Tag Archives: Emotion

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?


Three Essential Teaching Questions

white cruise ship on the sea

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

Who Taught You?

I am in the middle of Portsmouth Habour in a 4.2 metre Laser Class dingy. A 128 metre, 6000 tonne ferry is heading towards me. It sounds five short blasts on its horn. This means danger or doubt – I don’t understand your intent. I can sense the captain pulling a cord or pressing a button with her big thumb. Each pull or push (or whatever she’s doing up there on the bridge) is just long enough and hard enough to communicate total and utter incredulity that I am in her way.

Then I hear my Navy instructor shout, ‘Who the f**k taught you to sail?’ I decide not to reply with, ‘You did mate,’  because I’m actually very scared. Then he shouts at me again, helpfully, with information detailing how I might avoid a collision. I survive and the ferry is un-dented; though I sense it rolling its eyes and shaking its head in disbelief as it heads off to dock.

Several weeks later I’m out on the water again this time in the Lake District. Wind conditions exceed my skill and experience. A gust takes hold of the hired boat and it begins to flip. I’m scared. But then, without a thought, I somehow follow the same Navy advice and get back in control. I survive one more time.

Learning with Fear

I’ve not served in the military but the Navy Sailing school in Portsmouth, UK taught me to sail small dinghies. And it taught me well. The instructors did a superb job using a teaching style that combined fear, ridicule and humour. It worked (see above). What I learned when I was frightened was triggered again by fear.

What is your first memory? Getting lost? Being found? Love? Pain? A colour? A smell? Chances are it’s linked with a very strong emotion like fear.  Emotion triggers memory. Memory is learning. So why don’t we see emotions referenced on lesson plans?:

  • Use humour to develop a practical understanding of fronted adverbials;
  • Cultivate the absolute horror of a grade U to motivate your revision this week;
  • Expand vocabulary through an ethos of ironic melancholy.

If only effective teaching were this simple.

What is Effective Teaching?

I want to ask this question and keep asking it. In fact I’m going to ask it twelve times this year; once a month until July 2019. I absolutely guarantee that I won’t find a definitive answer by then. It’s a wicked problem anyway: the only way to approach it is to poke it and see what happens. But the process of trying to find an answer is where the learning value is found.

So far I’ve come up with eight features that might, in some small way, possibly, start to hint at the likelihood of a proposed draft answer to the question. Maybe.  I’ll talk about the first one next time. I’ve also been looking at the diverse views and research of other people – educators, academics and people I meet at BBQs.

Three Questions

So why bother investigating effective teaching at all? For me, it’s down to three questions. I can’t think of three more relevant ones for educators. Here they are:

1. What do your pupils need in order to be successful citizens and global contributors?
2. Which teaching practices work best?
3. How can we learn to use 2. to provide 1.?

1. gets very messy. Politicians, business leaders, parents, teachers, futurologists, journalists and historians each have a different take on it. Quite often they debate it loudly and we don’t get anywhere new. 2, we can do something about so why not make a start:

What, for you, is the most important feature of effective teaching?