The Top 3 Ways to Ward off Energy Vampires

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

"I want to suck your blood!" said an Energy Vampire.

Jon Gordon's book, The Energy Bus, is absolutely fantastic…in fact, I have wanted to read it for years, but hadn't hit the shopping cart button on Amazon until this summer. He defines 10 rules to fuel your life, work, and team with positive energy. One rule stuck out that I think is even more prevalent now than when Gordon wrote the book originally, Rule #6: Post a Sign That Says NO ENERGY VAMPIRES ALLOWED on Your Bus.

Simply put, Gordon defines an energy vampire as a person who drains your energy. These people will "suck the life out of you and your goals and vision if you let them," he states.

I am going to reframe this for educators and give you three strategies and ideas to ward off "Energy Vampires."

1 - Don't Hire Energy Vampires

The number one strategy is to steer clear of Energy Vampires. If you have the opportunity to be part of the hiring process in your school, be cognizant of these type of people. This means during the hiring process you must do your homework. Checking on references, using scenario-based questions, asking questions about teaming and collaboration are musts.

When you check references there are probably set questions your school district requires you to utilize. Follow those questions, but make sure to listen for red flags. When checking a reference, red flags such as the following can be good warning signs to not hire:

  • Difficulty teaming or collaborating
  • Few examples of the candidate working successfully in the school environment
  • Little to no detail in examples of a successful work experience
  • Works well by themselves without support (independent work is fabulous, but are you trying to create an environment where everyone is on their own island, or the same island working for the same goals; be cautious with this positive statement from a reference giver)
  • Long list of job changes (the more someone moves around, the more questions we may have about sustainability and teaming; if this candidate moves from job to job, there must be a reason; even if the candidate is positive in the interview, they may have a dark side…this could be sufficient evidence to determine an Energy Vampire)

During the interview, make sure your questions contain some scenario-based formats. This automatically puts the candidate into the role of a teacher. They must answer from past experience or project what they might do based on their background knowledge. A great question could be the following:

INTERVIEW QUESTION: When you have teamed with colleagues in the past, describe a time when everyone didn't agree and how your team successfully went to solution.

This question assumes quite a few premises your school may be looking for in their next fabulous teacher: 1) have they have been part of a team before, 2) have they been part of a successful team at some point in their working career, 3) do they have procedures on how to solve problems, 4) how has the team successfully solved a disagreement, and 5) has the candidate been part of the problem solving process and learned something. This question is loaded and you can learn a lot from how the candidate answers or does not answer the question.

Teaming and collaboration can take a team from being lukewarm to boiling when they have respect, compassion, and a set of procedures to solve problems. During an interview, listen through all of the questions to hear if the candidate talks about getting support from others in the education environment. A successful candidate should, without knowing, discuss how the power of "we" solves more problems than "I."

After you have hired a positive energy person, use a rubric to determine the effectiveness of the team. Here is one I built that will support your team in setting goals in order to "boil": The Best Teaming Rubric Out There.

In essence, the best strategy is to not hire Energy Vampires.

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2 - Call Them Out

Too many times we prance around the real problem like we are on egg shells. For example, a team of three teachers at fifth grade level that is having problems. Two of the teachers work well with each other, the last teacher brings negativity to every meeting. The two teachers know as soon as they sit down to meet, the negativity begins. They are reluctant to confront the teacher because they don't like conflict. Instead of tackling it head on, the negativity persists and the success of the team is already determined.

Jon Gordon confronts energy vampires head on, he tells them, "Look, I don't allow any negativity on my bus. If you are not going to be positive and contribute to our vision then you're off the bus and you'll have to look for another job."

I understand a teacher may not be able to say those exact words and have the power of hiring and firing a colleague. As a principal, I do want teachers to confront this problem as a team first before it is brought to my attention. Sometimes I don't even know the problem because teachers didn't want to burden me with another problem as they see me tackling student and parent issues all day. In reality, I would prioritize this a head of many other problems I deal with daily. If you don't believe this affects students, then you are mistaken. A teacher versus teacher problem can affect (in the above scenario) upwards of 75 students. Dealing with one student or one parent does not equate to supporting teachers to solve a problem of this magnitude.

Just like working with students, we can address other teachers with some basic verbiage. Using "I" statements is a good start.

