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.