Critical Conversations – Cause No Unnecessary Pain

Many school leaders entered education as idealist teachers, like most everyone else.  Through luck, desire, circumstance, hard work, or likely a combination of those, some have the opportunity to serve their schools as formal leaders of the building.  Along with this awesome opportunity to assist teachers in doing that vital work, the leader has to start to understand how and when it’s necessary to have the “critical conversations” with other professionals.  This can be really challenging, as many school leaders I know (myself included) struggle with conflict and feel uncomfortable when we have to confront our teachers about certain instructional practices or behavior.  During my preparation for being a principal, I don’t recall learning in great detail how to handle these situations.  It’s a real learning-by-doing skill to effectively and humanely confront other professionals.

Discovering a theoretical framework, though, helped me in learning when and how to have these conversations.  Nel Noddings, a wonderful educator and prolific writer on the ethics of care in education once stated that any grown-up, in thinking about a decision related to the education and well-being of a child should ask “Is this necessary?”  as all educators should aim to, “cause no unnecessary pain, separation or helplessness.”  This became a simple litmus test for me as a school leader.  If unnecessary pain, separation or helplessness were happening to any student in my school, then it was my job to have the necessary critical conversation to end that.  Period.



Filed under Experiences I Wasn't Prepared for as a School Leader

2 responses to “Critical Conversations – Cause No Unnecessary Pain

  1. I love the work of Nel Noddings and your thought of causing no pain both for students and teachers. Although there are times when a teacher may not care for your opinion of what is causing a student pain. There are often very differing opinions for teachers who hang on to traditional methods including ways to punish a student for not listening, not complying, not performing to the teacher`s standard, not delivering in the expected way and the list goes on. Do we apply this “cause no pain`to teachers in this case – I don’t think so Just my two bits

  2. Brenda,

    Thanks for your comment. I think that the point you reference at the end is the reason why Noddings said no “unnecessary” pain. Certainly a teacher’s methods or pedagogy may need corrected, which would potentially be upsetting but also “needed”.

    Thanks for forcing me to state that more clearly.


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