Thursday, 21 April 2016

Life 101 with Prince

This post has jumped the queue because of the sad news of Prince's death today. 

Life 101 is a series of blog posts in which I document what I have learned from some of my favourite teachers, most of whom I have never met. Using their own words, I reflect on the lessons I learned from them about life. 

Welcome to Life 101 with our guest teacher, Prince.
"The Little Prince" by Sean Miller

1. Don't talk down to your audience (your students)

"When you don't talk down to your audience, then they can grow with you. I give them a lot of credit to be able to hang with me this long, because I've gone through a lot of changes, but they've allowed me to grow, and thus we can tackle some serious subjects and just try to be better human beings, all of us." - Prince

Prince looked at his entertainment in a way that beautifully parallels the way great teachers look at teaching.

Don't talk down to your students, believe that they'll grow and change along with you. Don't shy away from tough or serious subjects. Challenge your students, and you will all become better people. 

2. Don't be afraid to change if it's what works for you.

"I don't really care so much what people say about me, because it usually is a reflection of who they are. For example, if people wish I would sound like I used to sound, then it says more about them than it does me." - Prince

Know yourself. Know what you believe in. Live it. Don't worry what doubters or detractors have to say. If you're living and working how you want to, others' complaints won't matter to you.

Don't let yourself be defined by how others perceive you.

3. People are people are people. Be confident in your own skin.

"Cool means being able to hang with yourself. All you have to ask yourself is, 'Is there anybody I am afraid of? Is there anybody who, if I walked into a room and saw, I'd get nervous.' If not, then you're cool."

(Author's note: I will never EVER be "cool," in Prince's definition. I am WAY too excited to meet way too many people.) 

4. Invest in the future.

"Sometimes it takes years for a person to become an overnight success." - Prince

Successful people put in work. A lot of work. A lot of work that no one else sees. If you look at someone else's success and it seems instant, it's probably not. They probably worked their tail off to get there. 

Realize that if you want to be successful in your chosen endeavours, you will have to do a lot of work. Often behind the scenes. Work that may never be seen or understood by anyone else. 

Just because it is the product that is celebrated, don't let yourself forget about the importance of the process. Value the work that you do working towards making your dreams come true. Other people will appear and celebrate you once you've "gotten there," but you need to remember that it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make great things happen.

5. Declare your own identity with pride.

Names and titles are incredibly powerful things. 

If you're lucky enough to have parents who are prescient and name you, at birth, "Prince Rogers Nelson," go ahead and drop the middle and surname and call yourself "Prince". Declare who you are, loudly and proudly.

If your name, your title or your position isn't working for you anymore, change it. Create a symbol that represents you. Combine aspects of your identity in it. 

If the binary of male and female doesn't work for you, reject it.

Why not ask your students to create a symbol that represents their identity? Call the project, "The Students Formerly Known As" and create a bulletin board to honour Prince's memory.

6. Empower youth.

"Ownership, that's what you give your kids. That's your legacy." - Prince

Teachers invest in the future by investing their time and energy in kids. We are so lucky to have the opportunity to have a remarkable legacy. Empower children to be the people they never knew they could be. That is the greatest gift we can give them.

7. Mentors and guides make us believe in ourselves, even through tough times.

"There's something about having people around you giving you support that is - it's motivating, and once I got that support from people, I believed I could do anything." - Prince

As a teacher, you can be the person who believes in students, even before they believe in themselves. Guide and mentor them. 

Appreciate and thank your mentors and supporters. Reflect on who you can turn to, not only to share the good stuff, but who you can come to with doubts, problems and tears. Reach out to them during a calm time and tell them how much it's meant to you.

Be the person you needed when you were younger. Offer up your support, expertise, and a listening ear to new teachers. Instead of paying back what you were provided, pay it forward. Formally and informally support and mentor students and professionals.

From Wikipedia
8. Get in your own groove, your zone, your flow.

"You can always tell when the groove is working or not." - Prince

Do things that you love greatly with great passion. Give yourself the space and time to get into a flow. When you are doing or making something that works, you can feel so connected and engaged that you completely lose track of time.

When you are in the groove in the classroom, you can tell. Real-world connections come easily, students are sharing their ideas, the "A-ha" moments are coming fast and furious. If you have a few of those days a year, you are a lucky teacher. 

