8 tips for a respectful conversation about positive teaching during the holidays
There’s nothing like the stress of the holidays or a staff holiday party to bring on the hard conversations...
Your grade leader wonders why you don’t use recess detentions.
The veteran teacher doesn’t understand why you aren't on-board with student timeouts in other classrooms.
Another teacher asks your principal to move Billy to your classroom, sarcastically saying, "She can handle him, her classroom is perfect." (true story)
Ugh, It’s not that you’re embarrassed about your classroom management decisions. In fact it's quite the opposite, you love your job, and your kiddos...but some people are not going to agree with your system and sometimes it’s hard to put your perspective into words. Plus, you don’t want to start an argument…I mean it's the holidays.
So, what are your options? Here are some tips for managing conversations about positive classroom management strategies during the holidays (or anytime!)
BTW, I'm writing this post as a bit of advice to myself, so I can hopefully make good choices with my words this holiday season...
Be Respectful. Give the speaker time to finish a thought; not interrupting to take over the discussion. (I mean not that I ever do this...ok, ok I do this all the time, I'm working on it!!!)
It’s so easy to get defensive and upset when someone criticizes your teaching strategies.
Just like when our students get upset, we quickly move down into the part of our brain where rational thought no longer is taking place.
Instead, take a moment to compose yourself, focus on your breathing, notice the air moving in and out of your lungs, this will help keep you centered. Focused breathing will help you stay calm and in control of your emotions.
Be honest. Working with challenging students is difficult. And it's ok if you don't feel totally confident in your ability to help all of your students all of the time.
Don't worry about saying the exact right thing either. We are all learning and growing in our skills as positive teachers. Your job is not to convince them you’re right, and you probably won't anyway, just do your best to have a productive conversation.
Don’t apologize for shifting your classroom management strategies. “I have stopped using detentions for students whose homework is incomplete. I found they often made students more upset and didn't change the behavior. I am working with students and parents on making homework more valuable and that seems to be working for me.”
Don't preach. Hopefully you believe in positive teaching with all your heart, and truly know a more positive environment is beneficial for everyone, but preaching isn't going to change anyone's mind.
I could go on a 30 minute tirade about the benefits of changing my classroom from a consequence based system to a relationship based system, but people who believe in tough love will not be convinced by my lecture.
Actions speak louder than words, hopefully staff will see the light when they see the difference in my students and the constant smile on my face.
Empathize. Before you respond with your perspective, let the other person know that you’ve heard their concerns.
Even if you do not agree.
Most of us were taught that only punishment and consequences can change negative behavior, and changing that narrative is difficult. Their worries are legitimate and are often based on feelings of fear and inadequacy.
Put their concerns into words. “It sounds like you’re worried if I don't punish him for not doing his homework, he will never learn that homework is important. Is that right?”
Acknowledging the perspective of the other person does not mean you agree with them, however it does mean you are hearing them and their concerns. Share what you are working on. I am constantly asked how things at school are going, and people always seem surprised when I answer that things are going great! People seem to expect that teachers will have something negative to say. Let's change that expectation!
Share what's working, while also admitting to the struggles.
“I am working on staying calm when my students are struggling. It's still difficult to not always take what they do personally, but I am definitely improving and I'm seeing good results. Yesterday I had a student who kept using their phone in class, I asked her if she would like to finish her text in the hallway and she said no, thanked me and put her phone away, it was pretty awesome!"
Be confident. Just like when working with your student you need to find a middle ground between Mr. Rogers and General Patton when speaking with colleagues.
If you tend to be more passive, like Mr. Rogers, stand up straight, make eye contact, speak calmly and at an appropriate level for being heard.
If you tend to be more aggressive, like General Patton, ask the person to join you in having a seat, uncross your arms, and be sure to speak calmly and quietly.
Take a break. Sometimes a little break from the conversation is in order.
Some natural reasons to take a quick break to regroup include; getting a snack, refilling your drink, or excusing yourself to use the bathroom.
Try saying something like, “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’d love to get a quick cup of coffee before we continue. Can I get you something while I’m up?”
Know when to step away. There are times when a productive, respectful conversation is impossible.
Your mental health is important! It’s OK to excuse yourself or refuse to continue a conversation – especially one that is unhealthy or disrespectful.
Overall, don't be discouraged or upset by the encounter, don't allow a negative teacher to make you feel bad about doing what you know is right for your students.
Hey, you did your part to have a respectful conversation on the benefits of positive teaching strategies. Maybe someday you can pick up where you left off...but for now, enjoy your holidays! You are awesome and can be proud of the work you are doing everyday with your students!
Have you had a difficult conversation with a colleague? How did it go? What did you do to make the conversation more productive? We would love to hear from you!