Merriam-Webster defines dissonance as: lack of agreement; especially : inconsistency between the beliefs one holds or between one’s actions and one’s beliefs
The example in the dictionary even references cognitive dissonance, which I considered for my “c” in this reflective alphabet. The reasons I did not use this phrase for “c” was that cognitive was not the word that I wanted to connect to reflection- dissonance was.In Leading Every Day: 124 Actions for Effective Leadership, the authors define cognitive dissonance as “a disruption in someone’s thinking, causing them to struggle to make sense of something that doesn’t ft with their current ideas” (Kaser, Mundry, Stiles & Loucks-Horsely, 2006, p. 154). They go on to explain that cognitive dissonance can lead to “transformative learning”
So often in my professional life I observe colleagues struggle with dissonance- lack of agreement between team members in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), inconsistencies between personal beliefs and those of the school, district, state, or other external organizations, or the struggle that comes when someone begins to learn new ideas that conflict with ideas one has previously held fast to. The minute an idea is challenged or even questioned, I see people shutting down. We have become so defensive of our overly-attacked profession that the mere act of questioning fosters the need to defend all without taking the time to listen and consider different ideas.
We see this with our students too. When the going gets tough, many students stop trying and wait for the teacher to give them the answer… and it usually works out just fine for them. But if we want our students to change, our teaching must change. And if we want our teachers to change, we, the leaders, must address dissonance as it surfaces.
Dissonance can lead to amazing breakthroughs. But we have to get comfortable with the discomfort. One of my colleagues likes to call it the “frown face” look. When we are leading professional development workshops or facilitating team meetings, we start to see the “frown face” when someone begins to experience dissonance- personally, professionally, individually, or collaboratively. As leaders, we have begun to address the face and name the feeling. Rather than allow a meeting to get side tracked by excuses, we bring participants back to the present to consider that with which they are struggling. The more time we provide for people to reflect on the dissonance, the more likely we are to see change- or to come out on the other side stronger for having had a rich discussion.
We don’t always have to agree. We won’t always convince people to change their minds. I believe it is most important to acknowledge our lack of agreement publicly and professionally in order to make strides towards a truly functional Professional Learning Community/ Network.
Questions to consider as you reflect:
- When did you last experience dissonance?
- What have you done (or heard done) in response to dissonance in a tension-filled meeting?
Abecedary of Reflection: