“What was the most significant learning you have experienced or witnessed in your lifetime?”
That was a question posed yesterday by Ashlee Cunsolo Willox and Dale Lackeyram during their presentation at the Teaching & Learning Innovations conference at the University of Guelph. In pairs, we chatted away about some significant learning we had experienced and, as teachers, what we had witnessed. Then, we had a large group discussion about these experiences.
Before I continue, you are probably wondering what that question has to do with conflict. I wondered that, too, as their presentation was entitled, “You’re Stuck with Them: Now What? Managing and Maintaining Conflict in Group Settings”.
After participants shared some of the learning they had experienced or witnessed, Ashlee and Dale drew our attention to the role conflict had played in these experiences. The level had varied; some were intense, emotional events while others’ conflict was intrapersonal as they questioned themselves, their convictions, and their perception.
I really enjoyed their presentation, which then focused on the value of conflict and its role in group work. For me, the most important take-away was a reminder of how conflict can be a powerful catalyst for change. I witnessed its transformative power a few weeks ago at the Teaching Excellence Academy (TEA), a four-day workshop in which participants re-design a single course. At the TEA, participants spent four days wrestling with themselves. What did they really want their students to get from this course? Why were they teaching it a certain way? How would they address external variables over which they had little control? Why had they come to the TEA and what were they trying to accomplish? It is an intense period of reflection.
Conflict, of course, also has as much potential to destroy as to transform. How, then, do we support our students as they deal with the conflict associated with their learning? In our professional lives, how do we support our colleagues as they face new challenges? How do we support ourselves? These are questions that I am wrestling with at the moment.
I was grateful to be reminded that conflict, rather than something to be avoided, can be productive and meaningful.
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