I challenge those that challenge? Wait…what?

*UPDATED Dec. 2016*

So… my other half continually says to me, (amongst many other things,) that I sit on the fence a LOT. She also, says to me, that I challenge things, or be controversial for the sake of being controversial. She argues. I don’t really have a need, but instead I prefer to hear/see/read reactions, that I like to see how people respond. Maybe, just maybe, this is true. I mean, I have always taught my students…

The best way to argue is to know your opposing point better than yours.

This to me makes sense? If you know what you are trying to challenge, you can establish ways to challenge it.

So, what is the point of this blog? I am not entirely sure, I feel I must again write something that discusses the issue of challenging colleagues, teachers and a fellow human?

So I tweeted out the below…


I am the kind of person that always tries to support the underdog, that loves those feel good American sport movies where those with no chance succeed. Most recently watching Billy Elliot during a school production, I was extremely moved by his story, the obstacles he overcame and the support he recieved. I am the guy, that will befriend the person who others bullied. I am the person who will try to defend and protect. Not sure why? Growing up with 3 older sisters? Maybe, they have taught me more than I will ever know.

En Garde:


Challenging something is meant to be healthy? It is meant to be constructive? it is meant to be helpful right? I mean, it is simply not enough if somebodies heart was in the right place, that they tried their best, put in a lot of effort and wanted to do well. Although, that is usually enough for our students! What if the idea is ‘damaging’?

If for example somebody organises an event, a large, successful event, and one challenges the gender or ethnic make up of such event, is that OK? Is it ok for those people to say, this is not good enough?

Is it OK for people to disagree with the entire premise of a policy at their school? Or what they believe is the right thing to do for their students in their area at their school?

Is it acceptable for people to write blog posts about such events/policies/ideas and argue their own personal rationale/reasoning for disagreeing with it? Is it OK for colleagues to riducule an activity? A resource, an idea, a students grammatical errors? A teachers errors? But, what if they think the idea is a waste of students time?

In my view and my opinion, I would find it hard to challenge an idea that I am not delivering, that I do not know the students, or context it is being delivered to. I always say, try, refine or ditch. But, what if the idea is that ‘bad’, you feel it is something that should be openly challenged, as it is openly shared? I think, go ahead! Challenge, ask questions, but do it with grace, humanity and with a friendly nature. But, who needs to listen to me. Nobody. Ironically, a key element of twitter is to not to tell anybody to do anything, I am not the boss of anybody. Just a concerned citizen maybe?

Ed Catmull at Pixar, states “a hallmark of a healthy, creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions and criticisms.”

To be honest, I am not entirely sure, I am in two minds about it. I know, simply not to be nasty to anybody, but is a simple opposition to an idea being nasty? No, well, it depends how it is done.

I do always think; if you want to challenge then…

  • Keep it private
  • Stick to the facts
  • Allow a response
  • Keep emotions out of it

But, that is so difficult, you can’t keep a blog/tweet private, facts are sometimes very subjective, (although, if something is a fact, it should just be clear, but look at what MPs spout out daily! Also, how can you not get emotional about an issue close to your heart? Or close to the persons heart that you are challenging?

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts!

Challenge can however be extremely useful in many ways. A little like when reading your own writing, subconsciously you miss the chance to self correct any mistakes. So, until somebody breaks you out of your ‘good ways cocoon’ you may not notice the things being highlighted.

Bad news travels faster right? But, is it because we need to respond quicker?

“When you’re building an institution, you’re consciously building something that will be beyond you, It’ll exist beyond you, it’ll grow beyond you, it’ll sustain itself beyond you … it’s about creating culture and values that persist.” Coke, CEO.

So, with us tweeting publicly, writing blogs, sharing items on websites are we building a mini institution? Do we need to disassociate ourselves, our personalities, ‘us’ from these such events, and look at the bigger picture. But, the problem is the bigger picture contrasts for such individuals. Therefore, this is clearly hard to do, for us, as educators I think.

Many businesses have customer care lines, have feedback avenues for people to address concerns to them, they also says if you are not happy with this product you can contact them. However, their public persona/face is so important to them. They do not want to see/hear/share bad press. Nor do we. Why should we. Why should one be publicly called out. Do we need a type like this channel open as educators? Problem with this is as most people have attended a school, they often thinks this warrants them to have an expert label attached to them. If other educators are in a school context they may think what is happening to them is simply what should apply everywhere else?

Something works somewhere, but not everything works everywhere.

Upon further reflection I think back to personal experiences; how can a white, male, tell me, words are just words. Get over it? Do they know how I feel? What I have been through? Or maybe, here I am letting emotions get in the way? We have also heard the responses to all male panels and the points made about lack of BME representation. One colleague simply asked, what is BME! We then get conflicting views from BME members of the community themselves. Who for them, the bigger picture is different.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. (Martin Luther King.)

I realise I may not have answered a single point here. I realise I may have just wasted 5-10 minutes of your life, but if I can leave you with one thing; if you challenge, challenge for an aim. That being you want the person/thing to do better for themselves and therefore ultimately for their students. Not for you, not for you to prove they are wrong, but to help.

