Professional Development Opinion

It’s Time for a Confrontation Reframe

By Starr Sackstein — February 11, 2018 3 min read
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Epic Fail!

It was so bad in my mind that it warrants using a capital for both words in a phrase with an exclamation point, and I really abhor exclamation points!!

Let me start with a disclaimer that I’m really not good with confrontation as it pertains to work. Usually, it takes me a while to build up the nerve to say what needs to be said even when I know it MUST be said and that the person sitting before me is likely not going to receive the information well.

As a new leader, in a new school culture, trying to help build teacher capacity means that hard conversations are a part of the job. Honestly, I’m much better at winning people over with my charm and transparency in terms of one-on-one conversations where teachers are eager to make change. I love it when someone asks for my help and I can put myself out there to be of service.

The challenge comes when I have to talk to a teacher who believes he/she is already “highly effective,” and isn’t used to receiving constructive feedback. No, doesn’t want constructive feedback because he/she knows how to do it already, and what do I know anyway?

The problem is that teaching is so personal and I can empathize. Hearing something has to change isn’t as exciting for some people as it is for me now, and that means more than one conversation has to be had in order to clearly communicate the feedback.

So let me just get down to it... I saw a lesson.

There were issues with the lesson, but overall, the lesson was effective based on the rubric. There are areas that need to be improved and can be with the right support and open communication.

To reiterate, I strongly believe that the teacher cares about kids and wants to do right by them.

Where I went wrong in the conversation was I didn’t assert that what was happening wasn’t the best we could do. I questioned it, more than once and offered different suggestions of how it could have been improved, but I didn’t get through to the teacher.

If I was being rated on the conversation, I would have gotten “developing.”

After the fact, I called my mentor and spoke with a couple of people I really respect. Although I have run into a few challenging situations since I started my new job, these kinds of situations are the ones that challenge me the most. I’ve been focusing so heavily on building relationships that pushing back means I might damage those relationships.

So I did what I always do. A book was recommended by someone I respect and this weekend I will read it. I will do more research on how to improve these interpersonal skills, always keeping in mind that the students’ experience is why I am doing this and this one humbling experience doesn’t discredit the other good I have been doing.

Too often, I allow one ineffective experience to define my overall performance when there has been a lot going right. Teachers on many levels throughout the district are comfortable having me in their classrooms. They invite me to help them try out new ideas and create projects. Some are even following me on Twitter now and are gaining access to my amazing PLN for themselves.

Professional development has been offered and department meetings have centered around better student-centered practices. Articles have been shared about why making these changes helps students to buy-into the learning process and deepen their learning.

We must—I must—keep remembering that feedback, especially constructive feedback, is necessary for everyone. I watched a Tedx Talk by Sheila Heen recently that offered the advice on how to give and receive feedback better. Although I may be an expert at working with students in this capacity, working with adults has been difficult.

But I’m not giving up.

Another conversation will have to happen. Transparency will be demonstrated. And hopefully, the teacher will hear what I’m saying. What the teacher does with the information will be up to him/her.

As I reframe difficult conversations, I will focus on:

  • The end goal of the conversation—transparently.
  • Student needs.
  • Assuming that the teacher wants to grow and do what’s best for kids.
  • Sharing the strategies that can be employed moving forward.
  • Continuing to build a respectful relationship which sometimes requires constructive feedback.

How do you deal with difficult conversations? What’s your best tip? Please share.

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