Critical Conversations

Our Work Is Challenging

“I am so glad to hear that I am not the only educator dealing with this issue!”

I cannot count how many times I have heard the statement above (or some variation of it) over the last several years. In fact, I have said it myself dozens of times; and for all the times I have said it out loud, I have thought it to myself hundreds of times. 

It happens in that moment when we break free from our silos and engage in conversations with other educators. At some point during the exchange we hear someone else utter the words that have been floating around our heads for days, months and maybe even years. The words that have potentially been weighing heavy on our hearts and souls because we thought we were the only ones; we thought we were alone; we thought we were a failure… but, we are not! 

The reality is, we are one of many and the time has come to engage in more and more of these critical conversations with other educators so we can escape our silos and engage in discussions that will help us in many ways. Whether these discussions merely help us feel less isolated or help us find a solution to a problem we have been struggling with or even make us appreciate that someone else’s reality is worse than our own, we are better as a result of engaging in critical conversations. 

Where do these critical conversations happen?

The contexts of these critical conversations is incredibly important when considering the outcomes. For example, while we often engage in conversations in our own districts and schools, sometimes these discussions are not the most fruitful because we are regularly struggling with the same issues and thus become fixated on the problem instead of seeing a path towards a solution. Don’t get me wrong – these internal discussions are important too because they help us come together and potentially work towards a solution but the time has come to engage in critical conversations beyond our contexts. Here are some possibilities…

1) Go to a local EdCamp and just talk to people! EdCamps are a great place to connect with like minded educators and just talk about the kids, the work and the profession. EdCamps are also an ideal space to spontaneously suggest a session to discuss a problem of practice!

2) Join a Twitter chat and decide how you want to engage! Chats can be a great source of inspiration and a treasure chest of ideas so join a chat that meets your needs. A chat participant can just sit back and watch the flow of ideas or can share their own ideas or even engage in “conversation” by responding to someone else. 

3) Organize a gathering at a local coffee house or book store so people from different educational organizations can get together and engage in some critical conversations. Recently I had the chance to participant in a book talk at the Whitehall Barnes & Noble and it was great because a small group of us just spent a couple of hours talking, comparing experiences and sharing ideas. 

4) Organize a Google Hangout with edufriends! Yes, thanks to social media, we can develop amazing and sustainable friendships with other educators from around the world so why not organize a video chat and get everyone together (virtually) to share what is going on in their professional worlds?

5) Join a book club or book study! Yes, critical conversations anchored in a shared text can be incredibly powerful because they allow participants to deliberate ideas, broaden their respective points of view and inform their craft! Best thing about book studies or talks in 2016 is that they are often happening on digital platforms (Voxer, Facebook, etc.) so people from around the country can connect from their couch and talk shop!

Why Are Critical Conversations Important? 

Clearly I think that critical conversations are important. With that being said, I do think we need to be mindful of the goal of those conversations so we can avoid a “gripe fest” where we only focus on the problems. To avoid that situation, here are the 3 steps for framing critical conversations so that they are powerful and productive… 

1) Share The Struggle… yes, our work as educators is a struggle sometimes and we encounter hundreds of challenges, issues and problems each year so sharing the struggle is an important part of the process. This is where we can be reminded we are not alone and we break free of the silo!

2) Ponder The Possibilities… after framing the struggle(s) engage those around you in a really critical aspect of the conversation – what are the possible solutions, answers and next steps. There is a saying I have encountered many times on SM: “The smartest person in the room is the room,” and I have found that to be true. When I am struggling with a problem, I lean on friends, colleagues and members of my PLN to help me see the possible solutions… and there are often many!

3) Optimize The Opportunities… after pondering possible solutions, now leverage those ideas and reframe the struggle or problem into the opportunity it really is! Yes, ultimately, problems are opportunities in disguise. They are opportunities for innovation, growth and for becoming the next/better iteration of ourselves as individuals or as an organization. So, get out there and optimize the opportunities!

While I know the idea of engaging in critical conversations in education is not a new one, the reality is that many educators are still stuck in a silo. Whether they are a classroom teacher, building leader or superintendent, the silos are real and often times, incredibly limiting. So, let’s get out there, connect with other educators and have those critical conversations because together we are better!