Tag: communication

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Like many of you, I’ve had so much on my mind lately. I have several blog posts upcoming that will express more of what I’m feeling. But I wanted to share this quick bit with you. 
If we only read and share things that c…

Read More Share Understanding and Spare Pain

Years ago I was doing a presentation to high school educators and things didn’t go as planned: I started my presentation and within 30 seconds the power went out. I picked up my laptop and said to the 100+ audience members, “Ok, everybody gather around here.” ? I started a conversation about ‘What tech tool […]

Read More Adopting tools in a transformative rather than additive way

No one is perfect. Not one of us. But if we’re not careful, we can fall into the trap of thinking we have to act perfect. 

I find it puzzling how students sometimes have the idea that teachers/principals/educators are somehow above making mis…

Read More 7 Benefits of Apologizing to Your Students

Whether you’re a teacher or a principal, or have another role as an educator, you probably have interactions on a daily basis that involve complaints coming your way. The complaints might come from students, parents, or colleagues. These interactions…

Read More 11 Phrases to Effectively Respond to Complaining

Students who are in trouble almost always have a good reason for why they did what they did. Sometimes a student will admit fault and take full ownership, but that’s not usually the case, especially for students who habitually shift responsibility. U…

Read More Never Ask a Student This Question About Their Behavior

Earlier this summer our district leadership team spent a day of training together around the Clifton Strengths Assessment. It was really interesting to learn more about self and others and how to leverage our individual and collective strengths to make our impact for kids stronger.



Of my top five strengths, I was a little disappointed to learn that none of them fell into the larger category of Relationship Building. 



That’s right, I often write about how much I value relationships and how important they are, but connecting is not a natural strength for meat least not in my top 5 according to this instrument. 



Our trainer was really helpful in explaining that just because something isn’t a natural strength doesn’t mean you’re not good at it, or that you don’t find value in it. It just requires more effort and intention to be good at it. When you believe strongly in something, you can be effective in it even when it’s not near the top of your strengths.



That was encouraging to me. 



My top 5 strengths were 1. Learner, 2. Activator, 3. Belief, 4. Futuristic (sounds like a familiar book title), and 5. Self-Assurance. These are all areas where I get energy, where I thrive.



But I also realize that relationships are the most important part of what I do. I can’t be effective as an educator or as a human being for that matter, unless relationships are my number one priority. So I will remain intentional about how I strive to connect with others.



I’ve noticed sometimes when I interact with students I feel like I’m saying the same things over and over. Just simply exchanging pleasantries, smiling, nodding, fist-bumping, etc. And then maybe I’ll ask about last night’s game or how their classes are going.



I’ve also noticed that while we often talk about how important relationships are in education, we don’t always share specific strategies for how to build relationships and connect in the middle of all those interactions we have every day. 



But I read an article recently about a study by psychologist Arthur Aron that described how certain questions have proven to build connection between people. And while the questions were designed to be used in a single 45 minute conversation, I’m wondering about how some of these questions might be helpful to me in working with students or colleagues, perhaps in shorter time frames. 



Some of the questions seemed more fitting than others. I thought I would share a few here in case you’re like me and looking for ways to make your conversations more meaningful. The questions were divided into sets based on the level of vulnerability they might require.



I think they might even be good for staff meetings to build more connection and teamwork among teachers. When we share together we grow stronger together.



Set 1



1. Would you like to be famous? In what way?



2. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?



3. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?



4. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?



Set 2



5. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?



6. What do you value most in a friendship?



7. What is your most treasured memory?



8. Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?



Set 3



9. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?



10. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?



11. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling…”



There were actually 36 questions total. I’m just sharing a few of the ones that seemed most likely that I might use. I would definitely be uncomfortable asking students, or even colleagues, a few of the questions that were included in the larger group, especially from Set 3. 



You might want to check out the full list of 36 questions and the protocol for the entire activity. You might find some other questions you like for your classroom or school. Or, you might want to try the entire process for date night with your significant other. Enjoy!

What are other questions or topics you rely on to foster connection? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Read More 11 Questions that Build Relationships and Foster Connection



It’s inevitable. Sooner or later there will be conflict. People will have differences. Disagreements will erupt. Mistakes will be made. Stuff happens.



But we can sharpen our skills to be ready when unhealthy conflict begins to rise. And we can use our tools to keep dialogue open and productive. Disagreements don’t have to turn destructive. 



A difference of opinion doesn’t haven’t to escalate into a damaged relationship. The phrases I share below have worked well for me, for the most part. Tone of voice and body language are critically important too.



It doesn’t matter if the conflict is with a student, a colleague, or a parent, it’s so important to listen carefully and let the other person know you are listening carefully. 



Listen carefully and practice empathy. Try to fully understand where the other person is coming from.



Here are 11 phrases that might be helpful…

1. “Let’s work together to solve this.”



All of the problem-solving to address an issue shouldn’t come from one side or the other. It’s not me vs. you. It’s us vs. the problem.



2. “I may be wrong. I frequently am. Let’s look at the facts.”



Our natural tendency is to become defensive when someone challenges us. Take a tentative stance at the start. That shows you’re open to listening.



3. “If I’m wrong I want to correct it and make it right. I may be in error.”



If you start to defend your position right away you set yourself in opposition to the other side. When we set ourselves in opposition to another, it’s their instinct to cling to their ideas and defend them whether there is truly any merit to them or not.



4. “Let me see if I got that.”



