Posted by: principalsintraining | April 12, 2013

Course 2: Embracing Conflict, Disagreement, and Dissent

rules

During my years as a teacher, I considered myself a conflict-averse person when it came to working with colleagues.  I did not like confrontation.  I saw myself as someone who would take the necessary steps to make things okay – even if that meant avoidance.  I was polite about disagreement and often turned the other cheek in the face of behaviors and ideas I found confusing, questionable, or downright unprofessional.  After all, my job was to teach kids – not tell other colleagues how to act.  That’s what we have administration for…right?

Upon beginning my work as an assistant principal, one truth quickly emerged – avoiding conflict was not an option.  In fact, one could argue that my job is about conflict – wading into troubled waters and helping others make their way to shore.  Another truth was glaringly evident: I had received virtually no preparation for the fraught situations I was responsible for resolving – deep interpersonal rifts (between students, between students and parents, between students and staff – and between staff) that were often years in the making.

Experience is often the best teacher; that said, the sink-or-swim approach often taken in tossing young site leaders into the fray without deeper preparation in the emotional rigors of our work is a poor recipe for success.

Course 1 in Leadership School 2.0 asks us to consider our own tolerances and triggers as we navigate the myriad personal relationships that comprise our lives as school leaders.  Course 2 proposes that we take deliberate, ongoing steps to cultivate a climate in which conflict, disagreement, and dissent become a normal part of how the organization functions.  This course is based on the idea that honest, trusting relationships amongst staff are the key factor in creating dynamic and powerful learning opportunities for our students; if two brilliant teachers hate each other, it is likely they will choose to avoid each other at all costs – if not actively undermine each other in private and in public.  What organization can work optimally when people inside it close themselves off to each other?

The most significant authority we wield as site leaders is the power to get people talking to each other – to center the staff-wide conversation on points of convergence rather than all the ways people disagree.  If power is defined by control of resources, then the site leader wields incredible power in controlling the time available to get a school staff to sit down together – as small teams and as a whole group.  How will we allocate that time?  Will we dedicate it to surface issues of school functioning, or will we provide the structured time and space to celebrate and struggle together?  To decide together who we are and what our future will look like?  Steve Zuieback calls this the “Below the Green Line” work that is critical to the health and sustainability of our organization.

The capacity and resilience to do this work don’t just happen; the beginner doesn’t run 26 miles on Day 1 of a marathon-training program.  Moving a staff of 50, 75, or 100 is slow work – site leaders must give themselves permission to go slow, to be messy, and to be attentive to the moment as they consider how to best utilize the time available to them.  As Tom Schimmer says, these changes in institutional culture are like driving at night – you have a plan of where you want to go, but you can only see a few hundred feet ahead at a time.  Detours and changes of course are all possibilities – and they don’t deter from the goal of reaching the ultimate destination.

If little to no time is spent helping staff see each other as people with unique feelings, experiences, and perspectives, then we guarantee a very limited capacity for staff to take a real interest in each other.  We ensure that fewer bridges will be built and that differences have the opportunity to fester into a state of permanent entrenchment.  We ensure that conflict, disagreement, and dissent remain scary realities we need to avoid.

As professional educators, we want to focus on the kids and stay away from adult drama.  However, Course 2 makes a radical proposition: to do our best work together, we can’t turn away from the adult drama – we need to all embrace the collective challenge of living and working alongside each other every day.  It is no different from the work we do to sustain and grow our relationships with our families, significant others, and children.

If we ignore the fact that people are complicated, that behaviors are contradictory, and that “drama” and politics will always play some role in the functioning of any human organization, then our campuses will fill up with splinter groups that are mutually distrustful.  Forget about power struggles between staff and administration; the worst relationships will be in the trenches.

Why spend precious time doing this?  Because in doing so we build trust and credibility – in leadership, and in each other.  We move beyond surface politeness (artificial harmony) and into a deeper state of honesty.  Does this feel scary?  Yes.  In doing so we move beyond simple adherence to our roles in order to adopt the shared responsibility of keeping each other accountable to a broadly held set of beliefs around how we function in our shared space.  Our disagreements (conflict) underscore our collective commitment to students.  We can’t and won’t agree on everything – and would we want to?  I would be leery of any relationship – or organization – that claimed seamless agreement on all levels.  I would worry about a school where struggle and process weren’t immediately evident.

