As I think about critical conversations in education, I think that any conversation that we have with students, staff, and parents can be considered critical. That may seem like a "cop out", but I really believe that any conversation that an educator has should have a purpose. The purpose should always be the same- to make the educational opportunities relevant, meaningful, and important to our students. I am fortunate to work in a great school with fantastic students, teacher leaders, and supportive parents. Let me explain each conversation in more detail.
Students- The conversations I have with students can be either academic or behavioral.
When I speak with students about academics, I always ask them if there is something the teachers or I can do for them that will help them be more successful. Can we provide extra assistance during class, study hall, lunch, or before or after school? What would this extra assistance look like? Are they giving their best effort at all times? Because of these conversations, we have started a Homework Club after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays that are staffed by one to three teachers and myself. This started as a small group of students but has steadily grown to around 25-30 students. The students love the extra help and time and the parents have come to realize that the "homework battle" at home has become less of an issue.
When I speak with students about behavior, I always tell them that school is a place to learn and that we are trying to assist all students to become life long learners. I then ask them if their behavior allows for learning to occur. In almost all situations, even those involving recess, the honesty of the students never ceases to amaze me. We discuss how their behaviors need to change and that part of being in school is to learn behaviors that will make school a success for them and their classmates. It's a learning process for the students and I almost always see a positive change in their behaviors.
Staff- The conversations I have with staff always go to the point that we are here to do what is best for kids. I have spoken to staff about specific student concerns, how to communicate with parents, and teaching practices. For the most part, these conversations have been pretty easy, but I do remember some conversations that ended with tears, both mine and theirs, when the discussions did not go so well. Some of my most difficult conversations were about termination due to workforce reduction, but if you have all of the facts organized in advance, these discussions should go as well as expected.
Parents- The conversations I have with parents are some of the most challenging for one reason- parents want what is best for their child. When I discuss behaviors, the parents can be frustrated with their child, or with me, and emotions can run high. I document student behaviors and can share my documentation with them when appropriate. We then try to develop a plan to improve upon these behaviors.
When I discuss academics, we try to develop a plan that involves the student, the teachers, the parents, and me. Part of this plan involves getting extra assistance at school but also involves what the parents can do to assist at home. I follow up with the parents a couple of weeks later to see if they have noticed any changes and if not, we adjust the plan that we have put in place.
None of these critical conversations can be successful without two things- trust and relationships. I have been the principal in Merton for almost seven years. The students, staff, and parents know me and know that I do my best to find the time for them in their busy schedules. I speak with them in person or on the phone before school, during school, after school, and, if necessary, on the weekends. I have been able to build trust and relationships due to my sincere belief in our students, staff, and families. If you show a true interest in people, the critical conversations become a lot easier.