Or “Let me see if I understand you correctly?” Listen actively. Acknowledge what the other person is saying. Instead of defending or explaining, start by paraphrasing. Repeat what they’ve said to ensure that you’re getting the right meaning. Ask clarifying questions. It makes the other person feel heard. It shows you are listening.



5. “What’s your biggest concern?”



Sometimes when people get upset they vent about all sorts of things that may be related and may not be related. This question helps focus on what the real issue is.



6. “How are you feeling about that?”



Again this question is acknowledging that there are strong feelings as a result of the situation. It’s good to validate the feelings someone is having. It doesn’t mean you agree with what needs to happen, but you are trying to understand how they feel. 



7. “What would you like to see happen? What would make you happy?”



Sometimes when I ask this question after I’ve listened carefully for a time, the person will say they don’t really want anything to happen. They just wanted to express their frustration. And sometimes there are specific requests. This question get possible next steps out on the table. 



8. “Is it possible that we could…?”



Or “What if…” Help introduce new possibilities to the situation. In emotionally charged situations, people often get locked into seeing things from only one perspective. We’re looking for a creative solution that is win/win.



9. “I’m willing to discuss this as long as needed until we’re both satisfied how it’s resolved.”



I love to say this when I can tell things are really heated. It immediately says to the other person that I’m not going to be your opponent in this discussion. I’m not going to allow this to be an argument. It almost always diffuses the situation.



10. “Let me think about this some more. Let’s try again later.”



Sometimes, even when I’ve tried to maintain dialogue and approach the problem with as much diplomacy as possible, we still can’t seem to either deescalate or find acceptable solutions. Then it’s time to say let’s both think about it some more and try again later.



11. “Do you feel like the situation’s been handled fairly?”



It’s very rewarding when a conversation that could be angry and awful ends up being successful. It actually builds a stronger relationship. Conflict can make us stronger. Sometimes I will even ask if the other person feels it’s been handled fairly. If they can’t say yes, then maybe we need to talk some more.



Don’t allow yourself to become an opponent in the conversation. If people sense that you are defensive, they will set themselves in opposition to you. They will cling to their ideas and defend them no matter what. Even if there isn’t merit to the concern, they will fight for their point of view. They won’t care about what’s right. They’ll only care about being right. They’ll defend the most ridiculous claims and blunders simply because they view you as an opponent.



And conversely, if you truly listen and avoid becoming an opponent, people are far more likely to admit errors of their own. If they are handled gently and respectfully, they will be more open to listening to your perspective too. But make sure they’ve had plenty of opportunities to be heard before you expect them to hear your point of view.



Do you have other ideas for disarming conflict? What’s been your experience with handling conflict successfully? I’d like to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More 11 Helpful Phrases for Disarming Conflict



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.

Read More 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.

Read More 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.

Read More 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.

Read More 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.

Read More 7 Tips for Difficult Conversations with Students



Relationships are essential to learning. Kids connect more to learning when they feel more connection to their teacher. A great classroom environment begins by building great relationships. 



So how do you build great relationships with your students? Here are 5 tips I promise will make your relationships stronger. 



What if everyone in your school tried to get a little better at these five things every day? Wow! That would be an amazing school culture.



1. Connect with your students.



Learn your students’ names…on the first day. Greet them at the door. Make eye contact. Smile. Ask them questions. Ask them their opinion about a movie or type of music or your teaching. Joke with them. Offer fist bumps and high fives. Know at least two things about each student that have nothing to do with school. 



2. Invest in your students.



Believe in your students. Look for opportunities to affirm their strengths. Build them up. Show your approval. You will have far more influence if they know you’re in their corner. Plant seeds in their mind of the great things they will do in their future. Treat them like future world changers. “You’re going places. You’re going to do great things.” Then point out how their incredible strengths will take them far.



3. Personalize learning for your students.



Meet students where they are. Get to know their passions and look for opportunities to connect learning to those interests. Provide experiences that allow individual strengths and personality to shine. Place responsibility on your students and let them know you trust them. Never teach down to your students. Teach them in ways that empower them as learners. 

  • How often do your students have input on how they will learn?
  • How often do your students have input on what they will learn?
  • Are your students given opportunities to lead conversations?
  • Are your classroom goals developed by the teacher alone or in partnership with students?
  • Do your students have some time to pursue their own goals?
  • How often do you ask your students for feedback on their experience in your classroom?



4. Give time and attention to your students.



Notice when a student is having a bad day. Offer encouragement. Make eye contact. Stop and really listen. There are so many people and things clamoring for your attention. To give your attention to something is an amazing gift. Too often we make our plans a higher priority than our purpose. Our purpose might be to connect with our students, but what about our plans for today? Can we let go of those for a couple of minutes?



You can also give time and attention by making that positive phone call home, writing that note of encouragement, or attending that ballgame or concert after school.



5. Forgive your students.



Every kid deserves a fresh start in your classroom every day. Time spent holding onto yesterday means less time moving forward today. Forgiveness protects the relationship. It allows you to set aside those frustrating moments with a kid and believe today can be better. It’s part of being able to enjoy your students…all of them. They’re kids and they’re not always going to show up well in your classroom. If you enjoy them and take delight in them, even with their imperfections, you’ll feel better about yourself and enjoy teaching far more.



I think we can all continue to grow in our ability to build stronger relationships. What ideas do you have for building relationships in your classroom or school? How will you grow stronger in this area? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you.

Read More 5 Tips for Building Great Relationships with Students