Wednesday, September 26, 2018

7 Tips for Difficult Conversations with Students



These tips are actually true for conversations with just about anyone, not only students. Too often I think we avoid having a difficult conversation about a topic because we aren't sure how it will go. We aren't sure if it will be productive, so we just remain silent.

Or, on the other hand, we know the topic might evoke some strong emotions, so we come at the conversation forcefully, from a position of dominance. It's the "my way or the highway" approach. That might get compliance from students, but it won't build trust or stronger relationships. Underneath it all, there will be a kid who resents you.

Neither of these approaches is successful. It's not good to be silent and avoid the topic. And it's not good to be aggressive and overbearing either. A healthy relationship is build on mutual trust that comes through respectful dialogue.

Here are five tips for having difficult conversations that create shared meaning and understanding.

1. Keep Dialogue Open

Let the student know that you are willing to listen and work together to solve the problem. Ask if they are willing to listen to your thoughts too. Keep the focus on the issue and not on sweeping generalizations like "You always..." or "You never..." statements. You might even ask the student, "How can we have this conversation in a way that is positive and helpful?"

2. Make Respect a Top Priority

Let the student know you believe it's possible to solve any problem if both parties are respectful of one another. Let the student know you will never intentionally disrespect him or her. Let them know you want to hear what they think about the issue. The words we use are powerful and communicate our level of respect. Your body language and tone of voice are equally important.

3. Describe Your Intentions

You might say, "I'm willing to discuss this as long as it takes until we both feel good about how it's resolved." Let the student know you're wanting a solution he or she can feel good about too. We're aiming for a WIN/WIN outcome, not my way or the highway. As the teacher, you don't have to prove you're in charge. You ARE in charge. You don't have to prove it. Work cooperatively with students to seek WIN/WIN solutions.

4. Be Curious, Not Furious

Ask questions to understand the student's perspective. Be curious about what they are experiencing. Say, "Tell me more" or "Go on" to show you are interested in hearing the details. Paraphrase what they say to you to show you're listening. My biggest mistake is talking too much. When I'm "telling" a student what I think should happen, I'm missing the opportunity to listen and better understand the student's perspective.

5. Avoid Countering

Countering results in arguments. We start debating the facts. We build our case. We prove our points. It's about "being right." Try to avoid this trap. Try to stay curious and avoid countering. Spend more time listening. The goal is to get to a place where both parties let their guard down and work together cooperatively.

6. Timing is Everything

In my first few years as a principal, I would sometimes choose horrible timing to try to address an issue. I thought it had to be resolved immediately. Usually, that's not true. Most of the time it can wait until cooler heads prevail. If I sense there is no way to have safe dialogue in the moment, I'll step away temporarily. And then I'll resume the conversation in a different location in a different time. This works much better than allowing a situation to escalate.

7. Focus on the Future

Every kid needs a fresh start every day. Time spent holding onto yesterday means less time moving forward today. Take inventory of the current situation, but then focus on the future. Where do we want our relationship to go from here? How can we work together to make the future brighter in this situation? What are we trying to accomplish? What will it look like if we are successful in resolving this problem?

Some people might view these tips as "going easy, or "being soft" or "having low expectations." I would completely disagree. We must have firm boundaries. What's easy is avoiding the conversation entirely. What's easy is being silent. What's easy is also using threats or power to get your way. What's hard is listening to a student, understanding their perspective, and guiding them in a way that is cooperative and respectful. We MUST have boundaries, and we MUST challenge behavior that is harmful to learning. But the way we do it can either build trust or destroy it. 

What are some of your strategies for having difficult conversations with students? I know you have some great tips to share. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Importance of Daily Renewal for Educators


Teaching is a challenging and exhausting profession. No one can understand what it's like until you've experienced it. You make untold numbers of decisions every day. You work with kids who have all sorts of unique and sometimes unrelenting needs. 

