Those of you who have been aware of the #oklaed issues floating around the twittersphere the last few years will have noticed that education has seen better days. There are MANY issues educators are dealing with. Without belaboring all of the issues, let’s just say that many educators feel that they are not treated like true professionals.
For those in admin or coaching positions, it is important to be aware of state of the teaching profession and make an intentional effort to communicate with staff in ways that convey mutual respect and professionalism. I have been reading one of Jim Knight’s latest books – Better Conversations and stumbled across some insights that struck home with me related to this issue.
What’s the difference between advocacy and inquiry?
During a dialogue, participants must make conscious decisions when to advocate for their ideas and when to seek to understand the ideas of others. Advocating involves sharing your ideas or perspectives, while inquiry is seeking to understand the ideas and perspectives of others.The problem with many conversations that occur in schools – especially regarding effective teaching practices, is there is often a lack of balance of advocacy and inquiry. When this occurs, what we THINK is a dialogue morphs into something else.
For example, I recently had a discussion with my eleven year old regarding where he did his homework. I advocated for the idea that he should it at the dining room table rather than in front of the television. He took a different stance. He informed me that he was more comfortable on the couch. I further advocated for my position by explaining to him how a well-lit, quiet spot, free from distractions would result in higher quality work. I was on the verge of using research to support my argument when he interrupted:
“Dad, I always do my homework here, and I have straight A’s! I think it’s working fine.”
I hesitated thinking how I could reason with him. That hesitation gave him the opening he needed to solidify his argument with:
“Looks like I won this conversation – BOOM!”
Well played son… Well played.
In this instance, dialogue turned into something else indeed. There was no balance of advocacy and inquiry. Both Parker (my son) and I, were intent on advocating our own perspectives and competing to “win” the conversation. I am learning that using logic, and other forms of rhetoric to advocate for one’s perspective is useless when the other party has no intention of seeking to understand that perspective. Similarly, I have noticed when I fail to come to a shared understanding, I often make decisions that I later regret.
Become Awesome at Being Humble
To remedy the lack of effective dialogue in schools, we should all learn how to be humble. As Trump would undoubtedly say we should all be able to say
“There is no one that is more humble than me, In fact you wouldn’t believe how humble I can be; I am bigly humble.”
Status is very important to us in education. Those of us in the classrooms take a lot of pride in our craft and enjoy being known as a “great educator.” We like it when students refer to us as there favorite teacher. Many people don’t know this, but there are people who actually teach because of that feeling they get when our planning and hard work results in students learning new things. Sometimes we run into them at Wal-Mart years later and they tell us that they appreciate how we have helped them become successful. You see, for some, it’s more than the glitz, glam, and glory of lesson planning, faculty meetings, grading papers, and parent teacher conferences.
Being humble involves taking our status, and chucking it out the window.
Whether we are master teachers, instructional coaches, admin, central office, or local celebrity #oklaed bloggers, in order to have effective dialogue we need to have the ability to set our status aside and approach dialogue with the intention of balancing inquiry and advocacy.
- Listen to understand.
- Be willing to be wrong.
- Embrace being wrong as an opportunity to learn.
- Understand that everyone has something they can teach YOU.
- Be genuine and sincere when you offer praise.
- Learn to be comfortable with silences during conversation.
- Stop trying to make everyone see issues the same way you do.
- Understand that if you believe you already know everything, you have already hit your peak.
- Understand somebody else probably already figured out the thing you are trying to figure out – find them and ask them questions.
- Stop turning conversations into competitions: You can’t WIN a dialogue.
If you are reading this and thinking “Ya know, these are some good points. I wish people would start doing these things. It would be great if people would listen to me more when I share my ideas. In fact if they did, I think schools would be better – all that needs to happen is people needs to listen to me more…”
You have missed the point of this completely. We can only control OUR half of the dialogue. It is not helpful or productive to wish things about the other half of dialogues. Perhaps, if we model humility, empathy, and inquiry in our dealings with others it will be contagious.