Tag Archives: Cooperation

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?


I Don’t Like Group Work

But only when it’s done for the sake of doing group work. To tick a box; develop life skills; now back to your spellings etc. etc. When there’s a clear reason for working together, a purpose and the group is managed well, then it’s fine. Necessary. Invaluable.

When you work in a group or a team, does 1+1=3? Or does it equal 1.89? Research says working together improves learning. But that’s like saying food improves health. Let’s think about it:

My occasional collaborator and like-mind, Tom Hoerr, once principal of the world leading New City School in St Louis, says there are three different ways for teachers to learn and work together:

  1. Co-operation: We all get along just fine, pushing towards the same goal, generally agreeing about how things get done.
  2. Collaboration: We all work together on the same project, bringing our diverse and unique skills to bear on it.
  3. Collegiality: We all learn together, researching and teaching one another about the most effective aspects of our profession.

Let’s transform this for students in class:

  1. Co-operation: We all get along fine in the classroom. We do our work. We can, by and large, sort out any disagreements.
  2. Collaboration: We work together on the same task, each taking on a different role and being responsible for a different aspect of success.
  3. Collegiality: We take responsibility for mastering content and teaching it to others – maybe as student mentors, student coaches or subject experts.

Add to this the choice between group work, team work and project work and you have a better idea of the many different kinds of working together: collaborate on a project; co-operate on a task etc. But not sitting around the same table, individually and quietly working on the same thing.

Students don’t come group-ready, especially younger ones. Children who are still busy establishing who they are will be less ready to work well with others. They need core skills: listening, turn-taking, decision making, negotiation, conflict resolution. Just like adults have. Mostly.

Start small. A group of one is a good beginning. Then pairs, then trios. Cap it at sixes and make sure everyone in the group has a clear role in addition to the learning task – facilitator, recorder, checker for example.

Does it work? Research from John Hattie and the EEF suggest it does, but only if we get it right. Ineffective group work is a thing too.

Check out this month’s Thinking Tool for more detail on helping students to work and learn together effectively, efficiently and productively. And reflect on times when you’ve absolutely hated group work and times when you’ve really loved it. What was the difference?