Many challenges I read point out problems, but do little in the way of offering solutions, many things I see, do not take into consideration context.

I hope that makes sense.

Challenge is the pathway to engagement and progress in our lives. But not all challenges are created equal. Some challenges make us feel alive, engaged, connected, and fulfilled. Others simply overwhelm us.



  1. Very interesting Amjad. I always preface challenge with constructive. Personally, I welcome constructive challenge that builds on the success or value of what has happened or been provided by others and seeks to explore ways it could be enhanced and improved. That’s good challenge. The other kind of challenge that asks why this happening at all has to be handled with care. It may be a necessary challenge, and you highlight reasons why, and then always best to do it without emotion and with facts and data if possible. Not always easy!

  2. Lots of your comments do resonate with me, especially if in a leadership position .. Often many feel they have to challenge for themselves and make them selves heard, while I listen I’m thinking what’s the aim.. But my “lack” of input is considered as me seating in the fence !! Thanks for sharing

  3. Thank you for sharing. Lots of your comments make sense. As governors we are told and hopefully taught to challenge. Challenge mustn’t be for the sake of challenge. Challenge should
    1. Hold people to account
    2. Make people explain and work out that what’s happening is or isn’t for the best
    3. Give the other person an opportunity to explain their reasoning behind what they are doing
    4. Challenge also gives the challenger the opportunity to say “well done”

    As long as the reason behind the challenge is clear and it isn’t just because the challenger is part of the “awkward squad” then, I think, it’s ok.

    What I’ve also noticed is that sometimes some things are assumed to be sacred cows and any questioning is looked upon with suspicion. I don’t know the whole story behind the BME example you’ve given above but wasn’t it better for the person to have asked you than to forever not know?
    Is it human nature to always look at challenge with suspicion and attribute some sinister motive to it? To use your example, why is it ok to challenge an all male panel (by the way I think it should be questioned) but not ok to challenge when you think one particular panel is being targeted more than the rest? We’ve heard how sometimes women and BME candidates for headteacher posts are discriminated against. I said at the WomenEd conference and subsequently that this needs to be challenged. If you think you have been discriminated against then you must challenge and we all must make it easy for you to challenge. No one can say this challenge is wrong, can they?
    I also think that sometimes people who question the challenge are not upfront about why and how they are doing so. Sometimes these questions are asked in a vacuum (for example as subtweets) which means that the challenger is not given the opportunity to explain. I totally agree with your closing comment, “if you challenge, challenge for an aim. That being you want the person/thing to do better for ITSELF. Not for you” All I would add is that this applies to the person challenging the challenge too.

    • Many points I agree with, but many I feel have missed my original points. But, this highlights the very nature of this debate, you have noted the problem with the perceived challenge and the issue one takes with the challenger. I have not considered that as much. I also would say, no, it wasnt better for that person to say those words to me, not from an educated professional. There is certain levels of ignorance that must be automatically eradicated in our profession.

  4. Thanks for this, Amjad – it did encourage me to reflect.

    In a leadership context, I’m always banging on about the fact that we need a BALANCE of support and challenge if we’re to get the best from others – see this, for example: https://www.tes.com/article.aspx?storyCode=6455204 This sometimes means that we need to challenge upwards, too – if you’re a head, the worst thing can be when no one tells you the truth. You need senior leaders who positively, professionally, privately but constructively, tell you if they think you’ve got something wrong. There needs to be positive challenge in the dynamic between head, business manager and Chair of Govs too, I think.

    With respect to blogs, presentations at conferences etc, again, I think challenge is healthy and helpful, but HOW it’s done is crucial. I’m not convinced you can take the emotion out of it completely – we’re emotional, as well as rational, beings – but I do think we need to be calm, polite, respectful when we disagree. And we need to try to be receptive and reflective when we’re criticised/challenged. Easier said than done sometimes!

    • Polite, calm and respectful, removes emotions, well removes the negative emotions anyhow. Also, you state, which I whole heartedly agree with, private challenge is helpful. Outing somebody via a blog or twitter, not so much.

  5. Maybe I’m missing something here. If something challenges your own thinking, then responding is, vital. Few things are simply black/white, and there is always an alternative viewpoint from every person in the room. It is pointless challenging trivia, or challenging things just for the sake of it; but challenging big issues with which you disagree is, surely, important. So long as you are challenging the idea, not the person.

    I think the Ed Catmull quotation is on-point. Opposing an idea is not in itself nasty. Where it falls down is people who do take any form of challenge/disagreement as a personal attack. There needs to be a healthy culture in which challenge and counter-challenge is a part of the positive dynamic of working as a professional team.

    A big problem comes when challenge, especially of the management team, is frowned upon, or flat-out forbidden. Unfortunately, “challenge” is all too often confused with “unacceptable dissent” – and bad managers can/do use that interpretation as a control tool, to keep the narrative in their own hands.

    As a teacher (I teach English, Literature, and Global Politics), I see challenging (for a constructive purpose) my students’ ideas, and having my ideas challenged by them, as a vital part of the job.

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