From Education Week: Honesty In The Fight: What ‘Game of Thrones’ Teaches Us About Education Discussions

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust, honesty, and transparency lately. Here’s something I put together for EdWeek.


 

There are always three ways to handle a difficult conversation: you can skirt around the issue; hoping someone understands your meaning; you can simply run from it; or you can stand up, look the problem in the eye and tell it like it is.

Jon Snow definitely tells it like it is.

Many people watching the Game of Thrones season 7 finale watched with bated breath as Jon Snow decided whether to lie and gain allyship with an enemy queen or tell the truth. Many yelled at their televisions when the King in the North (the aforementioned Jon, for those of you who don’t watch the show) decided to tell the bold-faced truth and potentially ruin that allyship, frustrating his current allies in the process.

I, too, was struck by Jon’s honesty, and wondered about the need to lie to help the greater good. Then, Jon Snow said something that stuck with me the rest of the night. He looked his frustrated allies in the eye and told them, “We need to be honest with each other if we’re going to fight together.”

I was struck by the simplicity and truth of that line, and how much it applied to so many aspects of our life. If we’re going to be on the same team, we have to trust each other. That means being transparent, up front, and telling our truth even when we think it’s difficult for other people to hear.

The thing is, once that trust is broken, we start playing Littlefinger’s game in our heads. At one point in the finale, Littlefinger, an aid to the Lady of Winterfell, asks her to imagine someone’s worst intentions for doing things, to see if the possible reasoning matches up.

Once we lose trust and faith in the word of those we seek to ally with, it is difficult to trust their intentions. It becomes harder to assume they want the same things we do and for us to grow together as a team. Disagreements and tension can be worked through, but losing trust means losing the ability to be vulnerable and honest with those in the trenches with us. Without trust and transparency, we cannot challenge each other to do better.

How many of us have lost that trust on our school teams, within our community, or with our students? How many of us are unable to trust that we all want to move forward despite disagreements, and thus have been unable to make that progress?

In order for growth to happen, we have to model honesty and trustworthiness by having difficult conversations because we know that they’re important. We have to make the first step to look our problems in the eye and name them so that we can fight together. We have to challenge each other to be better, and we need to disagree sometimes in order to grow everyone’s thinking. Is it scary? Yes. Can it threaten our ability to ally? Sure. But if we all name the real problem, we can all move towards a common good.

And our students deserve that. They need us to be honest and upfront with each other and with them so that we can fight the common enemy of systemic oppression and educational inequity. When done with the right intention, it is the compassionate thing to do. It allows us to demand the best and push each other and allows others to challenge us when our own thinking needs to be changed.

So, we need to trust each other to fight together. Without it, we find ourselves isolated and weakened. We can’t afford that now since we know that the winter of our national discontent is no longer just approaching. It is here, and only our work together can begin to let the light back in.

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