – things are never going to get better
  • Pervasiveness – it is not one thing, it is everything
  • Personalization – it’s me, not anyone else

Permanence – language will indicate that their experiences and lives tend to be negative and they have no belief that things will get better.  You will hear statements that lead to learned helplessness, being overwhelmed with very little hope for the future.

Pervasiveness – it seems like every part of a person’s life is full of challenges. You will hear in their responses, no matter what you talk about, they will have a negative spin to the situation.  It is very hard to hear and watch as this becomes a downward spiral. Each issue becomes a mountain to climb.

Personalization – Many times we want people to take responsibility for their own actions.  In this state of depression, they take on too much responsibility for everything that is wrong.  Gripped by blame and shame they feel they are the reason nothing works and they have no plan for improvement. Many times this affects both their personal and professional life.

If these kids or adults are close to you, it is hard for them and for you too.  You search for ways to help.  Obviously, when it is a staff member, we have help lines, EAP (employee assistance programs),  seeing a counselor, etc. When all 3Ps are present, I share my concern and encourage them to get help from a professional.

When it is a student I try to find a staff member who already has a relationship with the student. Counselors and support staff are also very helpful.  With relationship, we have influence. In extreme cases we have to go to the parents with our concerns.

Once back to school and in a routine can be helpful.  Being in school provides structure, being around people, and having a purpose to focus on.  If that helps shake off the downward spiral, great.  If not, sharing your concern and facilitate getting help.

If I see all 3Ps present in someone, it is time to try to have a conversation.  Everyone has a bad day or maybe a week.  If the 3Ps persist, do something.  It is about personal contact and helping others be successful. Here are a few other things I have learned over the years working in schools.  I call it the 3Fs:

Frame Failure – Reframing failure as feedback, famous failures that have produced positive results, and learning from failure can help.  We all can share things that didn’t work out like we intended.  Being open with students about your challenges, especially if you have a relationship with the student, can be the catalyst for change.

Focus – It isn’t everything.  Bill O’Hanlon wrote a book called Do One Thing Different. To help people change, do one thing. Once one thing works, then try a second.  You are building momentum.  When I am coaching principals I focus on one or two things.  Most principals want to take on five or six.  If you can’t do one or two, you will never do five or six.  Many times making one thing work can lead to other issues getting resolved.

Friends – I don’t know anybody who has survived and thrived alone. It pains me to see kids who seem always to be alone.  As Barbara Streisand sang, “people who need people…”  We all need a social network.  Make it happen for those we teach and ourselves.  That is why getting staff together helps build relationships and a social network is so important.  Some of the best innovative companies find ways for people to spend time together so they can share ideas.

In workshops I often ask participants to think of the people who have helped you be successful.  I then make three requests. I have no power to make this happen.  Once they have the most important person in mind, within 24 hours call, write, or email and say, ‘thank you.’  If they are deceased, write a letter.  They will know and so will you.  Within three days, tell a second person. Within a week reach out to a third.  We all have been blessed by those who helped us when we were down.

Gratitude helps the person receiving AND the person giving gratitude.

We don’t do a very good job and telling people thank you or how they have helped us. See ‎


O’Hanlon, B.  (1999).  Do one thing different.  New York: William Morrow and

Company, Inc.

Seligman, Martin.  (1990).  Learned optimism.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.


Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!