The Importance of Engaging in Courageous Conversations

As I was perusing through the readings for the first module of my PQP part 2 course, I was immediately drawn to the article titled, Engaging in Courageous Conversations. One of my areas of growth that I identified during the first PQP session was engaging in courageous conversations. From my prior experience as a math facilitator, I was able to engage in many courageous conversations that revolved around math instruction and the need to teach through inquiry and move toward student-centred mathematics. However, when initially working with staff it was very easy to tip-toe around issues involving delivering math instruction and avoid the discomfort of having a courageous conversation. By nature, I am not a person that likes conflict. I don’t think anyone really does but I found out very early and quickly in the first few weeks of math facilitation, that by being “that math guy” who had great resources and models a great 3 part lesson was not creating the necessary change that needed to happen in the math classrooms. The following quote from the article was very reflective of my first experiences as a math facilitator, “In the absence of courageous conversations, we may be able to put a veneer on the status quo, and effect change on the surface, but deep and lasting change will be virtually impossible.”

However, as I began to engage in courageous conversations with teachers about teaching math through problem solving, I realized that being the “math resource guy” and the modeller of 3 part lessons was a necessary scaffold in building trust and respect with teachers. Once that trust was established, our courageous conversations were able to focus on the students’ needs and improving achievement, engagement, and equity. Many conversations resulted in teachers taking intellectual risks and implementing an inquiry based approach to mathematics with a focus on student collaboration and creating a community of learners. However, some conversations led to agreeing to disagree. These are the situations where I feel that I need more growth.

It is easier to start courageous conversations with teaching colleagues than it is to continue courageous conversations when there is no resolution or agreement. However, after reading the article, I was reminded of the importance of going deeper than just looking at the behaviours and actions of teachers. It is equally important to investigate the reasons and beliefs behind their actions before making suggestions. Another important key learning that I took away from the reading was ability to listen to other’s views and be open to reciprocal influence.

Johan Galtung, a Norwegian mathematician and sociologist, is known for his ability to transcend conflicts and find what he refers to as the fifth way, or fivers. He recognizes that every conflict has five possible resolutions:

  1. I win. You lose.
  2. You win. I lose.
  3. The conflict is resolved by avoiding it completely.
  4. Compromise where all parties are dissatisfied.
  5. Transcendence where all parties feel like they win and resolution is above and beyond the problem.

I believe that courageous conversations involving two opposing views and beliefs can result in a fiver. Two colleagues may engage in a courageous conversation with conflicting beliefs but if both are open to learning and focus on the needs of the student, then there is likely to be an outcome that benefits all stakeholders involved. In order for a leader to be an effective change agent and put vision into action, engaging in courageous conversations must be a common practice once relational trust is established. I know that I will take away these key learnings and implement them as I move forward in my current role and engage in courageous conversations about learning in the 21st century.

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Engaging in Courageous Conversations

  1. Thanks so much for posting this Thomas! I avoid conflict as well and never considered another option. I appreciate your insight. Derek

    1. Thanks for the comment Derek. I’m glad you took something away from my post. Whenever I find myself avoiding conflict, I try to think of the potential long term gain that would result from engaging in a courageous conversation and hope that it outweighs the short term pain of a possible conflict.

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