Have you had to approach a teacher about a problem you can see with your child? Has your stomach been full of butterflies as you try and sort out in your mind what you want to say?
This has happened to me. I am a teacher myself but I was unhappy with the way things were being handled in the classroom with my Gifted and Talented daughter (aka Baby Blue). I knew I needed to speak to the teacher when June/July holidays came around and my little girl got excited about going into year 2 (and she still had 6 months left of year 1!). I planned my conversation carefully, using the formula explained below. I hope others might find power in this model too.
The first thing I did was speak to a couple of people I trusted about my concerns. I presented the situation to them and asked if I was over reacting. I think it’s important to get this viewpoint because if you are seeing things close-minded, you should have someone within your circle who can tell you that.
Secondly, I skimmed Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. I have been extremely impressed by the work put out by Susan Scott and recommend her books to anyone who has to have any type of conversations (which is all of us! ).
I then planned my conversation using Susan Scott’s “Mineral Rights” conversation model. Planning is important because it makes clear in YOUR head what you are there to talk to the teacher about. I used the following:
Tips for Mineral Rights
Challenge people to distinctly define the truth by repeating the question: “What is the truth about that?” as many times as necessary to uncover the core nugget of truth in a given situation. This unlocks a persons’ own capacity to strip away the unimportant and distracting issues so they gain a clear sense of the actual or ground truth.
Identify fears: People resist change out of fear of the unknown. Allow people to surface their fears and talk about them by asking simply: “What are you most afraid of?”
Dig deeper: Understand the first one or two responses a person offers rarely gets to the core of their own truth or issue. Keep them talking and exploring with open probes such as: “Can you say more about that?” or, “Tell me more.”
Avoid Laying Blame: This creates a space where people can talk about mistakes and failures without shutting down. “In any situation, the person who can most accurately describe reality without laying blame will emerge as the leader, whether designated or not.” – Edwin Friedman
Remove the word “but” from vocabulary and substitute the word “and”: “I hear what you’re saying, but…” will be better received if you say, “I hear what you’re saying, and …” This shows the person you can make room for multiple realities and reduces defensiveness.
Put into real life terms, this is what my planning looked like:
What is the truth? My daughter is not behaving in class. She is coming home bored. She is begging for school work from me. (I presented these “truths” to the teacher).
What am I afraid of? I was afraid my daughter would continue to develop naughty habits whenever she was bored. I was also afraid she would grow up believing that mediocre is enough.
Avoid Laying Blame. I made sure I took responsibility for Baby Blue’s behaviour at home and asked what I could do to make sure she is well behaved in class.
Tell me more. At this point, I asked the teacher what she was doing with Baby Blue in the class. I wanted to know her perspective. You can give more detail yourself in this section too, if it’s warranted.
Not But AND. I love this sentence: “I hear what you’re saying AND…” So in Baby Blue’s case, I said, “I hear what you are saying and I would LOVE to see Baby Blue challenged with her reading.”
So the next time you head into a parent/teacher interview with issues to discuss remember to:
1. Plan the conversation
2. Make sure you embrace TRUTH
3. Identify fears
4. Avoid blame
5. Dig deeper … “Tell me more”
6. Not Buts, just Ands
Have you ever had to approach a teacher about a problem you can see with your child?