When I received word of becoming part of the Compelled Tribe, I was thrilled. As I sit to compose my first blog as an official Compelled Tribe member, I am nervous. This is challenging but thrilling at the same time. I tell myself, “I am growing through this process!”
To further define tribe and reflect a bit, I Googled it. Merriam-Webster says a tribe is: a group of people that includes many families and relatives who have the same language, customs, and beliefs. I would agree with this definition. At first I thought of writing about things like passion about education and expanding my professional learning network. Instead, I decided to dedicate this blog to the challenges of conflicting tribes.
Many of us, in our work or home, surround ourselves with similarly minded people. If we like fitness, we have an affinity for those who also run or go to the gym. If we enjoy a certain type of music, we go to concerts or chose a station on Pandora that selects what we like. There is comfort in what we know. There is comfort in participating in an on line Twitter chat on Saturday or going to church on Sundays. There is comfort in the faculty room or a colleague’s classroom where we can work collaboratively on lessons and (for some) even comfort when talking with an administrator about how to improve instruction or engage students in a more meaningful way. This is comfort in our tribe.
But what happens when you are faced with the conflict of tribes or tribes with differing opinions? How do you handle those challenges? Here are some suggestions:
- Don’t get defensive. Even if you are listening to opinions that differ from yours dramatically, try to listen openly. It will be challenging but it matters.
- Wait patiently until your opposition is done speaking. This means that while you are listening to an opinion that is driving you crazy, you disagree with vehemently or you feel in your very bones, is wrong, try not to interrupt. Doing so does two things. It makes you appear impatient and disrespectful and it may add fuel to the fire of the disagreement. It is appropriate to be passionate but do not allow that passion to be interpreted as defensive.
- Take notes. Taking notes keeps you focussed on the topic at hand. It also serves as an outline for when you will have to respond. If you are like me, the notes can also include anything you are feeling at the time. Remember, the notes are private and you will have the opportunity to filter your feelings when it is time to draft a response.
- Do your research. Educate yourself. Do this by researching the topic you disagreed on. You may change your perspective (or not) but at least then you are well-read and ready to understand (perhaps) why they are seeing it their way and you are seeing it your way. This can occur when we disagree with a colleague on how to teach writing effectively to our third grade class, how to utilize benchmark data to adjust instructional strategies for individual students, or how to openly discuss an observation rating from an administrator on his/her most recent classroom visit. Doing research will be helpful in any situation. Remember, knowledge is power.
- Try to see it from their perspective. This is very challenging at first. I am a school Superintendent and it is often difficult for me to see an item from the perspective of a Board of Education member, especially in the heat of discussion at a committee meeting or when information is just being brought to my attention. During these times, I struggle to maintain my composure and sometimes I do not succeed. After all, I too am human and I care deeply about education. However, demeanor and character are always important. If you lose your cool, find a way to get it back. Pretend you are visiting to the topic for the first time. Sometimes this helps to hear something from someone else’s perspective.
- Provide Feedback. After trying to understand the point the opposing tribe member was making, doing your research and listening open-mindedly, be sure to provide feedback. By responding to your opposition, it demonstrates to them you were listening and that what they shared with you matters. Even if you (at first) disagreed, their opinion matters and it may have even opened your eyes to something new. This is so exciting because it is how we grow!
Last week in the middle school in my district we had a potentially dangerous situation. A student brought in two items that appeared to be hand grenades. The administration evacuated the building and notified the police who called in the bomb squad. After a thorough examination, the mock grenades were not deemed unsafe and the students and staff returned to the building.
In a very uncharacteristic way, I shared an email with our parents that was extremely detailed. I tend to be a bit “old school” and (in the past) may have simply shared that it was safe for students to return to the building. However in the times of social media, when most of our middle school students were texting their parents what they “heard”, I reached out to the Board President and advised him that my email correspondence to families was very transparent, especially for me. I sent the email and received dozens of return emails from parents.
I read every one of them and I responded to every one too. Most parents were thankful for the detailed information I had sent. Many provided suggestions for communication in the future. At one time, I probably would have thought, “I am an administrator. I know what I am doing.” Then I received one email that furthered my growth through what could have been an awful situation.
A parent thanked me for sending the email but she went a step further. She was pleased with the extreme detail that I provided for families so that she could follow up and speak with her seventh grade daughter. That correspondence did it for me. I totally understood where this parent was coming from and I commended her for wanting to speak to her daughter. Knowledge is power and that mother was going to do what any exceptional parent would do – TALK to her daughter. I was reminded that as parents, we are our children’s first teacher. As school administrators or teachers, we cannot take that away. In fact, we should embrace it. Never underestimate the power of a strong parent-teacher connection.
I want to close with a quote I read on Twitter quite some time ago. I wish I knew who gets the credit, but sadly, I do not.
“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations”
Don’t you just love that? I know I do. There have been many times that opposing tribes (board members, fellow administrators, teachers, parents, colleagues or even departments of Education) have presented me with impossible situations. Each time they have been a challenge and not every time did those situations become great opportunities. But I can honestly say that each time I viewed an impossible situation as a great opportunity, it became one.