Without Conflict there can be no Leadership! At the ASCD Empower 19 conference, I was able to attend this presentation by Dennis Griffin and Paul O’Neill. Mr. Griffin & Mr. O’Neill pointed out that each day involves conflict – as a leader, you need to answer the call. Conflict brings great opportunities. Conflict is inevitable, don’t see it as a negative. Use conflict as a positive force to create opportunity.
Leaders should realize that conflict comes with the role. Great leaders know that what matters most is how you handle conflict. This idea goes along with what Dennis and Paul are saying. While their presentation dealt with leaders and conflict, I began to think about conflict and the classroom teacher.
Generally, teachers do not like conflict. They tend to stay away from it. Some may even see conflict as being unproductive and the person “creating” conflict as negative and not being a team player. There may be a mentality that if questions or concerns are voiced, this is an attack. They don’t want to make waves. Teachers tend to be “peacemakers.” “Conflict in the traditional sense is messy and makes us feel uncomfortable.” Yet, it is important that we understand a teacher’s role in conflict and see how conflict can improve our classrooms, our schools, and our profession.
When do we, as teachers, finally say enough is enough?! Give us back our voice. Give us back some creativity and flexibility. EVERYONE else tells us what to do and how to do it – from administration to parents to politicians, to businesses… Everyone is shouting orders and no one listens. It’s like teachers are “fools” with no understanding of children and how to run a classroom. It is very sad to see what is happening. All these orders actually provide us less opportunity to engage our students and to show our own passion for learning and for people. And teachers are hesitant. They are hesitant to “stir things up” – to instigate conflict even when it is in the best interest of a student or students.
If the teaching profession had an oath, the oath would probably include something like this – “I promise to always put students first. I dedicate myself to serving children and to fight for their needs...” If we follow an oath such as this – there will be conflict along the way. We will not be able to avoid it.
Conflict is necessary if we are to provide our students with the very best education. There will come a time the interest of the student or students are put aside for the interest of someone else or other entities. When will we say enough is enough? To others the conflict may seem minor and inconsequential, but as teachers we realize it is only the beginning. If we don’t take a stand now, the interests of others will be put above the interests of students.
Employers say they want a particular type of worker. From my perspective businesses want different types and kinds of workers. We say we want to prepare children for the FUTURE work force. We no longer need the “factory” system. We need collaboration, teamwork, creativity… Yet, we turn around and implement standardization. We do exactly to teachers what we say we should not be doing with kids. We don’t allow teachers the very things we say we should be developing in workers.
Teachers should not be seen as negative if they speak up and question. It is those very thoughts and questions that provide an opportunity to make things better – to improve solutions. Leaders need to allow such conflict. They need to listen. They need to think about what is being said and see this conflict as an opportunity to provide the very best for kids. It is an opportunity to improve what someone else thought was the “best” answer. Leaders are human and make mistakes. They don’t always have the best answers. We all need to use conflict in a way that provides voice and consideration. Good leaders realize that it is necessary to listen to stakeholders, especially those closest to the action.
Teachers have been told to be quiet, to stop being negative, to be a part of the “team”… If there is no conflict – people are not growing (this includes leaders) and the best solutions will never arise. Enough is enough. The teaching profession is waiting for a leader who will finally shake things up, who will once again put students first, and will allow teacher voice to be heard on behalf of children. Enough is enough! Don’t be afraid of conflict.