Sometimes in education we tied up in semantics. Certain words can scare us – summative assessment, classroom management, supervision of instruction – I can go on. These are just words and can be positive or negative depending on the context. Conflict and discourse are also words that can scare us, but in the proper context those words are precursors to growth.
I am settling into the middle years of my education career (14 years), to long in to be “young” and not in long enough to be on my way out. One of the big lessons I have learned this year is the value of conflict and discourse. This year more than any other, I have embraced difficult conversations and I have been really pleased with the results.
Discourse Promotes Risk Taking
A culture that does not appreciate differing points of view does not encourage staff or students to take risks. Fear of upsetting the norm, or questioning the vision ensures maintenance of the status quo. Even in a high performing school the status quo is not good enough, we should always look to better serve our student population. Taking risks is how we learn…both as teachers and students.
Embracing conflict creates cohesion
Open and honest dialogue that is respectful increases trust. It is when we avoid difficult conversations that we make assumptions and judgements that ultimately lead to ill will and hurt feelings. If we are honest and up front about our intentions, then people understand. They might not always agree, but when they understand where the decision came from and the reasons why they are more accepting.
We Grow through Conflict
When we respectfully question and discuss the vision of the school we grow as a community. First, we build in ownership because everyone has a stake, input and has been part of the process. Second, we see things in a different light and learn from each other. Finally, we show humility and model learning when we welcome discourse. Open and thoughtful discussion demonstrates that we all have something to learn from each other and promotes collaboration.
It reduces anxiety
Education is a stressful profession. I have yet to meet an educator who at some point has not woken up in the middle of the night, thinking about school because they were unable to shut their mind down. I have found that facing difficult conversations, rather than avoiding them has reduced the amount of stress that I am carrying. Airing concerns and having dialogue has (more often than not) cleared the air before things had an opportunity to boil over.
Ultimately, they build relationships
When we have difficult conversations, we are confronting issues in schools. In almost all cases, these conversations arise because they are in the best interests of students or the school. I have found that confronting these issues head on and having honest dialogue enhances the relationships with staff and parents. I think it has to do with transparency – when we walk the walk, people appreciate it.
The term difficult conversations is not a misnomer, even though I have found many benefits to having them, they are emotional, can be heated and should never be taken lightly. A mishandled difficult conversation can undo a great deal of really good work.