I would wonder if the zombies had taken over.  Or, as the Table Group puts it, if people had “quit and stayed” – the scariest proposition of all.

By embracing conflict, disagreement, and dissent, we recognize complexity as a normal and healthy state of being.  We cultivate a mindset of empathy and adaptability toward others; we recognize their unique perspective without having to necessarily agree with it.  The leader can’t mandate that everyone like each other – but the leader can and must commit themselves to helping staff know and trust each other on deeper, more honest levels.  People will look to the leader to take the first steps into that scary place before doing so themselves.

Questions to consider for leaders in Course 2:

How do you dedicate and structure sufficient time for your staff to celebrate and struggle together?

How do you build the capacity of staff to make commitments to each other across differences? 

How do you bring conflict and disagreement out in the open so that it doesn’t fester in the parking lot?

What do you do when you have staff members that share a long-standing dislike of each other? 

How do you attend to the needs of “product” people in process-driven protocols meant to build relationships?

“Classroom Community Rules” image courtesy of Mrs. Gallagher’s A3 Kindergarten class.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

deutsch29

Mercedes Schneider's EduBlog

Diane Ravitch's blog

A site to discuss better education for all

Laurie Hailer

exploring best practices in Algebra 2

Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

...how difficult can that be?

chartwell west

The Blog of Sean Patrick Hughes

Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

A blog about teaching, education, and professional life

AmusED

Amy's Whimsical Musings

Special Needs Teaching and Education

Inclusive teaching, education and leadership

Mostly True Stories of K. Renae P.

My Adventures in Teaching and Learning

Scenes From The Battleground

Teaching in British schools

Belmont Teach

...our directory of excellence

Infinitely Curious

Perspectives on learning from across the Hall Middle community

Project-Based Life

Rethinking the way we look at the school/life intersection.

Rummages&Ramblings

education-leadership-bikes-cartoons and other randomness

Dr. Neil Gupta

Educational Leader | Design Thinker | Instructional Coach

The Underdog's Advocate

A school leadership guide to success in the modern classroom

Learning & Leading

Life and Leadership w/ Two Married Administrators

Journeys in Ed

By @TravisPhelps80

The Connected Educators Hotspot

Educational Leadership in the 21st

bjornpaige

skins of ill shaped fishes

technolandy: site of Ian Landy

WordPress.com blog to support technologization

Models By Design

Models speak louder than words

ideaFM

Broadcasting and Farming Ideas

About Teaching

An Assistant Principal in an Australian Primary School

Educational Musings of a (former) Music Educator

My reflections on teaching & learning on my path through the education system.

the édu flâneuse

"For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate observer, it's an immense pleasure to take up residence in multiplicity, in whatever is seething, moving, evanescent and infinite: you're not at home, but you feel at home everywhere, you're at the centre of everything yet you remain hidden from everybody." Baudelaire

Principal Powers' Principles

A place for my thoughts and ideas

Adjusting Course

Responding to the Needs of the 21st Century Student

Not Yet

I never could get the hang of Thursdays

Happy Impermanence

Life change is inevitable. It's how you show up that matters.

Welcome to the Music Club

Music Takes You on Journeys

Ross Cooper's Blog

Just another WordPress.com site

Ideas Out There

THINK. LEARN. DO. REPEAT...

Fisticuffs and Shenanigans

It was all fun and games, until the fisticuffs and shenanigans... -Deutschmarc

pernilleripp.wordpress.com/

Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension

Thrasymakos

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

donegallizdoyle

A painter's diary of life in the rugged North West of Ireland

There is no box

thinking out loud about technology, teaching and life

Karen Blumberg

Technology is special.

Embark For Progress

One woman's perspective on living, teaching, and developing a profession.

Heutagogy Community of Practice

Advancing the Theory and Practice of Self-Determined Learning

Granted, and...

thoughts on education by Grant Wiggins

%d bloggers like this: