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Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Opportunity to Discuss What Matters

Are there silent issues in your organization, issues that you're reluctant to bring up due to the harsh consequences of questioning, discussing, or sharing such points?

At times, some have brought up challenging issues to me. When done with respect, it has always been a catalyst for growth and development. Even when done with disrespect, I've paid attention and tried to make change if needed. I am open to growth--I know that I can't be all things or know it all. The older I get, the more I value the potential and promise that good teams hold for education, families, and any other groups.

For example, the fact that I'm constantly questioning in my blog is frustrating to some. "Why do you blog?" they ask. I started blogging a long time ago when I had no one to discuss specific issues with. The blog gave me a platform for questioning, analysis, and share. The act of blogging helped me to find experts and colleagues who, in turn, responded to my questions and led me in the direction of answering the questions and developing my practice. My practice improved significantly which has been wonderful, and I continue to blog as one way to positively effect the work I can do, and hopefully, the work that others do too.

As I continue to blog, I'm cognizant of the need to be respectful. Typically the issues I write about are issues that are evidenced by a large number of examples, and not connected to one instance or individual. I write, in general, seeking the truth and rationale of good practice, process, and effort--I want to know what it takes to teach well, and how we can make that happen as teams of educators and family members in and outside of schools.

Delicate issues, the kind of issues that often stay silent, are important to discuss in any organization. Typically these issues are deeply sensitive, complex, and difficult to understand. Most often these issues are rooted in early life, an organization's history, old think, and perhaps unconscious (or conscious) prejudice and bias. Yet, the more we stay silent about these issues, the more complex and worrisome they become. That's why it's important to discuss issues like these up front when they occur.

Personally I try to keep abreast of changing mores, expectations, knowledge, and ideals so that I can reroute my practice and efforts in ways that make a difference. Yet I yearn for greater opportunity to do this in ways that matter. I reach out often with questions to coaches, leaders, and colleagues to better understand what we are doing and where we are going. When those questions are answered I'm able to develop better in line with the team, yet when questions are unanswered, I travel the path with greater unknowing and uncertainty about how my work matches the work of others, thus the potential for greater missteps or less potency along the way.

In most cases, it's best to hit the issues and questions with respect head on. It's okay to say, "You bring up a good point, one that's sensitive for me, but one that I want to look into with greater depth. I'll get back to you." or "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to come across that way. Your response touched a nerve since I had invested so much time and energy into that effort, and when you questioned my work, I felt devalued, unheard, disrespected. Rather than feeling dismissed, I should have questioned more to better understand your perspective." Or, "Didn't we talk about that idea in your office? I'm surprised you moved it ahead without including me. Can you help me to understand that?"

The more we learn how to talk about the sensitive issues, and how to work together around delicate points, the better our collaborative efforts will be. This requires a learning curve for many of us who are not used to this kind of dialogue or conversation. Who are those amongst us that find this kind of deep, significant work natural? Those are the best people to begin this kind of work in an effort to uplift, deepen, and develop our collective efforts in any organization. I've noticed that those who had the opportunity to play on sports teams, often have a head start in this regard.

Fortunately at my organization we've instituted Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) which often give us the opportunity to discuss important, sensitive issues. At times we do the same at our faculty meetings, however numbers are large and time is short which is not ideal for that kind of discussion.

Growing teams means making time for depth, honesty, and sensitive conversation. Good teams embrace transparency, shared growth, honest exchange, regular communication, cheering each other on, and collective mission. Good teams also allow one another autonomy too--a chance to be who you are, share your talents and strengths, and champion each other in ways that matter.

It's important that we make the time to discuss what matters with respect and care for one another. Every time we shut the door to sensitive conversation or a colleague's voice, we diminish what's possible. When we listen, we open the door to new ideas, participation, and team, and that's when what's possible is amazing.

This is not an easy call for many of us, but it's an important call--one we need to heed. If you and your team has experience with this in ways that matter, I'd love to read about it. How do you deal with the sensitive, sometimes gnawing, and delicate issues in your work environment? Who leads the conversation? What process do you use? How does transparency empower this work? I'm curious. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.