Talks with your supervising teacher can get difficult. In fact, they should get difficult! “Difficult conversations” are the ones needed to address serious issues. Because the issues are the source of the difficulties, choosing not to talk about them means the serious issues are likely to be ignored. Your working relationship will suffer, and so will the instructional mission. Difficult conversations are easier when you prepare for them in advance. The conversation, the issues, and the preparation are key parts of being forthright.
- Prepare for the conversation.
- Clarify the goals in your own mind. What do you hope to accomplish? Write them down if that will help.
- Think about possible emotional risks and ways to limit them. How can you keep things from getting too personal?
- What outcomes would you find minimally acceptable? For example, would it be enough just to have your supervising teacher listen to you? Or if there’s a problem, what do you think the range of acceptable solutions looks like?
- Make notes about your answers to use in the meeting.
- Ask your supervising teacher to talk with you. You might say something like this: “I think we have a problem that we should talk about.”
- Set some ground rules. For example, one ground rule might be that the conversation should take place in a private space where there won’t be distractions for a full 60 minutes. Another ground rule might be that each person will take a turn talking without interrupting the other.
- State the problem in as neutral and objective a manner as possible. Don’t say, “I can’t believe you yelled at Susan.” Instead say, “I think we need to find a good way to handle Susan’s behavior for the long term.”
- Give your supervising teacher a chance to respond to your statement of the problem. Listen carefully. Acknowledge your supervising teachers’ perspective. Here are a few examples: “I understand that you are frustrated with me.” “I hear you when you say that the most important thing is …” “It seems clear to me that you are unhappy with …” “Your impression of Floyd is that he is not working hard enough, right?”
- Ask clarifying questions as needed. These are not challenges, but questions that bring out more detail. For example, “How does Floyd’s behavior suggest he isn’t working hard enough?” or “What do you think keeps Floyd from concentrating?”
- State your own perspective. This step is not an opportunity to vent all of your pent-up frustrations with your supervising teacher. Refer to your list of goals. Try to focus on an issue that can be resolved.
- Seek solutions. Problem-solving may involve several steps:
- Brainstorming possible solutions.
- Evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of possible solutions.
- Investigating what might really be happening.
- Reframing the problem in another way.
- Stepping back in order to enable sufficient reflection.
- Seeking common ground.
- Agreeing to adopt a provisional solution and evaluate how well it works.
- Restating a commitment to common goals.
- Debrief. If the conversation led to a workable outcome, you might say something like, “I think our conversation went pretty well because…. What do you think?” If the outcome was less than what you hoped for, reflecting on it yourself might be the best way to debrief.
- Reflect. Think about what went well in the conversation and what went badly. Think about ways that you might reframe this or similar problems. Reopen the conversation if necessary. Think about other arrangements you might need to make, such as involving a third person to serve as a mediator.