Engy is an international educator with 10+ years of teaching experience and 7+ years of leadership experience in IB PYP and American Schools. She worked as a lower primary homeroom teacher, lower primary coordinator, assessment coordinator, and deputy head of primary K-5. She led diverse teams and teachers through international authorizations and national accreditations. She is a certified Erickson and Lanning Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction Trainer, IB Programme Leader, and NEASC Visitor. She coaches teachers and teams in developing their teaching and learning practices to ensure that students’ agency is the driving force of learning. She designed courses and delivered online and face-to-face workshops to 500+ participants throughout her career. Engy strives to help learners develop their academic and non-academic skills to become well-rounded, internationally-minded citizens who can adapt to change and create a better world. She is also a certified Happiness Coach and she is passionate about promoting school happiness and well-being through enhanced teaching and learning.
No matter how strong a school’s strategic plan is if staff members cannot effectively execute it. School culture is a significant element of success. The best way to assess school culture is to watch how people interact, how students walk in the hallways, the conversations held in staffrooms and meetings, and feedback from parents. Conversations are powerful and impact students’ experiences and learning, making it crucial for schools to be intentional about cultivating powerful discussions.
How Do Powerful Conversations Sound Like?
Communication seems to be a buzzword in every school, and it is common to find it part of the values a school aims to embrace. That is why I wanted to dig deeper into conversations and highlight the difference between talking and having powerful conversations. Have you ever sat in a long meeting where people were talking but had no outcomes from their discussion? Have you worked with educators who only talk but never act? Have you worked in schools where action and impact were the priority? If you experienced the latter, then you have experienced powerful conversations. Now let’s see how powerful conversations sound from different stakeholders.
I am sure you would agree that successful leaders are always outstanding communicators. They greet people by name and have random conversations, which make them approachable. They are also keen on delivering timely information to different stakeholders and understand the importance of connection. If you worked with successful leaders or if you are one yourself, I am sure you heard or said statements as these:
“I wanted to meet with you before I make any announcement.”
“I want you to hear it from me first, instead of reading it in the email.”
“I’d like to hear your thoughts on this to make an informed decision.”
“Do you have any questions?” “How can we look at this issue from another perspective?”
School leaders are indeed responsible for setting the tone of expected behavior. However, every staff member has a shared responsibility regarding powerful conversations. Working in a school usually means dealing with a diverse culture; teachers and staff from different backgrounds won’t see things the same way. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that staff members talk to each other. This can be accomplished by setting clear agreements on expected conversations. Also, we need to make sure they have time to make this happen. Providing teachers with collaborative planning time is a good start, but it will only be effective when there is ownership and participation from everyone. We know we succeeded when we started seeing staff collaborating across different departments and sharing ideas informally. The best way to assess the power of the conversations among staff is to look for it in the classrooms. In the end, everything we do in schools impacts learning.
Powerful staff conversations always lead to action. Some may sound like these statements:
“Let me bounce this idea with you. I want to implement it in my class. What is your feedback?”
“I think our meeting went well, we reflected, and we have clear action points.”
“We have a great principal; she is keen on listening to the staff. I always feel heard!”
We all know that parents can be our schools’ best or worst promoters, which makes it vital to know the conversations happening among your parents’ community. Any parent would want clear answers and timely responses. Parents would talk about the stability and happiness of the staff because they deal directly with teachers. One stigma about parents is that they always want to get their way. In my experience, I have mostly seen parents seek clarification, understanding, and transparency. We never fail to satisfy them if we put ourselves in their shoes. As a parent, I know that by hard.
Here are some examples of influential parents’ conversations:
“I trust my children’s school; they are transparent and listen to our feedback.”
“This new principal knows what he is doing, we get answers, and our issues are always resolved.”
“My daughter is happy at school; her teachers listen to her and are proactive.”
In my experience as a school visitor, I can firmly confirm that students are the best representatives of a school. The picture always gets clearer once we meet students. We can quickly tell if they have been told what to say because they end up sharing what they experienced. I always like hearing students’ feedback about their teachers. They are always fair and have good reasons to support their opinions. Have you ever been walking in the hallway and heard students speaking about an absent teacher? If you did, you might have heard them cheering that this teacher is finally absent and this is their best day, or they said they miss their teacher.
Students always say something about school, whether they speak about their teachers, friends, learning, or playtime. Each conversation has value and tells us something. The most powerful conversations we could hear were the ones led by students and addressed to the whole community. This might sound like the statements below:
“I feel engaged when the teacher gives us a question, we respond to it, and then we share as a whole class or even debate.”
“Miss Amy is the best. Today she asked us which way you guys prefer to learn. Please give me an example to help me understand the best way to teach you.”
“Today is one of my favorite days ever. We went around the school and completed a survey. I learned what other people in our school do.”
“Leaders cultivate powerful conversations by creating a safe working environment.”
Powerful conversations won’t just happen overnight. We must be intentional about them and take the time to cultivate them. The first step is creating a safe place for our staff and students. A school where mistakes are considered a learning opportunity and risk-taking is highly encouraged. Difficult conversations will always happen, but they shouldn’t be the norm. Educators spend most of their days and lives in schools, and they deserve to feel safe, belong, and stay motivated.