If you lose your groove, you can get it back. (see this post)

9. Make your own rules based on what you believe in.

"A strong spirit transcends rules." - Prince

If the status quo doesn't work for you, challenge it. If you know yourself and you know what is best for you and your students, you can push the boundaries. You need to push the boundaries. Change is not made when everyone does the same thing the same way.

From the Montreal Gazette
10. Customize your performance (or your teaching) to your users. 

"Every audience is different." - Prince

Acknowledge that no matter how great your ideas or plans are, your users are the most important part of any performance, including those in the classroom. Every audience is different. Every class is different. Like Prince, be responsive to that. Give your students what they need. If you can't figure it out on your own, ask them!

From The Muppets
11. Demonstrate empathy.

"As human beings, we suffer from an innate tendency to jump to conclusions; to judge people too quickly and to pronounce them failures or heroes without due consideration." - Prince

Don't just put *yourself* in someone else's shoes. True empathy occurs when you can take yourself out of the equation all together and listen to someone else without judgement. Listen empty to hear what they're really sharing. 

A wonderful gift to give to anyone is an ready ear, an open heart and validation. Don't always jump to conclusions or offer solutions. 

Each of us can be a hero or a failure, depending on who is naming us. Don't reduce any person to one simple word. Understand that we are all complicated, multilayered human onions and value the diversity that exists within each and every one of us.

12. Let go of grudges.

"I ain't mad at anybody. I don't have any enemies." - Prince

In the Passionate Learner Experiment, my Superhero Learners have declared their Signature Strengths and Kryptonite. My Kryptonite (one of my weaker areas I am trying to fight off) is forgiveness. I hold onto grudges like they are indoor cats trying to escape from an open door. Prince could have called many people enemies, but let go of bad feelings. 2/2 Prince and Buddha's agree: holding onto grudges does nothing good.

13. Be passionate. Share your gifts. Have fun while doing it.

"As long as I do not take myself too seriously, I should not be too badly off." - Prince

Play. Laugh. Imagine. Dream. Build. Laugh at yourself. Repeat.

14. It costs you nothing to be kind to others. The impact you can make is limitless.

"Compassion is an action word with no boundaries." - Prince

Compassion is not just an noun. It's not a thing that lives on its own. Compassion can be a verb. It can be something that we do every day. You don't know what impact a kind word, a smile, a thoughtful question and a bit of attention can make. Don't limit the amount of compassion you show. 

15. Create safe and supportive places for children. 

"No child is bad from the beginning, they just imitate their atmosphere." - Prince

Create an atmosphere that brings out the good in everyone.

16. Believe in innovation and reinvention. Live it.

"I try not to repeat myself. It's the hardest thing in the world to do -- there are only so many notes one human being can master." - Prince

If a lesson works, that's great. If you can iterate on it and make it better, that's greater. Don't be a "one-note" musician, "one-trick" pony, or "one-idea" teacher. Challenge yourself. When you've achieved your goals, set new ones. 

17. Hold on to your inner child

"I'm still very much a kid inside myself." - Prince

Three year olds have it right. They are filled with questions, laughter, quick tears that let out the sad, fearlessness, wonder and endless curiosity. 

Keep your inner three year old well-nourished and do the same for your students, whatever their age. Give them space and permission to play, laugh, cry, explore, build, take risks and fail.

18. Make a thing. Then make another. Then keep going.

"Do you know how many hits I have? I can go on all night!" - Prince (at one of my all-time favourite live shows in Ottawa)

Put many things out into the world. Leave a mark.

2007 Superbowl Halftime Show (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
19. Anticipate the good, even while you're in the bad.

"There's always a rainbow at the end of every rain." - Prince
("Can you make it rain harder?" - Prince. You MUST watch this video!)

While this is not factually true, it's awesome. Rainbows are basically the best thing ever. They're nature reminding us of beauty and magic and hope.

20. Enjoy the time you have.

"But life is just a party, and parties weren't meant to last." - Prince

Goodnight sweet Prince, thanks for letting us in on your party.

What lessons did you learn from Prince's life? 

Is there someone else you would like to read about in a Life 101 post?

Disclaimer: I totally and thoroughly acknowledge that any quote can be taken out of context and interpreted in any number of ways. Above is a list of my own interpretations of messages from the guest teacher in this Life 101 lesson.


  1. Amazing Shauna- what an awesome way to make somebody's life and thoughts meaningful and rich. I look forward to reading more Life 101 lessons.

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