Keep Your Head Down and Your Mouth Shut….No Way


In Brene’ Brown’s book Daring Greatly, she explores how shame works in schools and in corporations to squelch innovation and creativity. A middle school girl told her:

There are times when you can ask questions or challenge ideas, but if you’ve got a teacher that doesn’t like that or the kids in the class make fun of people who do that, it’s bad. I think most of us learn that it’s best to just keep your head down, your mouth shut, and your grades high.

I teach adults for a living. I’ve done it exclusively for the last 6 years or so, but I’ve been teaching adults in some form or fashion in corporations and in yoga classes for most of my life. I’ve had a lot of experience with it. In my first years, I thought I was disseminating information. The teacher held the knowledge. The students absorbed it…or not. When I first started working in corporations, the philosophy was the same. The manager told me what to do and how to do it. Questioning the process was considered pushing back.

What I’ve learned over the years in teaching adults is that I’m really facilitating their own exploration in a particular field of knowledge. The longer I do it, the more humble I become about what I know. I learn something from every class I teach. Since I’ve become a facilitator rather than a teacher, students are more engaged. I have greatly reduced my expectations on the amount of content that I deliver, and I have increased my expectations of what the participants will bring to the party. Classes are more engaging, and participants are much more motivated. I rarely ever have a group that complains the entire day about wasting time in training. I do have managers that come in and complain about coming to training in the first part of the day. But, when they become engaged in their own learning, and they start to teach each other, they become invigorated. Their confidence builds, and they realize how important they are to the discovery process. I believe this expands their mind. And, that’s much more important than disseminating knowledge which is probably already available on the internet or intranet anyway.

When I was in K-12, teachers used shame to motivate. The problem is that it traumatized more than motivated. I don’t think they really knew that at that time. It was how you kept kids in line. Getting the grade and passing to the next level was the goal. In schools today – and I’m not a teacher, so this is only here-say – they have to teach to the standardized test. I think this is a huge disservice to the students as well as the teachers. It is measuring the retention of knowledge. There is no way to measure creativity and innovation on a standardized test. Like the middle school student says, when you have to just put your head down and keep your mouth shut, how can you be creative or innovative? And, when children grow up and come to work for corporations, we need them to be creative problem-solvers. We don’t have time to tell them what to do.

I am in a role where I design instructional materials as well as facilitate. I have been in roles where I have been asked to be creative and design something new and different…by a 1:00 PM meeting. I have been asked to create something innovative but when I present it am told that it’s not what they want. I’ve come to the point where I just ask them to tell me what they want, and I will put it together because it’s a waste of time and energy to be told time after time that it doesn’t fit what they wanted. I am a professional, and I have my own spin on instruction. If you don’t trust my professional opinion, why did you hire me? Hire someone that takes orders. I’ve left those jobs. I struggled a bit at my current job because I kept waiting for the instructions. I kept waiting for the hammer to fall on my going out on a limb with my own ideas. It took about 6 months before I realized that I was valued for what I bring to the table. It doesn’t always fly because of business needs, but I’m supported in the journey. This makes me more creative. It makes me more engaged. It makes me more interested in my employer’s needs.

Shame and failure have never motivated me. It’s made me want to quit. It’s made me want to hide. Shame kills my energy. Creativity and innovation require expanding energy. It requires a brain that is able to think beyond a box and to take broad concepts and mold them into something new. It requires personal risk-taking. And, I really feel that if I’m teaching, and I really value the expertise and creativity of the managers I teach, I have to help them step into some expansive energy of their own. I start my classes with an activity where I make participants tell me what they already know about the topic. The caveat is that the presentation must be done in pictures. It helps them tap into the creative side of their brain. It takes them out of their comfort zone which helps them detach from the problems back in their office. The cool thing is that it sets the stage for them to realize that they are already experts on the topic. I’m just going to provide some new tools and activities to help them expand their thinking.

Last week, I was struggling with my running training. I think I’ve gotten burned out. I’ve been training hard since after Thanksgiving. I texted the B*tch and told her that I’ve re-evaluated my goals, and I don’t think I want to run the half marathon that I have scheduled next week. I wanted to enjoy my vacation, and I’d like to continue trying to run faster but maybe at a shorter distance. I also want to start camping, hiking and socializing a little more on the weekends. She didn’t shame me about that decision. “You have to make your training fit your life,” she said. She teaches by allowing me to navigate my own lessons and learn what I need to learn. She lets go of the outcome. I could have shamed myself into running the race because I’d committed to it 14 weeks ago. But, it really wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. I’ve learned a lot from the training, and I’ve learned a lot from changing my goals. Jessica is a good teacher. She disseminates some valuable information, but she allows me the dignity to explore that information in the way I want to explore it and in my own time. It keeps me engaged and motivated. And, it continues to teach me how to teach others to reach their potential. Keep my head down and my mouth shut….not on your life.…not any more.

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