Can’t We All Get Along? Moving Beyond Either-Or Thinking

Leadership | Collaboration

From chatrooms to classrooms, the idea of we’re in this together is increasingly absent from America’s socio-political discourse. Interactions between adults at public school gatherings are not immune to the virus of intolerance. Shouting matches over dissenting opinions are wrought with anxiety, anger, and ridicule. The discord is noticed by students and can have a negative impact on their learning experience.

We have a much better shot at success with leaders who are uniters and bridge builders. Education leaders cultivate cultures, shaping them into ones characterized more by unity than separation. They do this every day with their words and actions. As a Dallas, TX school principal Reanna Wilborn puts it, “It’s time to bring the ‘we’ back into school decision-making. That means inviting and honoring the voices of parents, students, and stakeholders at all levels.”

Education Leaders Need to be Facilitative Leaders

Facilitative leaders don’t subscribe to a fixed point of view. They call people in rather than calling them out. They dissolve the us-them mentality by demonstrating the use of a both/and lens, embracing the yin and the yang, and working across lines of difference. 

This approach allows for contrary beliefs to share space. When individuals feel their dissenting opinions are not welcome or will not resonate with the leader, they may suppress ideas and differing viewpoints, moving more towards groupthink and away from creativity and continuous improvement. Instead, leaders should allow contrary beliefs, holding them together and using the resulting trust as the connective tissue in an organization, school or team.

Here are three ways that you can act more as a Facilitative Leader and move away from me vs. you and toward we’re in this together culture.

1. Practice mindful communication.
Communicating mindfully means interacting with others with an intention to understand and be understood and then paying attention to how we go about achieving those intentions. In her book The Mindful School Leader, Valerie Brown writes that “the essence of communicating mindfully is about cultivating understanding and love.” Here’s are a few tips:
  • Set a goal to understand others and to express your own opinion.
  • Check your perceptions of what others are thinking or feeling before drawing conclusions.
  • Acknowledge the contributions of others in group interactions.
2. Share a unifying vision.
A unifying vision is one that invites people to play on the same team to realize a shared aspiration. It opens people’s minds to creative possibilities that can only be achieved through collective action. With a mindset of oneness, leaders can speak to everyone, regardless of their individual differences. Here’s are few characteristics of a unifying vision:
  • Appeals to shared values, for example: healthy and happy children.
  • Paints a picture of a desired future.
  • Includes a way for everyone to contribute.
3. Engage stakeholders in decision-making.
As a teacher, I felt most valued and invested in my school’s success when I was asked to give input on key decisions, like selecting new teachers and offering my thoughts on new curriculum. Effective educational leaders consider the needs of all stakeholders when making decisions which will affect them. Here are some ways to involve stakeholders:
  • Seek out diverse opinions and dissenting voices.
  • Make important decisions (e.g., curriculum, staffing) through consensus of key stakeholders. Fall back to other strategies (e.g., gather input and decide) when time is running short.
  • Get the help of a facilitator at key meetings to make sure everyone has an opportunity to be heard and help avoid unnecessary conflict.

Do you want to develop leaders who model inclusivity and effective collaboration? The Seven Practices of Facilitative Leadership have helped thousands of educational leaders guide school reform efforts, gain commitment from key stakeholders, and re-shape school cultures to allow the emergence of collective capacities.

About Priti Ahuja

Priti’s mission is to provide educational leaders with practical insights and collaboration tools for leading school reform and transformation initiatives. In her work as a group process consultant, trainer and leadership coach, Priti integrates positive psychology, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness practices. She believes that authentic human connection has the power to heal divisions and leverage the natural inclination in most people to be helpful and collaborative. Prior to joining Interaction Associates, Priti was a professional development consultant for Dallas ISD. Earlier in her career, she worked in marketing and advertising for private and not-for-profit sector clients. In that experience, Priti learned that words are important, and kind words have the most positive impact. Priti's favorite IA practice is to balance her focus across three dimensions of success: results, process, and relationship. With a high focus on achievement and results in education, this practice reminds her to consider the process (how we work together, use resources, talent and time) and relationship (how we build trust, practice empathy and model relational values). Priti earned a Master’s Degree in Education and Child Development from Erikson Institute, Chicago, Illinois. She is a fellow of the Transformative Educational Leadership (TEL) program and serves on the advisory board of The Educator Collective, an organization dedicated to empowering education professionals.