Non-Standard Deviation - Being Different

This week's newsletter is a little different as it is coming from a special guest contributor, Dr. Sam H. (name shortened). Sam was a professor of mine at the first college I attended. He has had a profound impact on my life to the point where we still keep in touch fairly frequently despite having taken his class three years ago. This week, he is sharing some insight as to how we can make a positive impact by choosing the path less traveled and by using the theoretical approach known as positive deviance. Sam has some stellar credentials as well including:

PhD in Communication and Information Sciences from Alabama

Over 5 years of college teaching experience

Published in multiple academic journals

Currently a faculty member at Clemson University

Oh, and I can't forget to mention that he has the best vintage clothing account on Instagram! Check him out: @xrayvtg

Positive Deviance

Positive deviance is a theoretical approach that observes behaviors that stray from the status quo, however, are positive in intent or outcome (Mertens et al., 2016). Rooted in health and nutrition research, positive deviance was viewed in impoverished Asian and African communities. Under consistent, impoverished community conditions, many children were malnourished, however a small group maintained healthier weights (Lapping et al., 2002). As it turned out, healthy children were the beneficiaries of their mother’s positive deviance. Most mothers would throw away food scraps, while few boiled food scraps into a soup that would provide their children with invaluable nutrients and significantly contribute to healthy weight. 

As we age, we become creatures of efficiency, and it is easy follow the path of least resistance – following behaviors and practices that have been shown to “work” by those in front of us. However, it is those who take the road less traveled who learn new ways to be efficient in their lives. What would humans be if we never searched for alternatives? 

Allow me to share my own personal example. I regularly field complaints from colleagues in my field about classroom efficiency… 

“Students won’t participate,” “they are totally apathetic,” “they only care about grades,” “they hate me…” 

Most of the time, fortunately, I feel quite the opposite. I tend to become devoted, like a parent, to my class groups, creating small families, in which our successes and failures are felt as a group; I source my energy from them. I realized at this moment; this was my secret sauce – this was my positive deviance. Many colleagues of mine across education cannot seem to harness this energy, and can’t create those connections. However based on educator trends they blame the students’ generation, culture, technology, and the pandemic, and then, proceed to go back to old habits, boring activities, and the classic single-lane communication practices that have not worked for them, but is all they know or care to attempt. Enter in my positive deviance – my nutritious stew of food scraps. I start each class with two positives in which I create intentional conversation about the good things happening in students’ lives. The semester usually begins with low-hanging fruit answers like “it’s nice outside” or “it’s my last class of the day,” however as the semester rolls on students rapidly begin to share true accomplishments – “I got the role in a play,” “I got that job I interviewed for,” “my parents are visiting.” Suddenly, the opening 10 minutes of class becomes a dinner table where we reflect, speak about the highs, and what gives us energy. Over time the class learns each other, and they become a cohesive family, even sharing negative moments demonstrating that they have become comfortable enough to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the catalyst for liking, offering support, sharing experiences, and creating in-group opportunity, and it’s truly beautiful to see people who are noted as being too young and immature, be human. Class investment skyrockets. Students care about each other, and the class itself, even the instructor, become more important in their eyes. I have students who complete work for me, but not for other classes and I ask why. Students typically respond that they cared more about the class and about my judgment. My positive deviance is that I put the students first, and their priorities become my priorities. Their interests become my interests, and in turn my class quickly becomes our class.

So… Think about the little things you do differently – be it at work, with your friends and family, when you’re with your significant other. Think of your secret sauce – what makes you different? And, if you can’t think of one, that’s okay. Think about the work you do in your life and the people you care about, and consider things that maybe aren’t perfect and explore alternatives. You may just deviate enough to find a positive

Guest contributor 

Dr. Sam H.

Don't forget to follow his vintage clothing account: @xrayvtg


Tha Shyne

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