Monday, October 16, 2017

The Facts and the Stories We Tell Ourselves Based on the Facts

I've been planning to write this post for the past two years. That's right. It's been that long. I'm not sure why I didn't write it sooner. But the events of this weekend swiftly and certainly moved these ideas off the sidelines.

Friday night we had home football. There is always some stress associated with each home game. Our admin team often jokes about how much easier the road games are. There are just so many things that can go wrong with large crowds. On top of that, I was at the end of a long week and physically tired. That's typical for Friday night, right?

So I noticed a Twitter post after halftime that tagged our school. I knew the individual who posted it and have a very good relationship with him, although we haven't interacted that often. 

But I quickly became offended by the post. How could this person publicly criticize the school? He should know better than that. He manages people and events and must understand the challenges that come with that. Social media is not the place to air your concerns, at least not initially. Come talk to me. Give me a chance to solve the problem.


I quickly fired off a text message to the individual expressing my frustration and disappointment.

Then came the reply, "Should I delete it?"

"Well, of course you should," I thought.

I responded in another message ramping up my indignation.

And then when his next reply came, I got it. He clarified and all of the sudden, it was clear. It hit me all at once. It almost took the air out of me. He didn't mean it that way! I took it wrong!

In my haste, I completely misunderstood the comment. I missed it completely.

I went back and read it again. Any other person reading the Tweet would NOT have taken it the way I did. I had started climbing the assumption ladder and had gone straight to the top rung.

Time to own my mistake. My very embarrassing mistake.

I sent my apologies. I tried to explain. I told him he did nothing wrong. I should know better. It's totally on me. I'm sorry. I felt terrible.

Fortunately, the person on the other end was gracious in accepting my apology. Looking back, I can't even believe I made this mistake. I practice these skills every day. Not assuming. Trying to understand the other person's perspective. Not jumping to conclusions.


So how does this happen?

A couple of years ago I read the book Crucial Conversations. It is the best thing I've ever read about effective communication when the stakes are high, when there might be strong opposing thoughts or opinions.

One part in particular is so important for us in keeping conversations safe. We have to be careful about the stories we tell ourselves. Here are a few of the big ideas I took from the book.

Stories Cause Feelings

Someone else doesn't make you mad. You get angry because of the story you tell yourself. "I feel bad because of my story, not your actions." Emotions don't settle in like fog. Others don't make you mad. You make you mad. You tell yourself a story, and the story leads to the emotional response. Once these stories take hold, they have a life of their own.

Avoid Silence or Violence

To keep good dialogue, we have to keep safety in the conversation. If we lose safety, the conversation will turn to one or the other or both parties holding back and not being honest or lashing out and taking cheap shots. Neither silence nor violence is a healthy response. We want to develop shared meaning and be totally honest. We want to learn from the conversation, not be right or wrong.

Stories Are How We Explain Why, How, and What Is Happening To Us

So even when presented with exactly the same set of circumstances, we will determine if it is positive or negative based on the story we tell ourselves. Our story is how we attach significance to these events. We decide the level of significance based on the story we tell.

Many Possible Responses

For every set of circumstances, there is not just one way to respond. My emotions are NOT the only valid response. So just because such and such happens to me doesn't mean I have to respond in a certain way. There are many possible responses.

Slow Down

The thing that got me in trouble was how quickly I settled on the story in my mind based on the Tweet I was reading. I attached a certain meaning almost immediately. I didn't consider any other possibilities. Several things had happened earlier that primed me for this response, but no matter, I still wouldn't have failed in communicating if I would've slowed down or even consulted with someone else before drawing conclusions.

Three Stories

We tend to tell ourselves three types of stories to explain things we don't like. We also use these stories to justify our own bad behavior.

Victim Stories - "It's not my fault."
Villain Stories - "It's all your fault."
Helpless Stories - "There's nothing else I can do."

Stories Result in a Path to Action

1. See/hear (facts)
2. Tell a story (interpretation of facts)
3. Feel (emotions)
4. Act (choose a response)

Our path to action may seem reasonable and certain, but if it is based on a story and a feeling, we may act in ways that are not helpful. I saw the Tweet on Friday night and immediately told myself a story. Then I felt upset and even angry. And that led to the awkward text message conversation that ensued. Oh my...

So this is really practical stuff that we can apply daily. In fact, the entire book has great wisdom for educators. We deal with so many crucial conversations. It happens all day, every day. It's important to develop these skills.

It's so important to remember there are the facts and then there are the stories we tell ourselves based on the facts. To close, here are four questions to ask that can help to avoid the crazy dance of some of our stories.

1. Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
2. Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this? This one would have stopped me cold on Friday night.
3. What do I really want?
4. What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?

I encourage you to read Crucial Conversations. I still mess it up sometimes (obviously), but the book was really helpful for me in dealing with difficult situations. Have you noticed yourself telling stories and jumping to conclusions? Maybe with student behaviors? Or colleagues? Are you retreating to silence or resorting to violence in your conversations? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

21 Phrases to Use in Dealing With Difficult Behaviors

The first priority in creating a positive classroom environment and limiting problem behaviors is to develop positive relationships. That's absolutely essential.

The second priority is to clearly establish expectations, for students and teachers. And that's a necessity also. Both teachers and students should know what to expect.

Building relationships and communicating expectations must be tended to daily. Both are critically important. We have to constantly build relationships and communicate expectations.

But what happens when things go off the tracks a little? How do you address those moments when it's not working well? The following are phrases I use when meeting with a student to work on a behavior concern. I gave a brief description of how and why I might use the phrase.

Set a Positive Tone

1. "I will never intentionally disrespect you."

This is one of my favorite phrases. I want kids to know I intend to show them respect. The implied message is I also expect you to show me respect.

2. "I believe in you."

