“Take care of your self. Take care of each other. Take care of this place.” is a quote that I have used for many years. It speaks to me. Reminds me. But it’s not mine. I found it in an article by Meg Wheatley, where she shared a story about a Junior High School. Neither the school nor the Principal were named. This is the story from that article…
Last year we met a junior high school principal who gave us a superb example of creating a complex and orderly system from a few simple patterns. He is responsible for eight hundred adolescents, ages twelve to fourteen. Most school administrators fear this age group and the usual junior high school is filled with rules and procedures in an attempt to police the hormone-crazed tendencies of early teens. But his junior high school operated from three rules, and three rules only. Everyone – students, teachers, staff – knew the rules and used them to deal with all situations. The three rules are disarmingly simple:
1. Take care of yourself.
2. Take care of each other.
3. Take care of this place.
(As we’ve thought about these rules, we’ve come to believe that they might be all we need to create a better world, not just a junior high school.)
Few of us would believe that you could create an orderly group of teen-agers, let alone a good learning environment, from such simple rules. But the principal told a story of just how effective these three rules were in creating a well-functioning school. A fire broke out in a closet and all 800 students had to be evacuated. They stood outside in pouring rain until it was safe to return to the building. The principal was the last in, and he reported being greeted by 800 pairs of wet shoes lined up in the lobby.
Principles define what we have decided is significant to us as a community or organization. They contain our agreements about what we will notice, what we will choose to let disturb us. In the case of these students, wet shoes and muddy floors were something they quickly noticed, something that disturbed them because they had already agreed to “take care of this place.” They then acted freely to create a response that made sense to them in this unique circumstance.