These are times of stress and uncertainty. Opinions and perspectives about what should be done abound. Some people want students to be in school full time while others point to the risk of virus transmission among students and staff. Some people argue for high standards while others urge flexibility and compromise until the pandemic passes. These and a myriad of other issues are worthy, but solutions that are responsive and sustainable will not emerge from pressure and conflict alone.
If we hope to find the most useful and responsive solutions, we need to start by reminding ourselves of what binds us together. By recognizing and drawing on the important foundational elements of our work, we often can find answers to our most vexing questions. By focusing on what binds us together, we can build our confidence and exercise the judgement needed to find our best strategies and generate needed outcomes. Let’s consider four of the ties that we can rely on and leverage during difficult times.
The most fundamental to what binds us together is a common purpose. Now is a good time to revisit and reflect on what our work together is intended to accomplish. Understanding the role and contribution of our work for learners, the community, and society can provide a shared context and focus. Agreement on shared purpose can open avenues for rich, robust discussion about how to best to accomplish our purpose without rupturing relationships and pushing us apart. Disagreement in this context can stimulate creativity and support productive disagreement.
We are also bound together by community. For the work of schools to succeed, we need to do more than occupy common space. Foundational to community is a belief that each person deserves to be valued, respected, supported and have a path to success. Communities survive and thrive through interdependence. Each person, each team, and each staff member has a role to play and contributions to make. When communities are built around common purpose creativity can thrive, disagreements can surface, and consensus can be built within a safe and healthy space.
We are also bound together through the service we provide. Education is service in support of the common good. Schools are one of the few crucial institutions in society with this mission. The presence of schools within communities represents an investment in the future. The work we do with learners, colleagues, and members of the community allows us to be part of something greater than ourselves.
Further, we are bound together by hope. Each day and year gives us the opportunity to start anew. We share a focus on preparing children and young people for a happy and successful future. Each day we engage in work that will make a difference for students long after they leave us. Hope can be the energy that sustains us through difficult and trying times like these.
These foundational elements can help us find our way through conflict without sacrificing relationships. They can open doors to new ideas and opportunities without abandoning what sustains us and makes our work worth doing.
Alternatively, disagreements and other forms of conflict without a context of what binds us together can become destructive and bring harm to teams, organizations, and the people who are part of them. If all we share are the issues on which we disagree, arguments often become personal and conflicts become “zero sum,” where someone’s winning means someone else must lose. Little good can come from this approach.