I disagree

Respect.  Listen.  Breathe.  Open mind.  Ask questions.  Validate.

These are some of the pieces of advice offered by our faculty after spending time studying texts on productive disagreement during a Professional Development day this week.  They may seem obvious, but of course they can be the most challenging to hold on to when we are in the midst of heated conflict.  I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples of arguments or disagreements that you wish you’d handled differently – each one is unique, and there is rarely a road-map guiding us through them.  That said, there are some principles and practices that can enable us to engage in conflict in healthy ways.

We read about one of the most famous examples of respectful disagreement in Jewish tradition – the fascinating relationship between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai.  We studied texts from Yevamot and Eruvin, two tractates in the Talmud, in which we learned that despite fundamental disagreements between these two centers of learning on specific cases regarding who is available/acceptable to marry, they still allowed marriages between the communities to occur.  Our conversation noted that this indicates a mature sense of perspective that ensured that halakhic (legal) debate didn’t interfere with a larger sense of Achdut (unity) holding the community together.

In our jobs as educators and parents we face conflict and disagreement often – learning to navigate these is a core piece of childhood development.  If we get it right, we will grow children who understand the difference between worthwhile arguments and those that don’t really matter, who are comfortable engaging in healthy conflict, and who know when to walk away.  No one gets it right all the time, but that isn’t the point.  The point is that meaningful relationships between people include healthy conflict, and so does meaningful engagement in community.  We should expect that, prepare children for it, and help them understand when disagreement moves beyond the bounds of what is healthy into damage or danger.

The trickiest conflicts in schools often surround disagreements between parents and professionals about children.  Sometimes what we see during the day is not aligned with what parents experience at home, and elementary years are also often the period in which children with learning differences or special needs are first being observed and diagnosed.  This process can be emotionally loaded, and tricky to navigate as we all figure out what each child needs.  This is one of the reasons parents need to connect regularly with their children’s teachers, as well as with administrators in the school.  When we have built a relationship of trust, it is possible to communicate clearly and candidly, even if the topic is troubling.  The only way that happens is if everyone at the table acknowledges their shared care for the child, and their shared goal of finding the best possible way to meet their needs.

We may disagree sometimes.  However, the advice our faculty members offer themselves and their parent partners remains:

Respect.  Listen.  Breathe.  Open mind.  Ask questions.  Validate.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,