Tackling the Crucial Conversational Roadblock

When it comes to bringing about organizational change, in any company or organization, leaders are faced with many roadblocks that challenge the success of their change efforts.  Whether it be bringing down company costs, improving customer satisfaction scores, or changing a school’s assessment strategies, many times, this idea of change is greeted with hesitation from coworkers and colleagues, alike.  Why?

A major roadblock to get through during any organizational change effort is the way in which we approach those delicate, and often times, difficult conversations with our friends and colleagues, regarding the need for change.  As George Bernard Shaw put it,

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that is has taken place”

In their book, Crucial Conversations, Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Granny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler point out that these crucial conversations are interactions that happen to all of us and can be about any topic.  What makes these conversations important are that the end results affect our daily lives and routines.  There are three components that determine when a conversation has gone from “normal” to crucial.

  1. Opinions Vary– We all come with our own differing opinions on the topic from past, personal experiences and observations.
  2. Stakes Are High– Our relationships, jobs and successes are at stake.
  3. Emotions Run Strong– As a result of our differing opinions and the components at stake, we have very strong emotions tied to the topic at hand.



Often times, these conversations can come out of nowhere, and catch us off guard.  How we handle these conversations determine whether we succeed or fail in our intentions.   The idea, however, is to get people talking, and the way to do that is to create an atmosphere in which others feel comfortable sharing their own opinions and ideas regardless of their rank, or position in the company.  This is referred to as the Pool of Shared Meaning.


“In a sense, the Pool of Shared Meaning is a measure of a group’s IQ.  The larger the shared pool, the smarter the decisions” (Patterson, Granny, McMillan, Switzler, 2012).  The goal is to make the pool grow, by allowing peer contributions.

As the new school year approaches, and we get closer piloting our innovation plan, I realize that some crucial conversations are going to continue to take place with my colleagues and administrators.  It will be important to remember that when these conversations come up, to start with the heart and to keep our ultimate goal at the forefront.  Although there might be differences of opinions in how to achieve our goal, we need to remember our why.

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Created using https://www.tackk.com/board.  Click here for a full interactive view of the above TACKK board.

Other key factors to address in order to make sure we continue to have these crucial conversations include making sure the floor is always open for comments, suggestions AND opinions.  It’s one thing to talk the talk when it comes to encouraging peer contribution and 360 degree coaching.  It’s another thing to walk the walk.

Collectively, my studies over the past 5 weeks have provided valuable tools and information in how to begin the implementation process of ePortfolios in middle school.  The Influencer Model allowed me to reevaluate my desired result and identify vital behaviors that must take place in order for us to be successful with the ePortfolio plan.  The Six Sources of Influence proved to be  a powerful model that required us to analyze our personal, social and structural environments.


The 4DX Plan was my favorite strategy plan to study.  This, I felt, could be my roadmap to success for just about anything.  Simply put, the authors of  The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals realize that people are busy.  We are not just failures, or people that give up when the going gets tough.  They understand that life gets crazy, and at times, is what sidetracks us from achieving our goals.  We are overwhelmed and wrapped up in our whirlwind that is life.  But, with the 4 Disciplines that they have laid out for us, we really can reach those goals.

  1. Focus on the Wildly Important
  2. Act on Lead Measures
  3. Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
  4. Create a Cadence of Accountability


The other day, I shared with some classmates that our return to school for the new year was this past Wednesday.  We always have a week long of in service and on our first day back, we had some wonderful discussions and PD.  Take a look at what our leaders had us doing.

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I know it’s hard to see, but do you see what it says there?  We did a couple of activities, focusing on “Situational” Conversations that need to be had.  We are a Presbyterian School, so this was in terms of spiritual conversations that had to do with our school’s core values, but nonetheless, we were in small groups and were each given hypothetical, but very real, scenarios.  The idea was to talk about how we would approach these situations and conversations, keeping our core values in mind.  Some of these were very uncomfortable situations, but how are we to address them while modeling the following core values?

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It was a great day of PD, and what our Speaking God’s Love team expressed was these are the types of crucial conversations we are going to be faced with, and we can approach these situations in one of three ways:

“We can avoid them.  We can face them and handle them poorly, or we can face them and handle them well” (Patterson, Granny, McMillan, Switzler, 2012).

