When we disagree

Editors Features July 19 / July 20, 2019

— Errol St.Clair Smith —

For the first time in almost two years, the editorial team had vastly different opinions about an article submitted for publication. In other words, we disagreed… GASP! The very close-knit FLR team of educators and editors disagreed strongly enough that it led to multiple email exchanges, text messages, and the magazine going offline while we dealt with the conflicting views. With the deadline looming, we held an emergency virtual powwow in the cloud via Skype. Smells like trouble, doesn’t it? Is the honeymoon over? Is this the beginning of the end of FLR magazine? Who would be the first to hit the eject button and bailout?

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced- James Baldwin

The article was our first attempt at “reporting.”  Instead of writing a story from our own perspective, we picked an issue important to the Flipped Learning Community, interviewed educators, searched for answers, and went where the facts led.

We struggled with perception and fact, bias and objectivity, authenticity and truth, personal and group values. You know, the lightweight, small talk you enjoy with colleagues over a cup of coffee or glass of merlot.

If you were a fly on the wall, you would have read and heard a spirited case for going ahead with the article as written. The “argument” was backed by supporting principles and second opinions. Next up, the equally emphatic dissenting view was presented with detailed examples of where the article missed the target and very specific suggestions for changes. You would have heard point, followed by counterpoint, and one round of exchanges that ended with “Either way, though, I strongly feel that the missiles need to go.” The editor was referring to the image at the top of this article.

Radical Candor

The group was practicing what Kim Scott calls “radical candor.” It’s the widely unpopular notion that we should honestly share our views and opinions and allow group members to candidly respond with their thoughts.

The theory goes that if we can park our egos at the door, candor and constructive conflict lead to:

1. Earlier problem identification

2. The best ideas and solutions

3. Improved productivity

4. Personal growth

5. Stronger morale and commitment

6. Healthier relationships

What the flip?!! Does conflict lead to better relationships?

Embracing Candor and Conflict

Okay, a little more transparency is needed here. In 2017, the entire FLGI International Faculty went through an orientation session dedicated to discussing radical candor:

    • We explored the risks
    • Considered the conflict that candor can create
    • Evaluated the benefits of telling each other what we really think

Candidly, not everyone bought into it. However, the members of FLR’s editorial team gingerly embraced radical candor and today (a year and a half later) was the midterm exam.

What Was Missing?

Back to that fly on the wall… If you were here, you might have been struck by what you would not have heard or read. You would not have heard defensiveness or the sense that anyone felt they were being personally attacked. You would not have heard aggression, passive or overt. Oh, and you would not have heard silence. Every person on the call weighed in. Finally, you would not have heard any hint that anyone was bailing out, or thinking that we were approaching the last breath of FLR.

Instead, a subtle shifting started to take place, as all views were considered. The ideas that rang true were validated, the ideas that didn’t were discarded (including some I really liked). By the time we signed off from the 30-minute Skype call, we had six things:

    • The agreement that changes should be made
    • A consensus that the discussion had led to a much better article
    • Another example of the power of collaboration
    • A deeper appreciation for the blessing of being part of this amazing group of people
    • A sincere wish that everyone could experience what we just went through
    • Proof that conflict can lead to better relationships

The Myths

We are in a field where relationships are everything. Flipped Learning educators double down on this value by elevating relationships to the top of our priorities pyramid. So we routinely do whatever it takes to maintain our relationships and avoid major conflict. When disagreements do bubble up to the surface, things can get uncomfortable faster than a third grader’s attention span. The tendency can be to avoid the elephant in the room at all costs. The result is that the conflict is often ignored or suppressed and the potential for group growth is lost. There is a sizable body of work that concludes constructive conflict is good for relationships. More importantly, the idea that we can avoid conflict and have strong relationships is a myth that can hold us back.

In this issue, we explore seven more myths that may be preventing us, individually and collectively, from reaching our potential to transform education. But we didn’t just stop at naming the problem, we explored strategies to rise above them. I learned something fresh from each one, and we hope you will too.

In case you’re still wondering. The FLR editors passed the midterm test. We also agreed that we should share with you the conflict that went on behind the scenes of this issue. Oh, and the missiles? The graphic didn’t suit the other article and so we replaced it. The image found a new home on top of this article. And though the image overstates the conflict we actually experienced, it accurately represents the potential level of conflict that we successfully avoided. The conflict was reduced to zero through radical candor, radical humility, and a radical commitment to finding the best possible path forward. Hail to the team!

Errol St.Clair Smith
I am the Director of Global Development at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. I joined the education community in 2005, working closely with national education organizations on community outreach and professional development. Over the last decade, I’ve led the development of community platforms for The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE); the Association of Curriculum Developers (ASCD); the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Associations for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), and the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO). I'm honored to have received four Emmy nominations and an Emmy Award for public affairs programming. In 2017 I co-authored Flipped Learning 3.0 with Jon Bergmann. The book was updated based on the AALAS Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning in 2019.

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