November 2020 Coaching Tip
A recent SmartBrief on Leadership article (October 29, 2020) entitled, “Don’t Let Urgency Make You Solve the Wrong Problem” (http://sbne.ws/r/FAS1) resonated with me, especially since we are all trying to navigate the multiple tragedies created by the pandemic. At the onset, I immediately worried about how the virus spread and how we can work together to contain and ultimately eradicate it. Those worries were magnified as more and more people succumbed to the disease, schools vacillated between in-person and virtual venues, super spreader events increased, mask wearing went unmandated, businesses opened and closed, food lines got longer, jobs were lost, families unable to visit each other, and on and on. But as time moved, I realized that all of these were the incomprehensible results of a “blame game” and not focusing on the problem creating these devastating conditions – I wanted us to focus on solving the problem, not pointing our fingers at how it happened.
This is not a political statement, but it is an attempt to identify issues and collectively problem-solve to find solutions. It is a plea to leave ego at the door and bring people together to discuss critical issues – real ones – and suggest strategies that might be helpful in resolving them. It is an attempt to remind myself and others that multiple perspectives are critical in helping our students understand that approaching a problem in various ways broadens the possibilities, creates the need to adapt, encourages inclusivity, promotes selflessness, increases diversity, reinforces tolerance, and fosters respect for others. It helps us all to acknowledge that everyone is a member in a community of learning and contributes to the welfare of all.
“Education is strongest when diverse perspectives and voices are shared and heard in settings of learning and development” (EdWeek blog, November 2018). Bringing people together to share different opinions creates an opportunity for all to have a voice and for all voices to be heard. Sharing multiple perspectives develops listening skills and the recognition that there are many ways to look at the same situation. It encourages stepping outside of the box to stimulate creativity, innovation, and collaboration. It helps the unnoticed be accepted and appreciated without fear of any negativity. And, it helps all of us become more reflective in our practices.
What does this mean in a school environment?
“Supporting diverse groups is not easy. It requires us to build capacity to listen and teach, to inform and be informed, and to step up and step back to create space for all voices to be heard and engaged—especially in tough conversations, because that’s where deep learning happens” (Manal Aboelata, MPH, Managing Director of Prevention Institute).
Schools must be safe. This safety refers to both a physical environment and also an emotional one. Our social-emotional well-being has certainly been challenged more than ever before. We must be prepared with the appropriate training that will build our knowledge and skill set to provide a space that is welcoming, protected, and tolerant for all. We must be able to facilitate the kinds of conversations that might be confrontational (in a positive way) and might get messy. These are the conversations that inspire compassion and empathy and help to identify the “bigger” picture – sort of like instructional coaching!
“When faced with a problem, we all (including executives) prefer quick and easy to complex and nuanced explanations. We especially like explanations that require little effort, immediately relieve the stress and pain we feel because of the problem, and confirm our preconceptions” (McCallum, “The Nietzsche School of Management,” Ivey Business Journal, September-October 2020). Is this where we are in schools?
No, we are not scientists and cannot develop the cure for the Coronavirus. But, we can identify some of the hardships our students and families are experiencing and work towards intentional conversations that help them make their thoughts visible. We can work towards creating an environment that ensures open-mindedness and benevolence, that fosters a collective problem-solving mindset that is transformative. Let’s keep the lines of communication for families, professional and personal, open and guarantee that our connections to, with, and among each other remain firm. Be transparent and committed to promoting voice, choice, and a sense of belonging. Identify each challenge and provide multiple opportunities for collaboration, collective problem-solving, open communication, and capacity building for all. We are in this together and together we will thrive.