The pressure is real. Sometimes it feels like you're just treading water and then someone hands you a concrete block. So you better be a great swimmer! Ha.

I hear lots of ideas about educators dealing with stress. You need to make time for yourself. You need to recharge in the summer and on weekends. You need to have a healthy work/life balance. All of those things are probably true.

But for me, the biggest thing that helps me stay positive, productive, and energized is daily renewal. And that comes in the form of my morning routine and my mental approach throughout the day. I'm renewing in the morning and then I'm renewing by disciplining my thoughts throughout the day.

For the past couple of months, I've really focused on my making my mornings more effective. I've always tried to have a routine in the morning, but last school year at times I wasn't as diligent. And I could definitely tell a difference.

More recently, I'm making my mornings count, and everything I'm doing seems to be working better. I feel more effective. I have more energy. My relationships are stronger. I'm more patient. More productive. More focused. More determined. I feel stronger overall.

So here's what I'm doing differently. I don't do every single one of these things every morning, but I do several of them each day. Being able to pick and choose gives my routine some variety. The routine can take me an hour or more, but there have been mornings I needed to get to school early, and I've done an abbreviated version in 10 minutes.

1. Smile

Start the day by finding something to smile about. Choose to smile. Research has shown the physical act of smiling has benefits for stress recovery, improved mood, and creativity. (Time: 30 seconds)

2. Breathe

I'm using a meditation app to work on focused breathing and meditation. There are several smartphone apps available, and I've tried a couple of them. Practicing mindfulness is great for increased focus, reduced anxiety, and improved cognition. (Time: 3-5 minutes)

3. Be Grateful

Gratitude is powerful for feeling better, having more energy, and training your brain to look for good things. I follow the advice of author MK Mueller. Be grateful for three things that have happened in the last 24 hours with no repeats ever. It's great to share your gratitude with someone or journal about it. (Time: 3-5 minutes)

4. Move

This one I'm including every day in my routine. I do something to be physically active each morning. It might be running several miles. Or, it might be a two-minute plank and that's all. But I'm getting some type of exercise in my routine every morning. (Time: 2 minutes-1 hour)

5. Envision

Almost all great athletes use mental imagery to gain an edge. When you imagine exactly how you want a situation, interaction, event, or performance to go, it creates a mental model for success. It sets the stage for success. I spend a few moments each morning thinking about desired outcomes. I think about these things as if the outcome has already been established, as if they are already true. I think it until I feel it. (Time 2-5 minutes) 

6. Affirm

This practice is similar to envisioning except it is focused on self more than situation. So I'm thinking about characteristics I'm developing in myself as if they are already present at the desired level. I tell myself the things that I value and that I want to become. It helps clarify my values and focuses my growth. (Time 2-5 minutes)

7. Read

Like movement and exercise, I also make reading part of every morning. I keep a list of books to read and have several people in my life who share book suggestions with me. I also try to read blog posts and, of course, Twitter posts from my PLN. I can't imagine not making reading a habit in my life. The things I continually learn add so much value to who I am and what I am striving to accomplish in life. (Time 15-45 minutes)

8. Reflect

I often think back over recent events during my morning routine. I think about decisions or interactions and what I can learn from them. What's working? What's not working? I'm careful not to beat myself up if something didn't go well. I simply consider what I could do better next time and keep my focus on the future. If I can't do something to improve myself or the situation, then I'm not going to continue thinking about it. Worry and regret is disempowering. I want to spend my time thinking in empowered ways. (Time 2-5 minutes)

9. Pray

If you're not a person of faith, you may choose to skip right over this one. I don't want to push my faith on anyone. I realize a person's beliefs about God are...well, deeply personal. But I must share this part of my morning, because for me, spending time in prayer is the most valuable part of my daily routine. I have a list of things I pray about each morning. They are things that are very important to me. I must also share that my prayer life often intersects with each of the other parts of my routine. My whole morning routine is basically my focused time with God. So I'm often praying while I'm exercising or reflecting. I want to start my day by meeting with God, so I'm more effective as I meet with people throughout the day. (Time 5-10 minutes)

I realize this seems like a long list of things to do, especially if you don't like getting up early in the morning. Keep in mind I don't do all of these every day. And the amount of time I spend on each one varies also. 

