Reading the April 2008 issue of Teacher, I was introduced to the Four Agreements of Don Miguel Ruiz through Brian Brennen’s piece under “At the Chalkface”. I can’t believe I haven’t come across this before. Don Miguel Ruiz says that everything we do is based on agreements we have made with ourselves and that many of these are the product of fear. His four agreements are:
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with everything Brian Brennen puts forward in his article, I do think there are some lessons I could certainly learn from Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements that could help me in my professional life as an educator.
In all my dealings with staff and students, I do make integrity and being ‘impeccable with my word’ a priority. I’ve never liked game playing. I am generally as open as I can be in my interactions with people, openly stating my position and motivations. I also endeavour to avoid aggressive, emotive manipulative language. I don’t praise unnecessarily or indiscriminately but try and praise deliberately and specifically.
The second agreement, about not taking anything personally, is the hardest one for me, I have to admit. I know myself fairly well and recognise that I’m emotionally based. Sometimes when one has put a great deal of time and effort into a project – thinking, creating, trialling, talking – it can feel like a slap in the face when there are negative responses. As teachers we can also feel this way when students or parents express some concerns about our methods or our mode of delivery in classroom instruction or in other interactions. Teaching is a very interpersonal and intrapersonal activity and a lot of us define ourselves by the job we perform. To receive a complaint is akin to an attack on our very idea of ourselves and somehow we feel let down and betrayed….”after all that effort I put into that lesson, this is what I get”…sort of response. We say that we feel unappreciated and our self-confidence drops. We really do ‘suffer’. For us as teachers, I think it is particularly important to keep in mind that ‘what others say and do is a projection of their own reality’. When we understand and can internalise this, we are in a much better emotional and psychological position to deal with where the students and/or parents are coming from and work on addressing their concerns in a positive way that doesn’t impinge on anyone’s sense of self or eat away at their sense of identity.
The third agreement, I think, can be related to reflective practice. It is becoming increasingly important, to my mind, that we need to ask more questions of ourselves…not just of others. What am I teaching? Why am I teaching it? How will I know if my students have understood it? Will I know if they haven’t? What will I do if they haven’t? We need to be ‘leaders of self’ and not rely on others to decide these things for us. With a national curriculum on the political agenda, I believe teachers need to develop a strong voice with regard to what is important to teach.
Lastly, the fourth agreement is about acceptance. Accept that some days our ‘best’ is not the optimum but what we can manage at that time, given everything else that is impacting on our ability to perform. As I keep telling my senior students, life is like a sine wave…some days we’re ‘up’ and some days we’re ‘down’ but the overall journey is forward-moving, rhythmic and exciting.
What would you say your ‘agreements’ with yourself would be in order to lead a ‘better’ personal and professional life?