Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Confidence to Speak Up

It took a lot of courage to speak up, and it took a lot of strength to read the resulting negative emails that essentially chastised me for speaking up.

Speaking up is not always easy.

The resulting action of speaking up varies a lot too.

Sometimes when people speak up, the resulting action is harsh and uncomfortable for the one who spoke up and/or for the ones who are impacted by the speaker's words. Sometimes the resulting action is more compassionate and empathetic. Of course this depends on the topic spoken about, who receives the message, the relationships/experience involved, and the severity of the act revealed.

Also how you speak up matters. What words do you use? How much emotion do you share? Who do you speak up to?

In general, it's best to speak up with compassion and care when small infractions occur to mitigate any need to speak up about bigger, more problematic actions. For example if a colleague doesn't follow through with his/her word, you could simply say, "Hey, did you forget about ___." That reminds the colleague and deals with the issue upfront rather than waiting until the event is overdue and that overdue effort impacts the good work you and your colleague could do.

When we let issues grow over time without speaking up, it only gets worse and more confusing. Recently I worked on an effort where paperwork and details were missing over a considerable period of time. The efforts to retrieve the missing information would be extensive and is possibly impossible to do. Had people spoken up for the details in good time, this would not be an issue, and what's quite confusing now would be much more streamlined and accessible had the information been shared in a timely matter. Greater accessibility and streamlining supports better work and result too.

When learning community members get used to speaking up regularly, this advocacy and voice becomes a positive part of the community's culture resulting in the kind of transparency, camaraderie, and collaboration that supports good work and effort.

I think that the fear to speak up probably has its roots in old time classism, racism, cultural prejudices, gender bias, and hierarchical structures of effort and action. I'm sure there is research out there that tells the story of "speaking up" including where it is well received and where it is less welcome or not welcome at all.

As educators we have to promote our students' sense of voice and choice. We have to use our best abilities to teach children how to speak up with effect, empathy, care, and purpose. Many of us in education have to learn that too. Some of us weren't accustom to using our voices well to promote our best work and the best work of the collaborative teams and groups we work with. It takes skill to speak up well. TeachPlus's online advocacy course is a good avenue to gaining these skills (I completed 3/4 of it to date and want to finish the rest when time permits - yet the course is only a first step since effective advocacy also requires practice).

In the meantime, I encourage all members of the learning community to develop the confidence to speak up. All voices matter when it comes to teaching and learning well.