25 Principles of Adult Behaviour every educator (and consultant) should live by
John Perry Barlow’s “checklist for life” went viral last week after his death on February 7. They provide the ultimate create checklist for educators.
John Perry Barlow was a lyricist for The Grateful Dead, but was also a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. At The Perfect Storm event this week in Utrecht, Netherlands, I was asked to give a three minute roundup of what I had noticed in the behaviour change in participants. His 25 Principles for Adult Behaviour summed up both the best of participation and some of the repeated gremlins I see when educators try to create ideas. I’ve listed Barlow’s 25 Behaviours here, and added things that spring to mind from working with hundreds of thousands of educators over the last 15 years as they come up with great ideas and try to make them happen.
1. Be patient. No matter what.
You can’t learn how to think like a designer in one day. You can’t create transformation in your school thanks to one professional development session. You can’t expect every outside consultant you see to resonate with your own ways of working from day one.
2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, never blame. Say nothing behind another’s back you’d be unwilling to say, in exactly the same tone and language, to his face.
The best feedback is a conversation, that opens up into a dialogue, right there and then, and develops new insights and ideas neither had thought themselves capable of. The worst feedback is the “you’re wrong”, with no insight as to why the interlocutor might be (more) right, and no invitation to get into a dialogue. It’s happened to me, four times over the past eight years. And I can remember every one of them. There’s a perception that a consultant in education must have enough brass neck to assume the job, that he or she must also be a fair target. Don’t badmouth us — please — put the onus on both yourself and the consultant to work out what might be more right, together.
3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
Most people are not trying to sell snake oil. Most school leaders are trying to slide up the greasy pole. Most people are just trying to get by, and we have no idea of the struggles, battles and crises they’re dealing with behind the veneer of daily respectability.
4. Expand your sense of the possible.
Too many educators kill off great ideas before they’re even born, because they assume it’s not possible. Most school leaders kill of great ideas before they reach the people who could benefit from them, because they assume the Board of Governors will squash it. Most poorly performing school boards kill off ideas without ever having heard them because their default-thinking is that ‘it’ is not possible.
5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
Not everything is possible. Prototype as early as possible, as many times as possible, to see if you can make your own dent in the universe. When you realise the chips are down, and that your ideas is just not going to sail, kill it and move onto the next one.
6. Expect no more of anyone than you yourself can deliver.
But make sure you deliver the most you can, and a little bit more — because that’s where the learning happens.
7. Tolerate ambiguity.
In our NoTosh Design Thinking work, the Immersion phase is full of ambiguity. Embracing it opens up possibility. Attempting to control it is not just futile — it is damaging to your team who are wanting to observe, get deeper into what makes a place tick, and understand that very ambiguity that makes leadership nervous.
8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
I could do this more. Thankfully I employ enough people to laugh at me every day. That’s why working together — with a team that you can call your own — is always more powerful than working alone.
9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
Every week, I see another piece of our work ripped off by a competitor. But it’s good stuff, and I can understand why anyone would want to sign it off with his or her name. And that makes it the right thing.
10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
I wonder whether this one comes easier with age, with ample fuck-ups under one’s belt to realise that “oh, my goodness, I’m so sorry — you’re right!” is the easiest thing to say, as early on as possible. I tend to be most certain that group sizes for work are correct, until I realise that they’re (nearly always) wrong.
11. Give up blood sports.
I only do consulting, which is a blood sport where only a few die trying.
12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Do not endanger it frivolously. And never endanger the life of another.
It’s not just having a wife / husband / kids / partner that makes this matter. When you work in a real team, you can endanger life in remarkably easy ways — overworking someone, or not being forceful enough in stopping them working themselves to the bone. I’ve tried to enforce holidays on people for the past five years, but it never worked. And that’s where this rule has to be shared by both partners.
13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
And yet lies of omission are sometimes the most hurtful, over time. If someone’s not doing a great job, it’s important they know. (See 2, above).
14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
People lie about their needs all the time (see 13, above). They lie by omission, because they’ve never actually stopped long enough to ask what they really need.
15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
People always ask me how I cope with the travel. I respond: “I love the travel, and joining my family in places we’d have never discovered unless someone had paid me to turn up there.” My mission is to help people find their own creative confidence, so that they find their place in a team and make stuff happen that they could never manage alone. I’m an non-believer of the freelance culture we seem to be falling into. I think it’s a lonely existence, that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Funnily enough, bringing people together also makes me very happy.
16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
Me-mail is the most boring way to share great ideas or work. If you really think you did something all on your own, then you’re a) mistaken, guaranteed and b) delusional if you think your self-jizzing is what other people want to read on social media.
17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
And try not to disparage too much (see 2, above)
18. Never let your errors pass without admission.
See 10, above.
19. Become less suspicious of joy.
Other people’s happiness is not at your expense.
20. Understand humility.
Understand it and keep a “PH” level that’s just right. Find a mentor to act as your litmus test.
When you’re not struggling with 3, above, this comes easily.
22. Foster dignity.
This is a full-time professional pre-occupation in education. We need more people to realise that we’re all just people.
23. Live memorably.
I live for memories more than stuff. Neither, in any case, can go to the grave, but the best memories today become tomorrow’s myths.
24. Love yourself.
Love yourself, but don’t feel the need to Instagram it.
The final six hang together, for me. They’re also ones I’ve seen myself and others struggle with more than any of the others in this list. Why, they’re also the ‘quietist’ ones to show publicly, perhaps. And so, with that, I’ll come back to them when I’ve understood them properly.
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