This is a small book packed with very large ideas. The four agreements are designed to help us live better and more wisely. The agreements are simple but can have a powerful impact when applied.
The first agreement is “Be Impeccable with Your Word.” This agreement is considered to be the most powerful one. Words can be used for a positive or negative impact. Using our words for good is a powerful way to connect with others. In education, colleagues may disagree but their words should never be used to hurt or damage someone. Teachers and leaders must be impeccable with their words in order to nurture a culture of support and communication. The author also indicates that using your words negatively against yourself is as unhealthy as using negative words against others.
The second rule is “Don’t Take Anything Personally.” This is a truly powerful agreement and one not so easy to follow. The author explains that the negative actions or negative words of others are really about their issues and not you. Eleanor Roosevelt said “no one can put you down without your consent.” It is your acceptance and approval of what was said and done that makes it personal. In education it is important in leadership not to take the negative actions or words of someone to heart. It is important to listen and understand but it is not required that you accept or approve the negative message. In any leadership role in education you may deal with angry students or parents. Hear them but do not take their words or actions as “the truth.” It often comes from their past experiences and beliefs about schools, teachers and principals. If you can listen and not take it personally you can keep the lines of communication open.
The third agreement is “Don’t Make Assumptions.” This agreement is one that gets everyone into a lot of trouble. Part of the reason is because when we make assumptions about others or even ourselves we assume it is “the truth” and this is rarely the case. If you are a teacher or principal you may make assumptions every day about students, parents and colleagues. A teacher starts coming in late several days in a row and you assume they are staying up late partying or something. When in fact they are taking care of their terminally ill parent in their home and the mornings have become difficult for them. Instead of making assumptions we should ask questions. A perfectly reasonable question is “I’ve noticed you have been having difficulty getting to class on time. Is there something I can do to help you? This can be much different than approaching them with the idea that they are not doing their job. We also make the assumption that others know what we want or how we are feeling. The author also advises that we find our voice and let others know what we want instead of “assuming” they know.
Finally, the fourth agreement is “Always Do Your Best.” This agreement sounds an awful lot like “Motherhood and Apple Pie” but it is still powerful when understood. The author points out that following this agreement is really about your actions in the first three agreements. It is important that we understand that “Our Best” is not the same from day to day or even hour to hour. Your best on a day you are healthy and happy can be an A+. But a day when you are tired, sick or sad it may only be a C+. The important thing here is to always do your best given the conditions in which you are working. By expecting A+ every day no matter what the circumstances can bring about self-judgment and disappointment. Being honest about your current conditions and doing your best to get a C+ can give you more peace and self-understanding. This message is important for teachers and leaders. It is important that this is also communicated to students who may be dealing with conditions that make a C grade their best.
While this book is set in the context of Toltec wisdom and the writings of a surgeon turned Shaman in Mexico, it has important implications for living a more happy and successful life and creating open and supportive communication with loved ones and colleagues.
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