  • I feel….
  • I am frustrated when…
  • I am looking for more positive…
  • I feel the correct thing is…
  • I am disappointed when…

Calling out an energy vampire can take time, especially if you don't have another option. Depending on the trusting relationship that has been built, determines how blunt your words may need to be when addressing the colleague. Here are some questions to ponder before you call them out:

  • Does your team have procedures to tackle curriculum, instruction, and assessment?
  • Does your team have a set of procedures when tackling a situation when everyone doesn't agree?
  • Does the teacher know when you get frustrated, mad, or disappointed?
  • Does the teacher want to solve problems or merely bask in the smell all day?
  • Have you ever told the teacher your true feelings when you get frustrated with them?
  • Do you feel you can confront the teacher?

After confronting an energy vampire and letting them know how you feel, did you see a change? If you did, here is a great reinforcing article I wrote that can be shared on the importance of staff culture (I share this with my staff every year), 212 Degrees of Customer Service in Education.

If not, getting support from the principal may be the next step. Hopefully, the principal has had some success with these type of people or has some ideas on what to do next. The principal can back door many conversations with the energy vampire that may help steer the bus in the correct direction. The next step would be having a sit-down with the whole team and walking through some scenarios looking for compromise.

Lastly, if nothing is working so far (and, if the principal is supportive and has a backbone), the next step is for the principal to meet one-on-one with the energy vampire and start a plan of improvement. The rest of the teacher team will not be privy to these conversations, but will hopefully see changes with the team. If the principal doesn't see changes, then the principal must get the energy vampire off the bus!

We must call out energy vampires!

3 - Treat Energy Vampires as a Sickness

The last option is the most disappointing, but may be the reality for a majority of teachers across the nation. Do not get me wrong, I do care about tenure and I am glad we have it, but there are certain blood sucking people that should not have tenure…you guessed it, ENERGY VAMPIRES!

This option is for the teachers and principals who have put a ton of time and energy into to the vampire, and are getting nowhere with him or her. Unfortunately, the principal may not have went the route of a plan of improvement or evaluated the vampire accordingly (notice how the principal is the key here). There are certain situations where the principal may have prioritized other needs of the school first. In reality, this should be the number one need. An energy vampire affects an enormous amount of students causing problems…problems the principal may not understand are coming to him or her because of this vampire!

If the principal is unable to remove this energy vampire, and your words and efforts have not been fruitful, we must treat them as a sickness. No one wants to get sick…sick from negativity. We wash our hands more, move further away from someone who is coughing, and may even chose to be in another location because of the sickness.

Washing our hands means we are being proactive to not get sick. We may hear negativity, but we move away or combat it with positivity and reframing a conversation. We wash our hands and even put sanitizer on our hands. When we put sanitizer on our hands it is equivalent to finding other people who are positive, or going to a place in our own minds that brings us back to a place of positivity to replace or combat the negativity. We must wash our hands routinely.

We move away from someone who is coughing. We hear the cough, we determine if the person is choking or truly sick. When we determine they are sick, we take preventative measures. In a room where we are required to be, we move away from them. The cough represents spewing negativity. We move away from the negativity and find people in the room that are more positive. It is fascinating how people will move towards other positive people in a room. Just as fascinating are the people that gravitate towards the sickness, or negativity. Why do these people do that? Gossip and negativity intrigue people and it seems to come out of people's mouths and in their actions much easier than positivity. You know those people who have RBF, Resting Bad Face (Some of you may know a different acronym). Their face makes it look like they are always mad or upset. RBF's have built in magnets…they attract each other! We must move away from negativity.

If we have the chance to move out of a location where there are sick people, we must do so for safety! Obviously, if we are around sick people, we inevitably will become sick as well. In the education realm, if we have a chance to move away from negativity, we must for the health of our students and ourselves. We must change teams, grade levels, and even schools to get away from this negativity.

Sometimes we are stuck in a situation because it is the only job we can get, the only school in the area, and we are doing the job because we love kids and people in general. If this is the case, then we must treat energy vampires as though they have a sickness. Stay away from energy vampires!

A PLUG FOR JON GORDON: Read his book, The Energy Bus, to learn of the other rules for positivity! Thanks, Jon, for the fabulous book that connects so well with education and our daily lives!

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Jon Konen