Better Conversations – Third and final part

Sharon Rendon, Coaching Coordinator

This article is the last in a series based on Jim Knight’s book, Better Conversations.  The reading of this book has allowed me to think deeply and reflect on my beliefs and my practices that directly affect the effectiveness of my work.  These strategies have been valuable to improve my relationships whether I am collaborating with a colleague, working with a teacher in a coaching relationship, working with teams of students, and yes even my family.  The final two habits I want to highlight are redirecting toxic conversations and building trust.

This past month I had the opportunity to visit with some fellow teachers about formative assessment and the power of turning the learning over to students.  As we were imagining this classroom culture where students were both given and giving feedback that moves learning forward, where they were owners of their own learning, and lastly where students were learning resources for one another, one teacher started with “Yeah, but my students can’t and won’t …” and had a long list of the things the students were unable of doing.  He then started down the conversation path of “How can I teach all these ‘soft’ skills when they students are ‘tested’ on the content?”  I could see where this conversation was going and it was not good.  Jim Knight would refer to this as a “toxic conversation.”

Knight suggests the first step to redirect these conversations is to identify the topics that you believe should never be tolerated.  Having these identified will allow you to be aware of topics that raise our emotions and push our buttons, and when these conversations arise we can redirect them.  Then there are three strategies that help develop this habit of redirecting.  First, establishing norms that are reinforced and encouraged over time is a big deterrent.  In classrooms and collaborative work groups we can name topics that will not be allowed and if they come up, it is agreed to identify it and not allow the conversation to continue. Secondly,  the use of responsive turns, a four step process – interrupt, name, correct, and divert – is a helpful tactic that redirects these conversations. One can kindly interrupt, name what is being discussed, correct the statement, and finally divert the conversation in a different direction. Lastly, it might be best to just stay silent, especially if our comments will not move us toward a better conversation.  Each of these strategies can be used in multiple situations.  Just imagine a classroom in which students were partners in redirecting toxic conversations, where collaborative teacher teams employed these strategies, or where a coach and teacher worked in partnership with few or no toxic conversations.  I encourage you to give these strategies a try and move those toxic conversations toward better conversations.

Whether you work in a classroom as teacher or in a support role with teachers, you have the daunting task of building trust with your students and/or colleagues.  Research has clearly indicated that working in collaborative communities makes us better educators.  However, those learning communities and partnerships do not just happen; they take work and can begin with creating better conversations.  And those begin with building trust.

Better conversations and relationships occur when the people involved trust each other.  When our relationships and conversations are better, our work is more effective and fulfilling.  Knight identifies five factors, character, reliability, competence, warmth, and stewardship, as the basis for the definition of trust. Character is the notion of knowing someone will not harm us.  This factor is developed through honesty and transparency.  The second factor of reliability is doing what you say you will do.  It is matching our words and deeds.  One might think of “under promise and over deliver” as a good rule for increasing reliability.  Be careful to not take on too many tasks so you cannot be “relied” on to fulfill what you say you will do.  Factor three is competence, or the idea that you have the knowledge, skills, and/or credibility to do your work and do it well.  Warmth is a factor described as showing empathy through listening, sharing positive information, and being vulnerable.  Finally the factor of stewardship is rooted in having a genuine focus on others.  Many times the way we communicate, the way we give credit to others and just showing that we care can develop levels of trust with others.

Lastly, David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert Galford might best sum up trust in their book, The Trusted Advisor, with the simple fraction that describes the numerator as credibility, reliability, intimacy and the denominator as self-orientation.  In this mathematical relationship the larger the numerator the larger the number or amount of trust.  As the denominator increases the size of the number decreases and therefore symbolizing less trust.  Knight would describe this as, “The more we are focused on ourselves, however the less people will trust us.” He goes on further to summarize this habit of trust building with the suggestion to consider Stephen R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, as a great guide to developing the habit of being more trustworthy.

As you wrap up the school year and begin to think about your summer plans for personal and professional learning, I would suggest picking up a copy of Jim Knight’s book, Better Conversations.  This reading will spur you on to reflect upon your beliefs of others and give you strategies for increasing the ten defined habits to help make your conversations better and your work more effective and fulfilling.  Happy Reading!

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Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

This series contains three different courses, taken in either order. The courses are designed for schools and teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM curriculum materials. Teachers will develop further understanding of strategies and tools for instructional practices and assessment.

Building on Equity

In this course, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their  classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for implementing Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Follow-up during the school year will support ongoing implementation of equitable classroom practices.

Building on Assessment

In this course, participants will apply assessment research to develop methods to provide feedback to students and to inform equitable assessment decisions. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

This professional learning builds upon the Foundations for Implementation Series by improving teachers’ ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rigorous, team-worthy tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices.