This week the Headteacher of a school I had spent a day with exploring humanistic education, values and maturity tweeted ‘Just wanted to let you know that Jean has left the building’. Let me explain.
Jean is the name given to that member of staff (male or female) who likes the idea of having values but lacks the courage or maturity to actually put these values into practice. Jean invests a great deal of time and effort in making a public declaration of their values: class displays with empowering and moving images and words like ‘determination’, ‘love’, ‘friendship’, ‘courage’, ‘compassion’ are stapled in gold and glitter for all to see and marvel at. Jean's language constantly references inspirational role models from history, the media, religion and literature. They may also seek to give public displays of their commitment to living these values by bringing in cakes to celebrate birthdays, joining and generating funds for groups or worthy causes.
Sadly, however, this is a front for just keeping the world as they think it is. It is their world, their values and woe betide anyone who challenges this closed, narcissistic and fixed mindset. Jean needs change, grow up or to leave the building for everyone’s good.
The Jeans in your life are people who are not open to the values, needs and pain of those who do not fit neatly into their own frame of reference of what is of value. They have succeeded, to some degree, in building a public image of a ‘nice’ person. Encouraged in this illusion of their own authenticity by those around them who are complicit in the deception (codependency is a terrible state). Everyone knows that Jean is not as good as they think they are but they have learnt to their cost of pointing out when Jean is wrong.
Jean can never be wrong, and therefore the development of others is held back. Jean is closed to any ideas or individuals that challenge Jeans fragile view of the world. Any thing (or anyone) that does not easily fit into Jeans values system is a threat and as such the response will be to fight, flight, freeze or flock.
The fight is often a verbal one. In close contact this comes out a snipping rather than sustained rational and reasoned argument. Or at a distance usually as a self-righteous justification of their actions. But never through quiet, open and respectful dialogue and never for a long period of time.
The freeze comes from the fact that they can’t think straight as this new idea, behaviour or process doesn’t compute and they are lost for words. Oh, and they blame the others for their lack of capacity to respond. “You made me feel.” rather than the more restorative “I feel, when you, because, what can we do about this?”
The flock is a means of protecting one’s self with others. They go to their tribe and complain, undermine and seek to justify their bad behaviour and, because Jean’s tribe see the world like Jean does they agree. There is only one thing more likely to disrupt the unity of a school more than having a Jean and that is having a whole gang of Jeans.
And finally, flight. They leave. They either leave the immediate challenging situation as it is too disruptive and upsetting (they get upset a lot). When they are at a safe distance they will usually get tribal and aggressive in justifying their position and blocking any further discussion. If the tribe is really under the sway of Jean they will be complicit in this today even if they know it will create problems tomorrow. Jeans aggression (passive or otherwise) is just too uncomfortable for people to tolerate or challenge.
So, if you are a Jean, please leave the building – it is really the most helpful thing. If you are a leader in a school or elsewhere, and you have a Jean, and they leave the building - let them go. Don’t chase after them. Don’t diminish your own values and commitment to the painful and vital task of educating children to be the adults that teachers so often aren’t. Let them go. Lock the door and put a sign in the window. ‘This school is a Jean free zone.’ Please send me any appropriate (or inappropriate) signs that I could send to the Headteacher I worked with this week. I’m sure she would be delighted.