Kids can't here this enough. It's important to establish positive intentions.

3. "I won't give up on you."

If a child feels you don't accept him or her, you aren't going to get their trust. Sometimes I even say, "I don't approve of what you did, but I will always accept you and be here to help you."

4. "Let's work together to solve this."

All of the problem-solving in working through an issue shouldn't come from the teacher. It's not me vs. you. It's us vs. the problem.

Address the Issue

5. "I was puzzled when you..."

Approach the situation with a sense of curiosity instead of approaching it with judgment, frustration, or anger.

6. "What do we do here when...."

Remind the student of the expectations. "What do we do here when it's time for bell work?" Then work with the student to verbalize the expectations.

7. "What should you have done differently?"

How did your behavior not meet the expectation? Help the student think through what behavior would have been acceptable in the situation.

8. "How did you intend for that to make ______________ feel?"

This is another one of my favorite questions. I often will use this to hold kids accountable if they do something disrespectful to me or someone else. "When you roll your eyes at me when I'm talking with you, how do you intend for that to make me feel? I care about you, and I feel sad or disappointed when you do that."

9. "How did you feel at the time?"

I also want kids to know I care how they are feeling and that feelings can be strong and make us want to do things we shouldn't do. But we are still responsible for our actions.

10. "That seemed upsetting to you."

Paraphrasing is important. Again, validate how the student is feeling but help them know they are still responsible for their actions.

11. "I hear what you are saying. I'm listening."

If you want to help deescalate a situation, make sure the person is feeling heard. Not feeling heard is a sure way to keep the two side apart.

12. "Is it possible that...?"

Help introduce new possibilities to the situation. Kids, and adults for that matter, can get locked into seeing a situation from only one perspective.

Decide on a Path Forward

13. "What should you do when ___________________?"

This questions can be helpful to brainstorm how the student could respond to certain triggers.

14. "What will you do next time?"

It's very important to get a plan that is future-focused. Too often, behavior is handled by just giving consequences. Punishments focus on the past. We want to build toward better future decisions, too.

15. "When will you do it?"

It's just another question to be very intentional about planning for next time. Looking for things like, "I'll do it the first time I'm asked."

16. "What do you need to do now to make this right?"

This question is very important. There may need to be an apology. There may need to be some other action right now to address the problem.

17. "Would you like to _________________ or ____________________?"

Choices are really good for providing some agency while also limiting behavior to acceptable options.

18. "Can I count on you to do that?"

This question is very important. After I discuss with a student the path forward, I will follow up with this one. I want to make sure they are fully committed to our agreement.

19. "Okay, but in case you don't, what do you think are fair consequences?"

The student also needs to consider there will be consequences if the agreement is broken.

Reflect on the Conversation

20. "What's your understanding of what we decided together?"

This question requires students to provide a summary of what was decided.

21. "Do you feel that you've been treated fairly?"

Students may not always be happy when we are finished dealing with an issue, but I want them to feel they have been treated with fairness and respect. If they leave feeling disrespected, it is not going to help them be ready to make changes in their behaviors.

I hope these questions are good reflection for you as you work with students and solve problems. But I want to hear from you. What questions would you add to this list? What are some of your best tips for dealing with difficult situations? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, October 6, 2017

If You Want To Be A Difference Maker, You Have To Be A Risk Taker

I recently learned of the story of John Berry Meachum, a figure in Missouri history I previously knew nothing about.

He was born into slavery in Virginia, but at the age of 21 earned enough money as a carpenter to purchase his own freedom and a short time later the freedom of his father.

Throughout his life he had an entrepreneurial spirit. He would purchase the freedom of slaves and most would pay him back. He eventually came to live in St. Louis, where he founded the African Church. 

There he taught religious and secular classes to free and enslaved black students. The location for the classes was known as "The Candle Tallow School."

In 1847, the state of Missouri banned education for all black people. Clearly, one would expect this oppressive law to have a devastating impact Meachum's school.

But Meachum was not dissuaded. In response, he moved his classes to a steamboat in the middle of the Mississippi River, beyond the reach of Missouri law.

He provided the school with a library, desks, and chairs and called it the "Floating Freedom School."

John Berry Meachum showed the determination and innovation needed from all educators. We cannot let our circumstances stand in our way. We all face challenges every day. We have to be willing to think creatively and take risks to create a better future.

What if Meachum just threw up his hands and quit?

What if he felt sorry for himself because of this terrible injustice?

What if he retreated to something safe instead of taking a risk?

He had a dream to educate blacks in his community and nothing was going to stop him. I admire his passion and commitment.

One of my favorite illustrations is from best-selling author Austin Kleon. It communicates so well the risk that is required to pursue something better. 

Most people see the difference between what is and what could be, but not everyone is willing to make the leap. Not everyone takes action. But leaders do.

You can be a leader in your school when you step out and take a risk. If you want to be a difference maker, you have to be a risk taker. 

Don't be satisfied with the status quo. Be a future-driven risk taker.

Be focused on the future, not stuck in the past. Meachum would never have taken the bold risks he took if he were filtering his actions through the past. He was doing something that was largely unheard of because he wanted a brighter future for the people he served. His dream was bigger than yesterday.

Believe there is probably a better way to do just about everything. It may seem that things are just the way they are. Our circumstances are fixed. But there are so many ways to approach a problem. Even when things are bleak, think like Meachum. Find a way. Try something new.

Learn from your setbacks but don't be defined by them. When you take risks, sometimes you are going to get knocked down. But even your failures can lead to future greatness. Many of the greatest world-changers of all-time also experienced incredible hardships and disappointments.

Are you taking risks as an educator? Or, are you settling for the status quo? You are needed as a change maker.

How can we inspire educators to take more risks? How can we overcome the obstacles that stand in the way? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...