Know What You Want from a Difficult Conversation

Summerconf_logo_100x98As a teacher who moved into the role of an assistant principal and then acting principal, author Robyn Jackson knows a few things about challenging conversations with educators. During her “Strategic Conversations for Instructional Leaders” session at ASCD Summer Conference, Jackson evoked personal lessons she’s gleaned from uncomfortable conversations inside the school building.

After learning from some hard knocks, Jackson wants educators–specifically administrators–to realize that difficult conversations can be conducted strategically, with a purpose and desired outcome. It’s not always easy, but if administrators take the time for proper preparation and execution, Jackson guarantees it will be one of the best skills in their leadership toolbox. Jackson introduced her formula for developing targeted, individualized conversations to engage teachers as partners and create joint ownership over problems and solutions.

“When having strategic conversations with teachers, plan a series of interactions rather than just one,” said Jackson. She introduced four types of conversations to have with teachers:

  • Reflective: Help teachers make connections between their attitudes and approach and student achievement.
  • Facilitative: Help teachers make commitments to improve their instructional practice.
  • Coaching: Help teachers make corrections to their teaching behaviors to improve student achievement.
  • Directive: Help teachers make changes in their teaching behaviors that will improve student achievement.

Each type of conversation has a precise outcome, which can help administrators stick to the goal of a conversation. Although Jackson believes administrators can layer types during one conversation, the administrator should always know what he or she wants from the conversation. So instead of trying to go from a reflective conversation to a directive conversation during one sit-down, Jackson suggests scheduling a succession of different conversations that build into an overall goal.

Jackson realizes that these conversations could easily be ignored, but that leaders are not in the position to ignore painful tasks. “At some point, I had to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Her ultimate reward was gaining trust with her teaching staff and tapping into shared knowledge and expertise to create greater team building inside the school.

How do you deal with difficult conversations?