If you want to reduce stress, have more energy, and increase your effectiveness, I highly recommend developing your morning routine. How you spend the first hour of your day will have a big impact on how the rest of your day goes. Make it count.

What are some of your morning routines? Are you intentional about daily renewal? What are your thoughts about reducing stress and increasing your effectiveness? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, September 3, 2018

What's the Key to Influencing Your Students?


Information and well-reasoned arguments are rarely of much benefit to cause pivotal change. In Switch, by Dan Heath and Chip Heath, the authors detail dozens of examples of two different approaches to influencing (organizational and individual) behavior.

Think/Analyze/Change

One approach is Think/Analyze/Change. In this approach you present the facts. If you do this, this will happen. You make reasoned arguments. You encourage people to think like the rational human beings you expect them to be.

But the problem is, most people don't make decisions based on carefully reasoned decisions. Of course, to the individual, every decision is reasonable. Our students believe they have a good reasons for their choices. It's always important to remember students, and people in general, do things for their reasons and not ours.

So when we use "telling" as a strategy to reason with students about why they should comply, follow rules, or try harder, it probably goes in one ear and out the other, except for the students who already agree with our reasoning, and they aren't the ones who need to hear it.

See/Feel/Change

So the second approach is See/Feel/Change. This approach has been shown time and again to be far more effective in creating behavioral change. This approach makes change more visible. It often relies on mental pictures and narratives that people can really connect with. It focuses on heart needs. It connects with the person emotionally. That is critically important. 


While we would all like to think we're rational beings, we've made some of the biggest decisions of our life based on emotion...where we went to college, who we married, deciding to have kids, buying a house or that new car. There were powerful emotions at play in all of those decisions.

To be a change agent, you have to use See/Feel/Change strategies. 


Here are five tips...
1. The energy you bring to your classroom communicates expectations more powerfully than your words. If you bring enough purpose, passion, and energy to the space, you communicate to students that this teacher is not going to accept less than my best. Keep in mind your rules are no match for student habits.

2. Give your students experiences. Use demonstrations. Use role playing. Make the principles you are trying to teach visible and interactive and don't rely on just "telling." Invite students to reflect on experiences and draw meaning from concrete examples.

3. Tell stories. People connect with stories. So if you have a story that illustrates a principle, use it. But also tie it to a higher purpose. So instead of telling a story of how your son or daughter was complemented in his/her job for showing up on time and keeping his cell phone put away, share how proud you are as a parent that your child is doing well in his adult life. Our kids want their parents to be proud of them. Or, talk about how he or she is taking such good care of their family. Our students may not care about a career at 15 years old. But they do care about the things all people care about (relationships, feeling significant, being good at something, family, connection, etc.).

4. Teach specific first steps to make the change a reality. If students experience some success in an area, they are more likely to continue down that path. So don't just say, remember to do your homework. Help them make plans for exactly what steps they will take to do their homework. Planning first steps is extremely important to creating change. Don't assume they know what to do.

5. Help students find a sense of purpose. People who lack purpose have no reason to change. They have no hope. Encourage students by believing in their possibilities and by giving them encouragement to grow. Students are more likely to invest themselves when they feel meaning and purpose. Learning must be more meaningful than a grade or a test score.

Final thoughts...

Students (all people actually) do things for their reasons, not ours.

Information without emotion is rarely retained. And information rarely changes behavior.

Be mindful of how you can add the greatest value to students who could benefit from changed habits. Be a change agent.

Let me here from you. What are strategies you've used to help student's make pivotal changes? I'm talking about real, lasting change. Share a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 
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