Friday, 7 March 2014

Challenging Conversations - at the receiving end

Recently I went to a school with a colleague who gave me feedback after my session there. It was really good to get some constructive criticism, though admittedly it has been a challenging conversation with me at the receiving end.

As part of the session I used this whakatauki:
He pai te tirohanga ki nga mahara mo nga rā pahemo engari ka puta te māramatanga i runga i te titiro whakamua.

It's good to have recollections of the past; however, wisdom comes from being able to prepare opportunities for the future.
When I prepared for the session, the meaning made total sense to me and I felt it fitted at this place in the presentation. However, I am notoriously shy about speaking Maori though my pronounciation is not too bad, and at this occassion, with a Maori colleague in the room, I felt even shier than usual and only referred to the English translation. In this way, it almost became tokenism on my part: Why use a whakatauki when I am not prepared to say it in Maori?

My colleague asked me some very good questions: Where does the whakatauki come from? (I found it on the internet). Who is it by? (I don't know) Has it meaning for the school where I used it? (I don't know).

This really made me think; I understood the whakatauki as "we need to know where we come from, who came before us, what made us who we are right here and now, but unless we prepare opportunities for the future, such as personalising learnging etc., we will not gain true wisdom" - is this what the author meant it to mean? If not, is there a problem with me interpreting it in this way?
As my colleague pointed out, a native speaker of te reo could have challenged me in in the use of the whakatauki at this place, in the translation of the whakatauki and the point I was trying to make could have been completely lost.
In fact, what point was I trying to make? Did I need to use a whakatauki to do so and why? I have actually taken the slide out of the presentation I had shared with the school now, I no longer feel confortable leaving it there.

Where to from here?
  • I could just avoid any whakatauki completely as I do not have a deep enough understanding to use them meaningfully - but this could look very culturally un-responsive because not everyone would know why I was not using them, people might think I am only thinking about the culture I most closely align with.
  • I could make a real effort to gain an understanding of a handful of whakatauki that are relevant to my work and use them at (hopefully!) the right occassions.
  • I could check with the schools I work with about the whakatauki that are part of their school culture, ask them / their students to teach me about them.

I think I should persue both latter points - what do you do?

My colleague raised a couple of other points, praising without knowing if praise is due (I had been told this years ago by my subject advisor! - is this an ESOL issue or just the way I work with people I wonder?), and assumption of people's technical understanding (after my ULearn experience I tend to under, rather over-assume - I'll have to watch this). 

So what did it feel like to be at the other end of a 'challenging conversation'?
Not that great lol - I would much rather be told I am perfect! Seriously though, I really appreciated the constructive criticism, and it really made me think. If I keep on harping on about cultural responsiveness, how can I express this in my work that it doesn't become tokenism?

What made this conversation less challenging?
We have known each other for several years, she straight away got to the point and then left it at that and we talked about other things (except when I brought it up again). She asked questions, then made her point as an observation of a fact, talked about the possible consequences and in no way I felt I was being personally critised, it was my practise we looked at - and she was right :)

What can I learn from this when I need to initiate a challenging conversation?
Having a relationship helps. Critique the fact, the behaviour, not the person. Ask questions. State the facts, point out consequences. Offer solutions if asked. I need to go back to my notes from Joan Dalton's workshop, there were more things she said, but this is my little summary of this experience.

Thanks +Moana Timoko!

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