Principals Need to Make the Uncomfortable, Comfortable

Uncomfortable Conversations Team Planning |

Yesterday, our district dedicated the day to school-based staff development, with an emphasis on curricular issues.  But, during the second-half of the day, I dedicated my high school grade-level team attention toward our ongoing planning/implementation of a school-wide positive behavior supports (PBS) program. I would be flat-out lying if I said this planning process went smoothly.  I’d be accurately describing the process as frustrating, tiring, and uncomfortable.  But, I’m ok with this.  As a school leader, I believe that the planning process SHOULD be uncomfortable at times.  And the more this uncomfort is experienced by team members, the more I believe it will finally become comfortable.

There are few on my staff that are not comfortable with this overall outcome.  But, I believe strongly that as an organization works toward a goal, there will be moments of unease.  Why?  Well, as team members come together and kick-around ideas, brainstorm new ways and practices, challenge their own ideas and their peers, and/or move toward internalizing the purpose of the initiative, there will be debate and discourse.  This is healthy.  It’s healthy because, if facilitated properly, will ultimately lead to the desired change sought by the team.

During yesterday’s PBS action planning session, there was extremely divisive, yet healthy, dialogue about whether or not our PBS token reinforcements should be capped or unlimited for each class period.  Members of both viewpoints presented their rationale and justification and helped each other better understand their beliefs.  Overall, this process alone took nearly 45 minutes…which for many, is viewed as a tremendous waste of time.  But, I believe otherwise.  Our team needed this type of discussion before we could even progress further into our PBS planning and implementation.  This was a critical conversation that NEEDED to occur, and probably should have occurred months ago.

As a school leader, it would be extremely easy to insert a top-down approach and “rule” or “mandate” the project’s outcomes.  But that’s not democratic and yields no autonomy to the grade-level team.  Our team needed to experience a critical conversation WITH EACH OTHER so they could grow as a team and better understand their own perspectives.

I believe that these critical, uncomfortable conversations need to be had on a regular basis.  And soon enough, these “uncomfortable” conversations will feel comfortable and routine.

This blog entry was also published on my personal blog, Connected Educators.


  1. Mark said:

    Given the rate of change, I would suggest we all need to become comfortable with disruption/disturbance/discomfort/dissonance.

    October 12, 2011
  2. jbrauer said:

    Mark, I think you’re absolutely correct. It certainly appears as though the federal and state departments of education continue to drive numerous mandates, regulations, and requirements in the direction of public schools.

    May as well become comfortable being uncomfortable, right?

    October 12, 2011
  3. I have found that these uncomfortable conversations best happen when focused on data as the catalyst for moving forward. If compelling data can point to the need for change, then those uncomfortable conversations can at least start off with the statement “something different needs to happen”. In the case of the PBS conversation, showing data of recess incidents referred to the office and having staff record discipline they engaged in for a two week period really showed that change was needed for our school when we engaged in a similar conversation. Excellent posting!

    October 13, 2011
    • jbrauer said:

      Thank you for your feedback Kurtis! When in doubt, we can always count on the power of data for these conversations. These critical conversations remain rooted in evidence, not just emotion.

      Thanks again!

      October 13, 2011
  4. Donnie Connell said:

    James, as a principal for 21 years who now consults with school leaders regarding change and school improvement, I found while these conversations are uncomfortable, they are necessary. Teachers come to the table with different skills, experiences, and attitudes about any topic you present. Regardless of the change initiative, leaders must recognize where teachers are in relation to it. Also, when the topic changes, the teachers’ relationships to it change. Knowing where your teachers are in skills and attitudes determines how you will help them with the change. Some will need clear, specific directions, some just a little support, while others can be left alone and will do just fine. Matching your leadership style to your teachers’ needs will determine whether the change is successful or not.

    November 1, 2011

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