Thursday, September 19, 2013

Talking With a Tiger (#SAVMP)

(Photo by Richard Shaw)
Over the summer, my colleagues and I engaged in a three-day training course in order to prepare to implement the Tribes Learning Communities into our school's curriculum. All staff members were invited with the goal of having our full staff embrace this unique culture and community focused process.

During these three days we were guided through the process of Tribes by being immersed in the activities and building our own Tribe Communities. The first part of this process is building inclusion, and our staff opened up to one another through a number of guided activities. As we moved into the second and third day, our instructor challenged us with more difficult situations, causing us to move outside of our comfort zones and deal with difficult issues and have tough conversations.

On the third day, we were asked to look around the room at a number of papers taped around the room. Each piece of paper was labeled with one animal. These included a dove, owl, turtle, and tiger. We were asked to reflect upon how we deal with conflict and place ourselves in the animal group that matched our conflict resolution style.

Everyone milled about quietly, as if we had to think hard about where we belonged before finding our stops. I had no questions about my place. I walked to the tiger corner. One other woman joined me in this corner. I felt a little embarrassed to be placing myself in this category. It was, by far, the most aggressive animal option. It was also the most dangerous and unpredictable animal. But I also knew it was exactly the animal that would describe me, and not just in the area of conflict resolution. Trying to justify belonging in any other group would be a lie and everyone would know it.

There is no shame in being a tiger. I am passionately driven to speak my mind and I am not the least bit afraid of conflict. I will happily challenge ideas and engage in tough conversations when others challenge me. I enjoy when my thinking is stretched and my perspective is changed. I actually wish that more people would be willing to have challenging conversations without the fear of being wrong, or at least with the openness to have their own notions altered.

After this experience in training, someone close to me forced me to look at myself a little deeper. He stated, "Being a tiger is fine. The problem is, you're a tiger when you don't need to be."  


Upon reflection, I know that there is a lot of truth in that statement. I also know that in every community, each member brings unique and special qualities to the table. Sometimes, you really need a tiger. In other instances, the wise owl or peaceful dove will drive the best results. We all bring our own fire and, in turn, each member can learn from the others' strengths.

In a school where all members are encouraged to have voice, sometimes the most important thing to do is listen. When your leaders encourage pushback and critical feedback, you must also embrace the compromise and understanding. Tough conversations must be bred from mutual respect and understanding, wise observation, and quiet reflection.

Ultimately, the tiger in me has a powerful place in the conversations and decisions we make as a school community. But truthfully, those conversations are more complex than just pushing back and being critical. At the foundation, we must build trust and respect, so that everyone is encouraged, at some point, to be a tiger or the capacity to be the dove.

When the conversations get tough, where do you fall? Are you able to challenge and stretch the thinking of others through passionate dialogue, or are you more of an observer and wise listener? When dealing with conflict, what qualities do you bring to your team?  What could you learn from the leaders around you about critical conversations? How can we ensure that everyone in our community has a voice and is empowered to use it?

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