A few weeks ago, I visited Westbury Friends School, a Long Island Quaker school for preschoolers through second-graders. It was assembly day. The children were learning about equality and fairness. They explained to their parents that the two ideas are not the same. Equality means that everyone gets the same thing, and fairness means that everyone gets the same opportunity to be successful. “We will always try to be fair, but it won’t always feel equal.”
It’s pretty amazing to hear four-year-olds explain the difference. As the various students raised their hands, we heard lots of repetition, a considerable amount of “just be kind,” and a couple of long, rambling stories.
This section of the assembly was only meant to last about ten minutes, but it went on for at least twenty because–as the lead teacher later explained–the children were excited and sharing. In fact, at one point, we stopped everything when a three-year-old raised his hand and announced, “My mommy says I don’t need the Elmo potty anymore.”
We all clapped.
In other words, we didn’t stick too close to the plan. The needs of the people in the room were more important. In my last blog post, I told you that some research I’ve done with others seems to indicate that there are four elements that need to be in place prior to culture change. The second of the four is this: A meeting that is prepared for culture change will value relationship and function over structure and process. This will mean understanding that no structure or process is “one-size-fits-all” and that a commitment to relationship and function will require ongoing (not one-time-only) willingness to adjust/adapt structure and process.
Does your meeting stop for the Elmo potty?
Are you able to be flexible about process based on the needs of the people in the room?