Have you ever finished a difficult conversation with a child and come out of it feeling worse than when you started? Not because of them, but because of you. Because you let yourself fall into the trap of reinforcing this child’s worst fears about themselves: that they are worthless, unintelligent and unlikable.
I think as teachers we have all fallen into this trap. The first thing we need to do is forgive ourselves, because communication is one of the hardest things that we have to do, something in constant flux and governed by a complex array of every changing emotions.
A child, particularly a vulnerable one, may invite us into a relationship that is governed by the trading of insults or confirmation of their dislikability. It takes practiced deftness to side step this pothole and begin communication afresh with a different tone and different intention.
In this podcast Tish and Laura discuss the common traps that adults fall into when communicating with children, and offer strategies to avoid them. All these traps and potholes are listed below as are the takeaways for the classroom.
What are the common traps and potholes we fall into?
- Starting from a hostile place.
- Rising to their behaviour by becoming defensive.
- Being too curious about them, bordering on weird or intrusive.
- Being patronising or lecturing or labouring your first point.
- Comparing yourself to other teachers
- Comparing young people to each other / their siblings
How do we avoid them: takeaways for the classroom
- Start the conversation from a place that is curious and non-judgemental, let them express themselves by asking questions: “I can see that you are feeling frustrated, what is it that is most difficult…”
- Or, start by exploring a positive about them: “I hear you are doing really well in PE … “ Thus allowing time for a conversation to emerge about an area of strength. Then ask them: “Are there any subjects are proving troublesome/ challenging / a struggle?” This structure doesn’t apply blame or judgment and we can elicit a child’s view of what happened. This can then be balanced by reported view, “I can see that the relationship with this teacher sounds difficult at times – what might help this?”
- Stand alongside the young person, rather than opposite them: “I get this is a really difficult thing to do, and you find it hard to…” By reflecting back their concerns it shows that you have listened to them, and now you can move on to a solution together.
- Have a light touch and neutrality; don’t put pressure on the conversation by feeling that you have to win or feeling that you have to glean lots of detailed information about them.
- Get the tone right – be concerned rather than patronising (this is a really hard one).
- Find a building block to move the conversation forward rather than labouring your initial point.
- Less is always more when it comes to you speaking.
- Sometimes, if there is a bottom line to your boundaries then state it. “It’s hard for you to trust this, but the answer is no”. By ensuing that your own boundaries aren’t flimsy you close down the opportunity to argue around them.
- Give young people choices: three is usually a good place to start as the third position can be really helpful and can reflect the concerns they brought up in your conversation.
Relevant Teacher Standards
TS1: Set high expectations, which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils
TS7: Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment