Tag Archives: Relationships

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?


Where to Speak 600,000 Words

bus inside

Which part of a bus is the most important? The engine? The driver? Wheels, brakes, fog lights? The passengers? No. It’s the Literacy Alcove.  The Literacy Alcove is usually towards the center, or at the front on the left. It normally has fold-down seats, is often filled with push chairs, babies, toddlers and their mums.  The buggy-baby-toddler-mum area. Where wheelchair users go too.

I propose that it’s here where a nation’s future is forged; where economic success is made or broken and where personal fulfillment begins.

Bold claims for a bit of a bus. Let me explain why:

I travel a lot. I choose public transport when I can, walk if it’s sunny and fly if I have to. I use buses a great deal. I see what goes on in the Literacy Alcove. Things like this: a mum and her baby boy get on. The baby is about 11 months old and strapped in a pushchair. He is big-eyed and alert. This is a bus for goodness sake; what’s not to get excited about. He’s looking around making eye contact with passengers, taking in the sounds, the colours, shapes, smells; seeking out something to connect with, something to learn, to do, to grasp. His brain must be crackling with electricity. He is full on ready to learn.

Mum parks the buggy so she can see him. She smiles, he smiles back. I’m anticipating a beautiful moment filled with the to and fro of a proto-conversation. Then mum takes out her phone, turns away and spends the rest of the journey on Facebook. Baby looks around for a while then zones out.

Sometimes you don’t see the first bit. The part where the buggy and its child get to face the mum. Once in a while the baby gets the phone and the mum pulls out another, bigger one. If you’re lucky (like I was this morning) nan gets on. She has her grandson for the day and there are no phones. I saw nan entertain baby for 20 minutes with a single bus ticket. She gave it to him and he scrunched it up, she straightened it out, then he examined it, licked it, flapped it, dropped it and waggled it. Then nan rolled it into a ball and played guess where it is. All the while talking to him and asking questions. Inspiring use of the Literacy Alcove.

More inspiring would be a bus company (First Bus, Arriva, whoever) that put poems and rhymes and songs there – instead of  serious lists of imperatives about buggies, wheelchairs and travel-based behavioral priorities. There could be books on strings, jolly cartoon characters talking and reading, big magnetic letters, textures, bells. A giant sensory alcove. Anything! Anything to get mums talking to their children. Lists of questions. Jokes. Funny pictures. Half finished sentences. Just something to start a conversation.

Some kids aren’t born with a silver spoon. Or any cutlery for that matter. They are poor in experience, opportunity and outlook (but not potential). They start school very much behind and many never catch up. One cause is scarcity of language in their first years. Some children start school with a 3000-story deficit and even the most effective teachers struggle to compensate.

We can fix this in the Literacy Alcove. Imagine a 20 minute journey taken 5 times a week for 40 weeks of the year. If mum speaks to baby for half that time at 100 words per minute, that’s 200,000 extra words a year. 600,000 more before they go to school. And that’s just in the bus.

First Bus, Arriva: free rides for mums who have a conversation with their child. The driver can check in her mirror. A fiver every time they sing a song to their baby. Vouchers for asking questions, pointing out interesting things. Rewards for language.

We can do the sums but I guarantee the cost of not doing this is more than fitting out every bus with a couple of posters and a book on a string.

Photo by Matteo Bernardis on Unsplash

Why You Must Lose Control of Your Class


You’ve Been There, Right?

Teachers – here are three classroom experiences that I truly hope you’ve had:

  1. The absolute-rock-bottom-I-have-nothing-left-in-my-toolkit-horror of being in front of a class as control slowly and surely slips from your fingers.
  2. The absolute ecstatic joy of finding the class fully engaged with the task you set them when you return from a 10-minute trip to the photocopier.
  3. The heartwarming, yet sometimes funny feeling of being called ‘mum’, ‘dad’, or even ‘nan’ by one of your pupils. Or all of them.

And why do I wish this (and other similar feelings) upon you? Because they’ll help us to think about effective learning relationships.

Horror, Joy & Humour

You really know the value of classroom relationships when they fall apart (see 1. above). I once had a Year 4 class. Tough kids; poor, wily, wiry, streetwise, emotionally honest and very big-hearted. But I didn’t see it. I didn’t spend time getting to know them – really getting to know them – as individuals or as a group.  The pressure was on for results; the focus on delivering content not developing connections. And so they slipped through my fingers. I tried valiantly to teach them how to spell instead of first teaching them how to care.

With my other classes I did take the time (see 2. above). Trust was there; mutual respect too, and a clear understanding of boundaries. We could do more and achieve more. When I left the room the children kept learning; they stayed on task. And from time to time they would make the slip of calling me ‘mum’. (I did once dress up as Widow Twanky for panto day but that is another story. With photos.)

Take the Time

Quality learning relationships underpin quality teaching and learning. But building them takes time – time which gets pinched by packed curricula and a relentless drive for publicly endorsed results. What if we took the time to get to know our pupils and helped them get to know each other? Do you think time invested like this would actually lead to more effective learning and better results? I believe it does. I know it does. It’s implicit in respected educational research. Relationships built well, build better learning. So how, with the future in our hands, should we develop quality learning relationships with, and between, our pupils; and with/between our colleagues?

Quality Relationships

An ongoing process for starting, developing and sustaining relationships:

  1. Get to know yourself;
  2. Get to know the other person;
  3. Communicate well; and
  4. Troubleshoot when needed.

And some suggestions for getting started:

  1. Know yourself. List three words that describe you; three things you like and three things you’ve learned in the last week.
  2. Know the other person. Find out three words that describe them; three things they like and three things they’ve learned in the last week.
  3. Communicate well. Share the above. Listen. Only think about what you are going to say next once the other person has finished speaking.
  4. Troubleshoot. When relationships break down it’s usually trust or communication in the spotlight. If things go wrong, seek help, own up, be honest, forgive, apologise, move on, learn.

So next time you feel rock-bottom-horror; ecstatic joy; heartwarming humour or any other feeling that’s linked to your educational relationships, ask yourself: What is this telling me about the quality of those relationships? How effective are they? What might I need to stop doing, start doing or simply continue doing to make them the best they can be?

(Thanks –  Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)