Life is, or should be, a struggle: Comfort should make us uncomfortable; contentment should make us discontented” –George Sheehan
A few months back, Jenny and I had a conversation about how we are raising our kids. We were direct and honest about our strengths and weaknesses, so the conversation was pretty raw. Jenny and I rarely argue, but when we talked about parenting, I was on the edge of my chair because I felt like the conversation could break down at any moment. When you talk about how you parent, you really get to the heart of who you are, and it is personal. Criticize the way I parent, and you criticize who I am as a person.
The conversation felt scary, and I have to admit I would have been happy to skip it. I didn’t like the way I felt when I really looked honestly at what I do as a parent. Yet, the conversation was important. I learned some things about myself that I needed to learn, and Jenny and I are more together about parenting now thanks to our talk. Something else I learned is that I had to feel uncomfortable if I was going to learn. I wouldn’t have changed a thing if I hadn’t talked truthfully about my own current reality.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation since then, and I wonder how much my experience applies to professional learning in schools. Teaching, of course, is almost as personal as parenting. As Parker Palmer wrote in The Courage to Teach, “teaching is a daily act in vulnerability… The things I teach are things I care about, and what I care about helps define my selfhood.” And because teaching “defines my selfhood,” I sometimes avoid the uncomfortable conversations even though the uncomfortable conversations are probably most important.
This doesn’t mean that principals and coaches should make it their goal to always make others uncomfortable by boldly saying whatever is on their mind. If Jenny had just listed all the things I need to fix, I wouldn’t have learned anything about parenting. I would have just been mad and not listened at all. What counts is that we build real trust with others so that the uncomfortable conversations can happen naturally.
Building trust is hard work, but without trust, we never get down to talking about what really matters. And talking about what really matters is what will help our students.