Monday, September 7, 2015

Conversations

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Invariably, at the heart of what we do as educators is our ability to manage, maintain, and foster relationships.  Without relationships that are open, trusting, and safe, no one learns.  And I mean, NO ONE.  No student or adult can learn if they don't have a positive relationship with the person sharing knowledge.  Think about conferences you have attended.  Do you often find yourself sizing up the facilitator in the first couple of minutes and deciding if they have anything to teach you or not?  I will never forget a week-long training I was attending.  Day 1, the presenter shared some statistics.  One of my table-mates decided to Google the stats that were shared and found some discrepancies between what the facilitator said and what was presented in the original study from which the statistics came from.  Oops.  There went that facilitator's credibility and that was a week of wasted time.

So now think about all of the interactions that you have on a daily basis.  I have found myself reflecting on this quite a bit of late as I have been involved in several difficult conversations, and we are only 3 weeks into the school year!  These conversations have been with students, teachers and parents.  My reflections have focused on how I have approached each of these conversations.  As leaders, we strive to send clear messages.  We strive to invoke "fairness" in our interactions.  But this is where it starts to get "mushy", as my son would say.  Inevitably, every person is different.  So how do we send clear messages, invoke the change we want or come to a resolution that satisfies everyone when each person might need something different?

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You have heard the saying: You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion (or something to that effect)?  Essentially, listen twice as much as you talk.  It seems simple enough.  That is, of course, until you are in the middle of a heated discussion about your latest policy change,  or one of your teachers is being accused of poor practice, or one student is angry with another, or... What has really been hammered home for me these past few weeks, is that in most of these scenarios (there are always exceptions), going in with a few guiding questions to ask the person or persons, and then being prepared to just listen, has had much better results than those conversations where I have worked to engage on every point.  Is this a good approach to take?  Well, it's working for me.  Is there research out there about how to facilitate successful conversations?  Of course.  But full disclosure: I haven't read all of it.

What I have come to realize, however, is that when I stay focused on the individual I am speaking with, drawing out their story first, they feel heard and respected and it has made the subsequent portion of the conversation, (you know, the one where we have to talk about changing behavior, or identifying an appropriate solution or compromise) much smoother.  And because I allow them to feel heard, there is some level of trust created.  Our conversation may not result in the same consequences for them as for the other people  I am also talking to.  But I don't know how much that matters.  What matters to me is establishing clear boundaries and a commonality of expectation.
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Just as every person is different, so are the paths they can take to arrive at a desired outcome.  Thus, for me, fairness in my interactions includes creating a safe, open environment for discussion and a solution that engenders change.

I am always striving to improve my practice and this is one tool that I feel I have been able to hone to a place that it works for me most of the time and I'll take it.  What practice have you been working on  this year?

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts!