Friday, April 27, 2012

Crucial Conversations in the classroom

"Nothing in this world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

-William Shakespeare

I am reading the book Crucial Conversations and I find myself relating its content to the relationship between teachers and students.

When students behave in ways that make it really hard to like them, teachers often make assumptions and judgements about why they are doing so.

In the book Crucial Conversations, the authors encourage us to get back to the facts:
Separate facts from story by focusing on behavior. To separate fact from story, get back to the genuine source of your feelings. Test your ideas against a simple criterion: Can you see or hear this thing you're calling a fact? Was it an actual behavior?
For example, it is a fact that Johnny "stood up and while walking to the pencil sharpener, he poked Mary and laughed at her". This is specific, objective, and verifiable. Any two people watching the class would make the same observation. However, the statement "Johnny is a disruptive bully" is a conclusion. It explains what you think, not what the other person did. Conclusions are subjective.

When we jump to making judgements about a child's behavior we often use "hot words" that reflect the stories we invent based on the interpretations we make. After seeing Johnny stand, poke and laugh, it would be tempting to label him as disrespectful, disruptive, irresponsible and a bully.

While these assumptions might be accurate, that is entirely beside the point. If we want to work with Johnny to reflect on his behavior, we need to engage in a conversation that stays away from labeling him with our judgements. Starting the conversation with Johnny by calling him disrespectful and a bully will likely encourage him to have an emotional response. Ultimately this is distracting because instead of talking about what you saw and heard Johnny do (stand, poke and laugh), Johnny will argue about how your judgements (disrespectful, disruptive and a bully) are inaccurate.

If our ultimate goal is to work with Johnny to help him develop the social, emotional and behavioral skills that he needs to successfully navigate his day, then we need to suspend our judgment and interpretations long enough to talk about just what we see and hear.

All of this reminds me of the mantra I use to guide my interactions with kids:
Children should experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment but as information.


  1. I just read the book also, and found it extremely helpful in conversations with family, in business, with kids, and with other adults.

    Sometimes you know that something is wrong, and that you'd like to see it changes. But you also know that saying the wrong thing might be even worse than doing nothing. This book helped me to see how to say the right thing at the right time to get constructive change.

  2. Your post made me think of an article I read once about some soccer players who petitioned FIFA to remove the cages that separated the fans from the field.

    Thought is creative.

    The THOUGHTS had been... fans will rush the field, throw crap on the field... we must put up a cage. These thoughts were profoundly negative, and since "thinking makes it so" not surprisingly when fans would sit down at games behind cages, they acted in accordance... like animals. The soccer players against these cages brought forth data that showed clearly how the cages actually increased violence in the stands.


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