Yellow gooey sticky mess

Teach like your hair's on fireI recently read Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith.  It’s a first hand account by a primary school teacher in a working class school in the US.  Rafe writes about the principles that shape his teaching. It is a remarkable book.  I have found much in it that is useful for me in my work.  I particularly love to learn from people in different types of jobs and walks of life.

(It’s a super little paperback, and I’d thoroughly recommend it to parents as well as L&D people).

Taking the lead

Amongst many other things, Rafe writes about the need for teachers to be good role models.

Never forget that the kids watch you constantly.  They model themselves after you, and you have to be the person you want them to be.  I want my students to be nice and work hard.  That means I have to be the nicest and hardest-working person they have ever met.

Which made me think about my job, as an L&D Manager.  Essentially, my role is about learning – helping individuals, teams, and the organisation to learn and progress. Therefore I thought about how Rafe’s principle applies to myself. It means:

If I expect others to learn, then I must be the very best learner they have ever met.

I try to be like this. I am quite sure that I don’t always succeed.  But I love finding new ideas and stretching my knowledge and skills.  But trying to be great at learning also means being aware of and ok about the discomfort that can be involved in learning.

By discomfort I mean that learning involves change. And as I am sure you all know, change is not always a cosy process.

Being put through my paces

Here’s an example.  In August, I had a days personal development with a fabulous company whose expertise is in communication.  Myself and another senior manager were put through our paces by a superb facilitator.  The two to one ratio meant that me and my colleague were constantly on our feet, being challenged to deliver pieces of communication/presentation in different ways.  We were frequently given asked to do things like ‘leave the room and come back in and redo that 3 minute presentation, this time in 3 sentences, and in a way that will make me remember you one year from now‘.  Not easy!!!  Anyway, the day was difficult at times, uncomfortable at times, but so very useful.

Accepting discomfort

To learn and improve my skills, I have to be prepared for discomfort, that raw feeling of goofyness of not being confident and at ease, and accept it. As adults we are programmed to prefer the easier route, and not to want to revisit those feelings of our youth when we had to learn new things frequently, and often felt like gibbering idiots.  (Well I did anyway). The August day prompted me to remember one of my favourite quotes:

butterflyIn the change from being a caterpillar to becoming a butterfly you’re nothing more than a yellow gooey sticky mess.

[Ted Forbes]

My final point is that for those of us whose profession is learning & development, or OD, or similar, it is vital that we understand and empathise with others who are in the sticky mess stage.

  • When did you last feel in the yellow gooey sticky mess stage of learning?
  • In your job, what is the thing that you need to be amazing at?  If I expect others to do ________, then I must be the very best at ________ they have ever met.

3 thoughts on “Yellow gooey sticky mess

  1. Mess…? Me…? Pretty much all the time frankly, and it’s great! Ask – Listen – Think – Do – Repeat. You can leave the think bit out if you like 😉

    This is a super uplifting post, If I expect to help others to grow, then I must be the very best at pushing through boundaries they have ever met….needs work but you get the point. I’m giving a talk at Workplace Trends in 2 weeks. An unfamiliar (though hopefully friendly) audience, it’s being filmed and I’m going to sing at some point too – I’m not sure who will be more scared – them or me!

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