April 9, 2017 by readlisaread
So, here’s the thing about going to a conference. It’s about the learning, sure, but also there are hotel soaps, door prizes and meals on the town with colleagues. That’s the situation I found myself in the other night, sitting at a large table of colleagues that included senior admin, teachers and other coordinators. I mention that specifically, because it was a rare opportunity to be immersed in an experience that we could all take back home and share– instead of going in one direction, up or down, this time it would spread organically and laterally. At least that’s my hope. Because I learned an ancillary lesson at this event, which underscored the importance of having context.
Allow me, dear reader, to set the stage for you…. so, this large table of our contingent was situated in the middle of a Brazilian Steakhouse Restaurant. The concept is awesome– gorgeously roasted meats of all manner of mammals, ruminants and fowl appear on large skewers at table side, and diners enjoy as much variety and as many servings as they wish, indicating surfeit only when turning over the card on the table from Green to Red (or, The Quitter Side). An unlikely place for a conflict over educational philosophy, no!? And, that’s the funny thing, there was no conflict, but there was passion, and isn’t it interesting that when taken out of context, that can look very different from what it really is.
And so. I was making a point. We had all been laughing and joking and enjoying the Meat-on-a-stick experience when I and a colleague sitting kitty-corner to me got into a deeper conversation. She made a kind of a self-deprecating comment about herself (well that’s redundant), and I was trying to make the point that she shouldn’t feel even remotely awkward about it, that she was advocating for her learners, and to me, that trumps everything. After all, they are our whole reason for being. Now, because the atmosphere was light, and loud, and celebratory, I didn’t want her to think I did not take her comment with the utmost seriousness.
That’s kind of where it all went south.
I realized what had happened when I suddenly became aware of a hush falling over the table, my boss appearing at my shoulder, and HIS boss speaking my name in a kind of a shocked manner. Here’s what they saw/heard: I was leaned forward in my chair, making fervent eye contact (if that’s a thing) with my colleague, shaking my pointing finger at her (that wasn’t really well thought out) and remember how I said it was really loud in the restaurant? I was also SPEAKING REALLY LOUDLY. And I was saying: “I don’t care what you say to me, you are advocating for your learners and that’s all that matters. My feelings are irrelevant, and I will always support you.” And I meant it, and I meant it in only the best, most positive way, but somehow it didn’t look or sound like that to the rest of the table (and possibly restaurant, maybe even people on the street). My friend knew exactly what and how I meant it, and I think SHE was a little surprised by the attention our conversation attracted too.
But here is my point (not that I am an over-loud talk-too-much-er)– despite the fact that I should have modulated my voice and could probably have done without the finger pointing– people didn’t recognize what they were witnessing. They mistook my emotion for anger, our passionate conversation for conflict, and felt the need to intervene. Part of the problem was that we were talking shop at a social event– but I felt I HAD to say what I did– it was imperative to me that I not let her own self-criticizing comment be allowed to slide by unaddressed. And it was imperative to me that she know I was in DEADLY EARNEST. I think I actually used those words (to preface the finger shaking). It was the Teachable Moment in a few ways.
So the upshot of all of this was that I had another opportunity to learn some things about myself, and I reflected why it was SO important to me that she knew I 100% supported her advocacy of her learners. I’m still mulling that over 3 days later. So this event was on my mind this morning when asked for a reflection on the conference we attended. I said: “I would like to share that the richest learning for me is always the loudest, most chaotic and sometimes includes arguments and yelling. Sitting quietly and passively and absorbing knowledge never worked for me. I need to wrestle it to the ground and see if it keeps fighting back. That’s how I know it’s good learning– it keeps kicking me in the butt.”. And yeah, I felt a little butt-kicked, in that I was embarrassed, both by causing a scene, and by having it misconstrued. But in the same situation again, I’d probably react the same way– hopefully a little less yelly, and with my pointy fingers out of sight. But seriously, MEAT ON A STICK, people… that alone is worth yelling about.
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