Monthly Archives: March 2020

COVID-19: Losses, Gains, Transformations.

Jake
I remember Jake from my first year of teaching; shaved head, small for a 10-year old, wiry, quick. Never quite in trouble, never quite on task. He lived in a tower block with his mum and her boyfriends. He thought everyone had six dads. He never smiled.

One day I raised my arm in front of him; pushed my glasses up. He flinched and his little fists came up. Poor Jake. That one hard-wired action showed me his whole life. How often had he defended himself against peers and those supposed to protect him?

Jake’s home life was a cauldron of neglect and abuse. We did what we could. I don’t know what happened to him, I hope he made it. That was over 20 years ago.

ACE
Jake suffered a continuous barrage of ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences. Violence, rejection, abuse, bullying one after the other, again and again. Most childhoods have one or two ACEs. His never stopped. He was damaged, possibly beyond repair. Jake suffered chronic, acute stress and carried a huge allostatic load. Each shock to his tiny system pumped out cortisol, shutting down his pre-frontal cortex, impairing his executive function, his ability to think ahead, to persevere, to succeed. He was physiologically and mentally scarred for life.

Loss
I can never feel what Jake felt, but since COVID-19 I have a much better idea about it. One shock after the next, one loss after another. First security goes, then safety, then power, control, income and finally freedom. There’s no time to process one loss before the next arrives.

An ‘ideal’ loss looks something like this:

The model is not without its critics but it helps affirm our emotions. They may be unwelcome but they are definitely expected.

Gains
When the ground beneath us moves we reach out for something to hold: family, friends, habits and behaviours. We cling to values, beliefs, objects and experiences, whatever it takes to keep steady. When Jake’s ground moved his fists came up. When our ground moves we seek out our comforts, our knowns. In this we can, if we choose to, find our gains.

I’ve spoken to my father more in the last two weeks than the last two years. I’ve learned more about Zoom since Sunday than in 20 years consulting. I’ve built personal and professional relationships of a quantity and quality unimaginable even a month ago. And I’ve set up a Zoom pub with my old university pals. We meet every Friday. We drink, we talk nonsense, we connect.

Transformations
We will be remembered for what we do, what we say and what we write during this crisis. We will all be transformed. We’ve been shown something terrible and how we respond to it will define us for the rest of our lives.

If Jake is out there, I know he’ll be one of the strong ones in this. His early life was nothing but loss. He knows it, he understands it. I truly hope he found a life of gain and transformation.

What are you losing?
What are you gaining?
How are you transforming?

Suffering is a universal experience occurring across space and time, revealing the “big T” Truth that going down, going through, and going into the unknown can be powerfully transformative.
Fr Richard Rohr

www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

COVID-19: Our Wicked Teacher

Murderous Sneeze
I’m standing on platform 1 at Bristol Temple Meads Station. A young woman nearby sneezes into her hand. The train pulls in and she gets on ahead of me gripping the handrail by the carriage door – with the sneeze hand. Four more people touch the rail after her (I don’t). I see one of them touch his mouth; another rubs her eyes. Later, at my destination, I shake a colleague’s hand and realise afterwards that I’ve touched my mouth before and after doing it.

And so a virus might ride its way around our herd, leaping, sliding and firing itself between us; the ultimate freeloader, the dangerous hitch-hiker; the subtle, invisible, murderous travel companion.

World War Z
I’m writing this a few weeks later. It’s mid-March 2020 and the world is in uncharted, pandemic territory. I’m washing my hands more and not touching my face. Scenes from the films Contagion, 28 Days/Weeks Later and even World War Z, though wildly extreme, are closer to our experience than ever. We have a problem. We have a big problem. We have a wicked problem.

Wicked
A wicked problem is ‘difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. It refers to an idea or problem that cannot be fixed, where there is no single solution to the problem; and “wicked” denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil.

Think about the diversity of national response to the COVID-19 pandemic: China leverages its communist ethos on mitigating behaviours; Italy shuts down; the US restricts entry and the UK adopts a high risk, contrarian nudge strategy of facing it head on and letting it run its course to a faster herd immunity. ‘Solutions are not right/wrong but better/worse‘… ‘it can take a long time to evaluate solutions‘. Each government is doing the best it can with the data and resources available to it. But none yet knows if their best is good enough.