Let’s choose to handle them well.



Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change: 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Kshatri, J. (2016, February 28). Crucial conversations [Blog post]. Retrieved from Pulse website:https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ crucial-conversations-jay-kshatri

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2012). Crucial Conversations- Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High (2nd ed.) [nookbook].


I am a Teacher, But What Is My Learning Philosophy?

I am a teacher.  So, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app, I am “a person… that teaches something”.  I am “a person whose job is to teach students about certain subjects”.  I am a person “whose occupation is to instruct”.

I am a teacher.  What does that mean to me?  It means that I am to lead by example, to exhibit respect, to spark curiosity, to foster imagination, to encourage play, to promote risk taking, and to be a constant reminder that if we fall down, we get back up.  If we don’t do something right the first time, we try again.

I am a teacher.

I’ve spent a great deal of time researching the many learning theories that are out there, trying to see where I fit in as an educator to early childhood children and where I fit in as a continuous learner, myself.  Do my practices fall under the Behaviorist, Cognitive, Humanistic, or Constructivist theories?  I’ve realized after researching these theories, that before I can “categorize” my learning philosophy, I first need to reflect on my personal learning experiences in life.  Notice, that I say I need to reflect on my personal learning experiences in life, not just in school.  For me, this is an important point to make, because a lot of my life’s learning experiences didn’t just happen in the traditional classroom, and I think this stands true to today’s generation as well.

When I reflect on significant learning experiences in my life, there are a few instances (and people) that immediately come to mind.  I’ll talk about one experience that I like to call Coach Hawley.  Yes, Coach Hawley is a teacher.  In fact, he was my Bible teacher in High School, although the valuable lessons I learned from him weren’t from his ability to simply relay information about the Bible in front of the classroom- although he was great at that, too- but it was from the example he set for everyone through his actions.  From Coach Hawley, I’ve learned the importance of giving back.  He didn’t just tell us to give back, he did it. I’ve seen the difference that he, and the group he works with, have made in Honduras and in Haiti through their Mission Lazarus and Hope For Haiti’s Children projects.  Because of him, my children are now picking up pennies, nickels and dimes from the floor to put in their “Honduras Bottles”.  I also remember how Coach Hawley would have all the boys in the class stand up the moment a young girl or lady would enter the classroom.  These are simple acts of kindness and respect that, to some extent, have dissipated over time, but ones that Coach Hawley strives to keep alive.

“In a world where I have plenty, many have almost nothing.”  – Steve Hawley

The learning experiences that I’ve taken away from Coach Hawley might fall under the Social-Cognitive Theory, in which people learn by observing others.  There are a few assumptions that accompany this learning theory, one being that learning is an internal process.  Through the observation of actions, the desired behaviors may or may not happen at all  (Study.com).  There is also this assumption of goal-directed behavior.  We might set goals for ourselves in hopes of meeting those goals by exhibiting the desired behaviors (Study.com).  Although thousands of students that have seen and heard the difference that can come from picking up loose change from the floor, this may or may not  push them all to do the same.

When I look at myself as a learner, I know that learning is more meaningful to me when it is engaging, when it is purposeful and when I am actively involved in it.  I cannot just sit down and listen to a lecture for hours on end, I must be actively involved because if not, I’ve lost interest.  I do, however, feel it is important to relay factual information to students, but we need to do so in a way where we’ve engaged our students.  In their report, How People Learn, The National Research Council noted that students come into the classroom already disengaged with their own preconceptions of how the world works (Donovan, Bransford, Pellegrino, 1999).  Because students are already coming into the classroom tuned out, we have the task of drawing out those pre-existing understandings and allowing them to discover new information so that they can see where their new findings take them in relation to their preconceptions (Donovan, Bransford, Pellegrino, 1999).

