All I really need to know I learned in elementary school

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Peter Bregman has a recent post about being inspired by his 4 year old to minimize the time spent on difficult transition times in the workplace.  This is so true (both in the preschool dropoff context and in the workplace).

Along the same vein, there are many management lessons to be had by studying the crowd management skills of my kids’ teachers.  Here are some of them – enjoy.

School rule #1: Can’t say can’t play.
When my oldest child was 4 years old, she became friends with a little girl who was part of a 4-girl clique.  This little girl explained to my child: “I can’t play with you because A, B, and C are here and I can only play with them. But B and C are not here Thursdays.  So if it’s a Thursday, and A is busy doing something else, and I’m not playing with anyone else, then I can play with you.” (OUCH!)

The preschool teachers have seen this before and they knew exactly what to do.  They divided the cliquey girls so they never sat together in class.  They manufactured team activities that required co-mingling them with everyone else.  They manufactured more activities that are led by kids outside the cliques.  They put anyone who excluded anyone else in timeout.

Key takeaway: make sure there’s a single, inclusive culture in the workplace.  Divisive dynamics isn’t something to be swept under the rug.

School Rule #2: “No, go, tell”

To keep kids from becoming tattletales, the teachers have a 3 strikes rule. The first time kid A does something bad to kid B, B is to tell A to please stop the behavior.  The second time, B is to depart from the scene and find something else to do that doesn’t involve A. The third time, B goes and tells the teacher.

Key takeaway: encourage folks to talk and work things out, and hone their conflict management skills.

School rule #3: “The 3 D’s”

Our elementary school has a “3 D’s” rule, which are exceptions to the “no, go, tell” rule: if a kid engages in behaviors that are dangerous, disruptive, or disrespectful, don’t wait for the first two strikes – tell on the kid immediately.  If a kid keeps on engaging in these behaviors, he or she becomes separated from the group.  For instance, there are two boys I know who currently “have their own offices” and never sit with others during class.  The needs of the other kids to do their work trump the disruptive kid’s need for inclusion.  If that still doesn’t work, the kid goes off to the principal’s office.  If that still doesn’t work… well, there are many other schools in the town.

Key takeaway: if someone is being disruptive or disrespectful, deal with the behavior in the moment, as the behavior unfolds.  If the behavioral pattern persists, separate him or her from the team and find something they can work on by themselves while working on the behavioral pattern, even if this reduces that person’s potential to contribute. If nothing works, regretfully, one would have to let them go.


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