Posted by: darcymullin | November 8, 2012

Difficult Conversations – Practice Makes Perfect?

Difficult conversations are hard – hence the name.

Difficult conversations are a part of life.  As an educator, difficult conversations are part of our job.  It doesn’t mean that we have to like them, but we do need to have them.  As a younger (inexperienced) teacher, I often would avoid these types of conversations.  I didn’t want kids to feel bad about themselves.  I was worried what the parents would think if I was completely honest about what I was seeing day-to-day, be it emotionally, academically  or socially in their children.  I think it is fair to say that in some instances, I avoided confrontation.

As I have gained experience, conversations haven’t gotten any easier, but I have come to realize that they are not as hard as we make them out to be.  In fact, after having difficult conversations I have found clarity and that they often bring us closer together – they develop trust.  Like anything difficult conversations are a skill that can be learned and only get better with practice.

I was reminded of this today when (due to student injuries at recess) I found myself covering a Grade 4 class today for a few minutes.  It just so happened that I came in to cover during a “class meeting”.  I joined the community circle and sat in to listen.  The meeting started off with some appreciations for the moderator of the day (a student).  I entered just as the moderator went to the class “concern box” and pulled out a problem that a student had submitted.  Students who are having problems and want help solving them can choose to put them in the box and have the class help out.

The moderator read out the name of the person who brought  the concern forward and what it was.  At this point she asked the complainant if they still wanted the problem solved.  When it was agreed that she did, the moderator asked both students involved if they agreed to hear each others sides, not interrupt and explain how they were feeling.  They both agreed.

Both students shared their side of the story and followed the guidelines.  Once they shared their story, they turned to the class for advice.   The moderator selected students and they offered suggestions.  The students listened to each and then decided how they would move forward.

It was awesome.  Here’s what I loved about it.

  1.  The kids are in charge of figuring out their own problems.  The teacher is there only to ask a couple of questions and clarify if need be.
  2. Kids listened to each others perspectives and explained how they felt and why they reacted the way they did.
  3. Kids respected the process…and more importantly – each other.
  4. It was a collaborative approach.  Kids were invested in each other and they were keen to help solve each others problems.
  5. It gave the students voice and validated their concerns.
  6. It develops community in the classroom.  Trust and empathy were evident in the way students interacted.

Walking away today, I had to write this post.  I am so glad to  know that when confronted with a difficult situation that students are learning to respectfully confront these issues.  These are the conversations that sustain us and move us forward.  Dealing with the elephant in the room often brings us closer together.



  1. Whoa, pretty cool. So often, difficult conversations don’t have such a clear goal or an established structure that helps people feel safe.

  2. Impressive to hear how it’s working in the class. And congratulations to the teacher (I can guess who this is) who has set this up to work so well.

  3. […] Difficult Conversations – Practice Makes Perfect? ( […]

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