I would say that there is a mixture of a couple different learning theories that play a part in my learning philosophy.  I do consider myself to be a Constructivist in that I encourage my students to explore the world and to learn through discovery (Culatta, 2015).  When working with very young children, there are many things we do in the classroom that they may have never done before at home.  This can sometimes lead to timidness and/or fear, and so we encourage them to discover things on their own and to form their own opinions, questions, and hypotheses.  I do also believe it is important to tie in technology, when applicable.  Technology has made a vital impact on learning and education in the past two decades.  Notice, that in my opening statement on the definition of what a teacher is, I went straight to my smart phone instead of a dictionary in book form.  The advances in technology have created great opportunities for learners  in that it has become highly accessible to everyone, it has the ability to updated almost instantaneously, and no longer are we confined to a room of four walls for learning to take place.  We are now connected to a network of individuals, not just one person (Siemens 2005).  For these reasons, I see myself also identifying with the Connectivism Theory.  Also, as a mother of two young children and a teacher to children in their most prime years, I strongly believe that children learn valuable life lessons in Respect, Gratitude, Perseverance, Courage, Compassion, and Integrity from their immediate role models, which is why I also identify with the Social-Cognitive Theory.


I have found it interesting when thinking about how these theories apply to me in putting my innovation plan to work.  I will be very much embracing a Constructivist and Connectivist Theory when piloting student ePortfolios in my middle school class.  Since I will be the first to do this at our school, it will definitely be a discovery process for me and my students.  We will be figuring out, together, what platforms work best, and I will be giving my students freedom in creating their websites, within a set of boundaries to keep them engaged.  They now will be apart of a network of students, of all backgrounds, and of all passions, and their learning will have extended out of the classroom.


Annotated Bibliography

Donovan, M. S., Bransford, J. D., & Pellegrino, J. W. (1999). How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. Retrieved June 8, 2016, from http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9457.html

This was the first piece of research I came in contact with and one of the most important ones in shaping my learning philosophy.  I identified, greatly, with the three Key Findings that their research uncovered and find it more true with my middle school students than with my 3-4 year olds.  The main takeaway, for me, is to continue to foster engagement across all ages of my students and to draw out any preconceptions they may have upon entering the classroom.  

Hawley, S. (2015). By Bread Alone. Retrieved June 11, 2016 from http://stevehawley.blogspot.com/2011/02/by-bread-alone.html

This is the personal blog of Coach Hawley, whom I referenced above as an important role model in my life.  Based on my learning experiences from him, I have tied in a Social-Cognitive Learning Theory in my learning philosophy.

Hurst, M. Social-Cognitive Learning Theory: Definition and Examples. Retrieved June 10, 2016, from http://study.com/academy/lesson/social-cognitive-learning-theory-definition-and-examples.html

I stumbled upon Melissa Hurst’s work while researching “Learning by Observation”.  In my own personal life, I have found that many of my learning experiences have been from a Social-Cognitive standpoint from specific role models in my life.  I believe this to continue to be especially important when teaching children at very young ages, and have included this in my learning philosophy.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A Learning Theory For the Digital Age. Retrieved June 8, 2016, from http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm

Siemens’ work has put into writing the undeniable impression technology has had on learning and on education.  Just as I did at the beginning of my post, students now have answers right at their fingertips.  Smartphones and other devices have given us 24/7 access to information that was once bound to the classroom.  It is my hope to be able to tie in technology with learning in a meaningful way- one that engages my students and continues to challenge them.  

Teacher. (2016). Merriam-Webster, Inc. (Version 3.4.3) [Mobile Application Software]. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/teacher

I used the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app to quickly look up the “official” definition of what a teacher is at the start of this blog post, for two reasons.  One- to reiterate how quick and easy it is for people to go straight to their smart phones to find answers and two- because it really was quick and easy to go straight to my smart phone to find this answer.  Technology.   


Dr. Lisa Miller- The Spiritual Child

I LOVE being able to teach in a school that embraces and understands the importance of spirituality in children.  Presbyterian School in Houston, TX is a special place and our sole mission is to provide a space where “Family, School and Church are united in the education and support of each Child”.  At the conclusion of the school year last year, one of the books that was recommended to our faculty was The Spiritual Child by Dr. Lisa Miller. In this book, Dr. Miller reveals her many years of research that explain the science and power of spirituality.

Last week, we were lucky to have the opportunity of having Dr. Lisa Miller stop by Presbyterian School and talk to the faculty for a couple of hours.  Unfortunately, our talk with Dr. Miller wasn’t recorded, so I’m including a link to a video of another one of her talks.  This one with Teachers College, Columbia University.  It is a little lengthy, but it’s something I believe is worth hearing. Take a listen… I think you’ll find it interesting.