We don’t always solve a wicked problem. We poke it to see how it reacts and then poke it in a different way to see what else happens. Our focus is on finding out not fixing. It’s frightening and it could be devastating but we can learn at least 3 important things while COVID-19 plays out:

1 Anti-Fragility
When the shock comes, what do you do? Break? Stand firm? Fight back? The scale from fragile to robust does not end at resilience. It extends further to ‘anti-fragile‘: Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Fragile breaks you; resilience keeps you strong in the face of adversity, but anti-fragile accepts that life is unpredictable; that in every shock is found a gift. It isn’t about naively embracing a crisis then exploiting the opportunity. No, anti-fragile is an attitude, a mindset, an assent to whatever the world does and a commitment to co-create with it.

Fragile is the shattered pane of glass; resilience the oak; anti-fragile the reed bending in the wind.

COVID-19 can teach us to be anti-fragile.

2 Humanity
People you know may die. Your business may fail or take a serious hit. You might loose your job. Your investments will shrink. You could feel fear, anxiety, dread. None of this is in your control but how you respond to it is.

We’re realising just how connected we are; just how dependent we are on each other; just how much we can influence another human being. If I don’t wash my hands, you might die. I could be your executioner and you might be my father. (He’s over 90, has serious underlying health conditions and I have to decide if or when I’ll next visit him. For now, I’ll phone more and do his online grocery shop.)

The virus shows how linked we are and the links that it exploits can also be the ones we use to understand and care for each other.

COVID-19 can teach us to think beyond ourselves.

3 Creativity
I’m looking at my bookings for the next 3 months. It’s a mix of face to face coaching, training, teaching and e-learning design. Some of it will be cancelled, some rescheduled, some will go ahead.

I’m asking myself, how much of this works if I’m at home, if I can’t travel or if my clients can’t? I sometimes use Zoom and Skype but could I use only Zoom and Skype? Will my clients be at the other end? Will they value that as much as the original plan. I’ll let you know.

If I do find myself with a blank diary and an empty bank account a plan is already in place to create a new offer, a new style of delivering Thinking Classroom. I’ve created a 9-year plan to meet my new goal (enrich the life, work and learning of 10,000,004 people each year).

I might not have much toilet paper, beans or soap, but I’ll have a mission. I’ll have something to create.

COVID-19 can teach us to innovate, to create.


Wicked Scars
The cull of the Black Death eventually lead to urbanisation and the empowerment of the peasant classes. However in the 3rd century smallpox reeked havoc on the Romans by following the same trade routes which had established the empire’s wealth and power.

We don’t yet know what scars COVID-19 will leave on our planet but, as a good friend once taught me, ‘scars tell you where you’ve been they need not dictate where you’re going.’

There will be wicked scars but there are 3 lessons here if we choose to learn. Anti-fragility, humanity, creativity.

www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Be Careful What You Measure

Not my legs

You’re making the biggest mistake possible with this, Mike.

So says James, my personal trainer, and he should know: I’ve trusted him with my physical fitness and injury recovery programmes since 2014. Inspired (or egged on) by younger family members, I’ve decided to be able to row 2000m in less than 8 minutes. They can do it in 6 but they’ve a 30 year advantage on me and have much longer legs. James thinks my approach to the challenge is wrong and he’s right.

I’ve been chipping away at my 2k time over the the last few months: 10:10, 10:02, 9:53 (breakthrough, hurrah), 9:30 (encouragement from younger family members), …., and recently 8:51. Then 8:58. Then 9:05. I’ve hit a limit of some kind.

So how are you training for this? asks James. I tell him I’m not, I’m just trying to get faster each time I row 2000m.

You’re not doing anything in between to make yourself a better rower?

I’m not. Mistake. Rookie mistake – which someone whose business is learning should not have made.

It’s so obvious. I’ve been measuring myself against my target and not doing anything to improve. Early gains were me getting used to the test – learning to row – not improving my rowing

James quickly designs a program of interval, cardio and mixed Fartlek training and sends me on my way. He’s good like that. I promise only to measure the 2k weekly.

