Historically “school” is a building where learning takes place. Recently, building relationships between staff and community members and navigating those relationships often eclipse the learning. Building relationships with students is easy: most educators enter the profession with the innate ability to help and connect to students of all ages. But for some educators, building relationships with each other and the adults within the community can be challenging.
Direct and in-person communication is the best and most efficient way to build and maintain positive relationships. Jennifer Abrams, in her book ‘Having Hard Conversations’ describes teachers as “non-confrontational, and that we actively shy away from causing bad feelings”. So, in my experience we tell others, and since teachers are by nature nurturing we try to help the situation. However there are many times when additional people get involved in situations and often, when more people get involved, the risk of misunderstandings increase significantly and so does the aspect of time to resolve the situation. So, how do we manage direct and in-person communication and how do we prepare for hard conversations? Here are some ideas and tips:
Dr. Len Duevel, a professor at Endicott College and a former primary principal at the International School of Stavanger (Norway) explained his way to work with parents and teachers who came to him to deal with communication issues. He advised all admin and teachers to “practice what you will say directly to Mr. So and So’. This was a way for him to communicate to the person in his office that it was his/her responsibility to deal with the issue directly. He also encouraged educators to not bring issues, or personality conflicts to admin; not because of their busy schedules but because if the issue couldn’t be resolved with the admin, then it was a lost issue. He recommended only going to admin if the people involved had already attempted to resolve the issue.
Another example shared by an international educator is when she worked for an amazing head of school in Germany.
“When my principal first came to my school the culture was bad. He started by telling the staff that the new motto of the school was: “go to the source” and instructed his admin to stay removed from any issue that didn’t have evidence supporting that it happened. They could be available to coach people in how to have difficult conversations with the people directly involved, but he instructed that the admin not get directly involved. It made a huge difference to the overall atmosphere of the school and encouraged employees to trust one another since they faced issues directly instead of always seeking admin involvement.”
Mel, UNIS, Hanoi
Hard conversations are difficult for everyone, regardless of the amount of experience or practice you have had with them. As an emotional individual, I can become upset easily and then shut down which never helps resolve the issue at hand. I personally become anxious during conversations and in the past I have shut down during them which defeats the purpose of the conversation from proceeding. Practicing what to say before you approach someone can be helpful. Writing down your issue, presenting it to the person involved, and then having an open dialogue about it is another option to foster constructive communication in the school environment.
Know of any other tips or advice? Please keep the conversation going by replying below!
Follow Jennifer Abrams on twitter @jenniferabrams and check out her book ‘Having Hard Conversations’ that offers valid points and advice on how to prepare for having difficult conversations and how to articulate your meaning clearly.