When J. Lynn Jones joined Mapleton Elementary in Mapleton, Utah, as principal in 1993, he knew he was stepping into a challenge—but he didn’t know what would come of it. “First thing I did was talk with everybody one on one,” J. Lynn explains. “And it didn’t take long to see the culture was a disaster.” There was backbiting and gossip. The faculty and staff had a scarcity mentality, and there was little accountability or dialogue.
Shortly after joining Mapleton, J. Lynn’s PTA president introduced him to a course on achieving dialogue. She thought it might help. So J. Lynn completed Crucial Conversations Training and soon after became certified to train the course to his staff.
He explains, “After certification, I went back to my school and said, ‘Now, to become fully certified, I have to train others. I’ve bought materials for whoever wants to participate and every Monday we’re going to do Crucial Conversations.’ Most of the staff came, and it changed the culture of my school.”
J. Lynn believes it’s no coincidence that a decade later Mapleton Elementary became a National Blue Ribbon School, federally recognized for academic excellence and for substantially closing achievement gaps.
But it didn’t stop there. J. Lynn began receiving invitations from various school districts to train educators. He also took a role as Director of Special Education for Nebo School District. “I had principals who needed training,” he explains, “so I’d work with them, and that would impact them and their schools, and then they’d ask me to train their entire staffs.” J. Lynn went on to train thousands of teachers and leaders across the State of Utah.
Students also benefitted from the cultural changes. “One day, a high school teacher came to me and said, ‘Can you share these skills with students?’” J. Lynn explains. “So, I began by giving an overview of Crucial Conversations to some high schoolers. I’d teach the first couple of skills and encourage the students to apply them to their own situations through roleplay. And word kind of spread. Eventually, I heard from the principal of an alternative high school, Landmark High School.”
J. Lynn trained Landmark High’s student leaders and, in his words, “the kids ate it up.” Next, he heard from the director of a school for young mothers and they also went through Crucial Conversations, learning alongside their teachers. Over the years, J. Lynn equipped hundreds of young adults with the conversational tools necessary for navigating life.
During this period, J. Lynn also certified with VitalSmarts to train Crucial Accountability and Influencer, which he frequently trained and used in his work. One particular endeavor stands out.
“Perhaps one of our more exciting Influencer projects involved Native American students,” J. Lynn says. “Twelve to 15 years ago, the percentage of Native Americans in our district who graduated was 37 percent. We’d had some passionate people working who had raised that graduation rate significantly, but in 2015 these educators decided they wanted 100 percent of Native American students to graduate from high school. We had 26 seniors at the time, and normally eight or nine would graduate. But because of our Influencer initiative, that year 100 percent graduated and 23 of the 26 went to college. The next year, all but one graduated. Using the Influencer model, we helped the kids find pride in their heritage, track their progress toward graduation, apply for college scholarships, and get involved with extracurricular activities.”
J. Lynn and his staff implemented other methods, too, like publicly recognizing students for small achievements, awarding them with gift cards, bringing in inspiring speakers, holding a mock graduation ceremony, and making sure the principals and school counselors knew these students by name. In 2016, J. Lynn and his fellow educators were invited by the National Indian Education Association to speak at their annual conference. “The room was packed,” says J. Lynn.
Today, J. Lynn is retired from the school district, but he still works as a consultant and trainer of the VitalSmarts skills and principles. Having seen firsthand the impact these skills can have in the lives of leaders and students alike, J. Lynn continues to teach them to the groups and audiences he speaks to and trains.
“I’m so enthusiastic about these skills because they’ve changed my life,” J. Lynn says. “They gave me a chance to impact the lives of hundreds of people.” ◼
The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the storyteller and do not reflect the view of VitalSmarts.
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