Of course, driving home I realise the connection to schools. We focus on the test, measuring the outcome, not on measuring the actions that will lead to the outcome.

Lag and Lead Measures
Sean Covey’s 4DX philosophy is an operational-strategic approach to team and organisational success. He says we focus too much on the lag measures – endpoints – things we can’t do anything about once they’ve happened. Like an exam score.

On the other hand there are lead measures. These are different, better and more frequent. Lead scores measure factors that contribute to the goal, before the goal gets measured. Like counting revision sessions and grading them for effectiveness. Or self-monitoring your lessons, grading yourself daily, then using THAT data to spot patterns and improve – instead of obsessing with final pupil scores.

They say you can’t weigh a pig with a ruler. Let me take that further and say if you’re going to try, at least use the ruler to measure how much food it’s eating and how happy it is each day.

And back in school. Don’t obsess about the end point data. Yes it’s important. But more important are the data measuring actions leading up to the goal.

Time for a row. I mean, time to get better at rowing.

Something to think about
What could you measure – quickly, privately and regularly – that would help you improve your performance – and ultimately reach a target?

If you could measure one thing that you currently don’t or can’t what would that be?

What’s the best way to measure a pig?

Resources, training, coaching:
http://www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk
mike@thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Advice to a Bully

You do realise that 10% of these people will dislike you as soon as you open your mouth, don’t you Mike?

I’m just about to present to 150 senior leaders in education when my co-presenter offers this heartening advice. She’s a psychologist specialising in recruitment. Companies pay her to spot sociopathic and psychopathic behaviours at interview. They argue her fee is far, far less than the price of employing a bully.

Her helplful observation is actually empowering and emancipating. Get over expecting everyone to like you or your message. People see the world in very different ways and that’s OK. My colleague just happens to have put a number on it. It rings true: I have to work a little harder with one in ten, one in twenty people and why would this audience be any different?

Maybe you’d have felt bullied in this situation; a victim of her well-timed passive-aggression designed to destabilise a co-presenter – I was only sharing information with you, I thought you’d be interested!

Maybe she’d have caused her own alarm bells to ring at interview. Who knows her intention. I never asked.

Anyhow the keynote passed off without a hitch and my life carried on. But I’m reminded of this now in early 2020 (Corona Virus, Brexit etc.) as current secretary of state for the home department Priti Patel stands accused of bullying behaviour. Initiated by the departure of senior home office official Sir Philip Rutman, who is suing the UK government for constructive dismissal, the story is playing out around the issue of bullying. Is she a bully or a strong and focussed leader? Are her behaviours appropriate? Misunderstood? Effective? Is this just someone’s hissy fit in response to Patel’s poorly executed ‘difficult conversation’. And would my colleague have nailed her at interview? We won’t know for a while, if ever.

I once set up an anti-bullying program in school. After much research I chose the ‘No Blame’ approach.  Although vilified by punishment-hungry traditionalists, the system worked. It seeks long term solutions by presenting the full impact of the bullying behaviour to the perpetrator – but without blame. For once they are not judged. They have a chance to assimilate the consequences of their actions. The victim gets an equal voice and healing happens. We found most times the bully was themselves a victim, their skewed actions a cry for control and esteem.

But that was children, learning to navigate power. These are adults who should know better. And what is better? I’m not suggesting the No Blame approach for the UK government. I am mooting ‘Radical Candour’ to anyone who finds themselves in a bullying scenario.

Conceived by entrepreneur and CEO coach Kim Scott, this approach to strong leadership is deceptively simple:

1. Care personally

2. Challenge directly

Missing 1. you are abrasive and bullish, without 2. weak, unwilling to speak necessary truths. If both are in deficit there’s toxicity and manipulation.

No, for strong and effective leadership Scott argues we need to say it like it is to a person who we continue to value.

Maybe, way ahead of Scott’s thinking, that’s exactly what my co-presenter was doing all those years ago.

Something to think about

What features of radical candour do you see in yourself, your leaders?

Bully? Bullying behaviour? Sociopathic or sociopath?

What’s the best way to speak truth to power?

How do we teach pupils Radical Candour?

http://www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk