Samantha Rodgers' blog

Difficult Conversations

The conversation we dread… made easier!

I gave a couple of workshops on this topic last week and thought it would be worth sharing the key points.

While we all have some inkling of how important it is to develop positive rapport, forming strong teams and establishing a process of frequent feedback, the difficult conversation is always one that can elicit a physiological response when we think about it: sweating palms, increased pulse and butterflies in the stomach.

However, we also know that putting it off is going to make the eventual conversation even more difficult.

So tips for the conversation itself.

(I am assuming that we can skip the practical preparation: where, when, how to organise the meeting… and get straight to the conversation it self.)

Firstly: Know Thyself

What are your default behaviours and management style? Do you tend to avoid, accommodate, compromise, compete or collaborate? Instead of the conversation you need to have- what are you likely to do?

What about Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership: do you differentiate how you treat your team? Who do you direct, delegate, coach and support, and are these strategies appropriate for each member of your team?

Finally, using DISC terminology, how to you manage and communicate to those with high core behaviours styles of Dominance, Interpersonal, Steadiness and Compliance? What is your style and how far will you need to adapt to ensure effective communication?

In a nutshell:

High Ds will want victory and will tend to become demanding when in conflict

High Is will want acknowledgement and will be expressive (often emotional)

High S’s will want harmony and will become compliant

High C’s will want justice and will withdraw in conflict.

Handy things to know when conversations get difficult. What about you? What are your ‘go to’ behaviours when the going gets tough?


The Conversations

In the conversation, up to three different conversations might be present; it is your job to explore which conversations are relevant so both parties understand one another and are able to move forwards.

The ‘What Happened’ conversation

In this conversation, don’t assume you have all of the facts. You probably don’t. Don’t worry about who is right or wrong, instead, seek to explore each others’ stories. Move away from ‘certainty’ to curiosity.

Even if the impact of the behaviour necessitating ‘The Talk’ is catastrophic, don’t assume they meant it. No-one can see into the future and determine what might happen. So separate intent from impact.

And finally for this conversation: don’t blame, instead map the contribution.  Chances are that this person is not only one to contribute. If you work on this person’s team, you may also have contributed through action or inaction. Blame is about looking backward, whereas focusing on contribution enables both of you to acknowledge it and then look to solutions. It can take the heat out of the conversations, just as blame can exacerbate the situation.

The Feelings Conversation

Feeling matter and they will be a part of the conversation. Skill is required to keep yours in check, and to be able to share those feelings and understand them, without showing them. It is important to acknowledge feelings on both sides though, before trying to move on to the ‘problem-solving’. Don’t’ judge or evaluate feelings, acknowledge them.

The Identity Conversation

Difficult conversations can threaten our construct of self and othersà tread carefully when identity is on the line in a conversation.

Everyone thinks of themselves in the following ways: Am I good? Am I competent? Am I worthy of love? These are our areas of vulnerability, so if the conversation is not about identity, then make sure the person knows it. A good idea is to focus on the behavior of a person and not ‘who they are’.

When you judge people you often paint a picture of what you think of them!


Having a Learning conversation

Raise the issue or let it go? 

Is it worth having the conversation? Think of the purpose of your conversation.


Begin from the third story.

You have one chance to frame the conversation you want to have. Think carefully about what you want to say the purpose is, and the language you will use to convey it. Think about the person’s possible responses. You want to use this opportunity to open up the conversation, not shut it down. It shouldn’t be your story or their’s, but what you can elicit from the facts. Be as neutral as possible.


Listen from the inside out

Once the third story has been given: listen. Get yourself into a position of curiosity and let them say what they need to say. Ask open, neutral questions to get more information about the three conversations that may be at play. Acknowledge and paraphrase what you hear and don’t just listen to the wordsà check all of the information you are getting (including nonverbal). Don’t take offense and don’t respond yet- you will soon have your turn. However, it they are getting off topic, reframe with a relevant comment or question. Don’t coach, don’t advise, don’t interrupt. Listen.



Speak for yourself with clarity and power. You are entitled to half of the conversation and now it is your turn to give information. Always start with what matters most. Share your understandings (but not as THE truth) and explain where they come from. Be precise and clear.

One strategy for speaking:

Describing the issue: I see

Use neutral language that communicates your perspective: ‘I notice this is the fourth time you have started talking while I was’ rather than ‘You shouldn’t interrupt me.’


Clarifying the issue: I feel

  • Specify how the situation makes you feel.
  • Always use I statements

‘When I am interrupted I feel that my opinion isn’t valued’


Solving the problem: I want

The feeling statements above are a bridge to a declaration of how you’d like the situation resolved.

‘I would like to find a solution that gives me an opportunity to better understand your views, and also voice my own.’


Problem Solving

Together, once all three conversations and stories have been explored you can work together to create solutions. Take the lead in discussion, allowing for joint construction of next steps forward. If the conversation starts to stray, reframe and keep it on track. Look after yourself and them in the conversation- relationships that only go one way rarely last.


Putting it all together

Remember your conversations and remember how to plan a learning conversation. If either of you need a break at any point, take it. Try to keep to the issues and keep calm. Be persistent when explaining that it will take both of you to play a role in the solution.

And remember, sometimes it will be you in the barrel. If so, take responsibility for the problem and explain your actions. Plan for future success and show your willingness to find a solution.

Now, go have that difficult conversation… before it has you!

Key resources:

Communicating in small groups, by Steven Beebe and John Masterton (2011, Tenth edition)

Difficult Conversations: Discussing What Matters most, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen (2010)

Could personal branding ‘hurt’ you?

After reading an article by Bruce Kasanoff (,  I have thought a little more about the notion of personal branding. In an earlier post, I advocated the use of personal branding to help educators to capture the essence of who they are and what they do.

Kasanoff warns professionals that people can confuse a ‘brand’ with a job description, and of companies that are out to ‘brand’ you- for big bucks in their own pockets. I would agree with him on these points. It is not necessary to spend a lot of money on branding yourself- there are so many online tools that can help spread your brand to the people you want to see it. I also agree that many great educators are out there that haven’t spent any time on branding, and they do just fine.

However I do think that people have an online presence these days, whether they like it or not, and it is important to be able to control the message about ‘you’ if you want to.  When I delivered a workshop that included some information on ‘personal branding’ only a small number of the 50 people in the room had a brand statement about themselves. However, when asked would they like to have one, most were interested in learning more.

Branding doesn’t have to be a costly venture, nor does it need to be time-consuming. It is a great reflection tool and one that can really empower. Who spends time in their busy professional lives thinking about what they stand for as an educator? Who thinks about the impact they have on learning communities? There was a great buzz in the room when we went through the process of trying to capture what it is we do as educators, to create a unique, memorable and catchy statement.  It is also an effective recruitment tools to tie together CVs, applications and your online presence.

So, while there are definitely pitfalls related to branding, I think the chance to reflect, design and promote yourself, in your own words, to be an activity well worth the time.

Personal Branding

Having just attended the Senior Leadership Conference for ESF on the Gold Coast in Hong Kong, I have been reflecting on the Day One keynote address by Virginia Morris (of Bamboo Difference). She focused on the usually corporate notion of personal branding. As a designer of the conference, we in the planning team felt it time to explore this area, and for me, the idea of our online digital presence as well. Virginia took us through how to craft a personal branding statement that encapsulates our values, our strengths and talents and how we utilise these into one memorable, unique and brief statement.

Her key tips are:

1) Consider ‘Who you are’. Ask 3 colleagues to come up with 3 words that encapsulate you. From these words, choose 3 (only) that you feel best capture you. Add up to another 2 to the list of your own choosing.

2) Now move on to ‘What you do’. Think about your key roles in your position and what it is that you fundamentally do in that role. Again, try to distill into key words.

3) Finally, ‘Why do you do what you do’. What is the impact of what you do, what are your key motivations?

Once you have these key words, you can craft them into one statement that encapsulates your ‘personal brand’. To do this, combine who you are, what you do and why you do what you do.

For example, my personal statement is: ‘I inspire and nurture others, with passion and vision, to impact on what matters most in education’.

Make it authentic and make it unique to you. Good luck!

Growth Mindset and ‘Grit’

Working with a primary school on Monday on Assessment Capable Students, I was reminded of a conversation I recently had with the principal there about the Learning Support programme that my daughter, was a part of, and the importance of ‘growth mindset’.

In previous years at the school, she had been supported in both literacy and numeracy, with varying strategies. Most of the support removed her from the classroom, so for example, when maths was on, she would go and do maths somewhere else.

This model had problems: firstly, the timings were never quite synchronized, so she would do some maths in class, then be taken out, and return when the students had already moved on to something else. While we appreciated the time and strategies used, my daughter was always on the ‘back foot’ coming back into the classroom: she didn’t know what was going on and didn’t want to interrupt to find out.

She had also begun to feel conspicuous in the class, always being removed and the ease with which she accepted the model of support in previous years, was wearing thin.

The beginning of this year, however, was a little different.

Her support in literacy was reduced to a short 10 minute slot before school each morning, as her skills and confidence had grown. The support itself would focus on reinforcement and gradually decreasing each term until she no longer needed that support.

In maths, a small office space between her classroom and the next was cleared for small group work. I was told that she would be supported with a teacher in the office space or at the back of the classroom should she need it, and that pretesting would determine what level of support she needed. No more leaving at arbitrary times and being lost in the lesson when she returned! The new model reflected the pedagogy of ‘just in time’ learning, supporting her when and how she needed it.

When I spoke to the principal, she spoke about Carol Dweck’s work on Growth mindset, saying that she didn’t want students to feel that they could only be successful when working one-on-one with a teacher or EA, and in a separated environment. Dweck’s work encourages students to not fear failure, but see it as a learning moment. The use of the word ‘yet’ is key in the learning journey for a growth mindset student. I can’t solve that problem… yet. It also relates to Duckworth’s work on Grit and developing resilience. Students should be ‘allowed’ to fail at times; to develop the skills of learning how to tackle problems that aren’t readily ‘solvable’, to consider what next, and how to tackle it with a different strategy.  I agree wholeheartedly with this philosophy and am glad that the school is able to personalise my daughter’s learning to the extent of providing this support. She is a happy child at school and is growing in confidence by being in the class and having to try hard with her maths, but ‘having a go’ nonetheless. As a parent/ teacher, I know that should she need extra support, she will get it, but just as importantly, she has the opportunity to develop her resilience and grit as a learner. What more could I ask for!

Action Research as a professional development tool

Today I attended another of our foundation-wide CPD day for all secondary teachers in ESF (all 700 of them) designed with the curriculum group leaders. I led one session with Pam Ryan- the Foundation’s Director of Education- on the subject of Action Research. It is a subject close to my heart because in my mind it is one of the best forms of professional development in education. Being foremost a practitioner, but also now as an academic, action research bridges the gap between the two and provides teachers with a rigorous and structured mechanism to innovate, collaborate and reflect. What is best about research of this kind is that it focuses on classroom practice and improving student outcomes as its key purpose. The next step for our Foundation is to support this learning not just at a personal level, or a school level – where it is starting to be done- but at a Foundation level , where teams of teachers across our secondary schools can meet and learn together.

[slideshare id=26692013&doc=actionresearch-130930070421-phpapp01]

The Ten Faces of Innovation

Innovation is one of those skills that is highly valued today: how do you heighten your own creativity?

Tom Kelley, creator of IDEO – a design firm- has written a series of books around maximising creativity.

In this read, ‘The Ten Faces of Innovation’, he outlines 10 archetypes of innovators. Are you an innovator? Which one are you?

Continue reading

Three good reasons for learning about and using concept based curriculum

The reasons behind understanding concept based learning and how to incorporate it into our teaching are becoming increasingly more important for several reasons.


1)    Many of our students come to secondary schools with a background in it.

In our ESF context, all students who come through the IB PYP have been taught within an inquiry framework, using concepts which link together in interdisciplinary units of learning. The IB MYP’s Next Chapter is also moving further towards the concept driven curriculum with the introduction of key concepts within each discipline area needing to be covered by units of learning.

Continue reading

Where to for CPD?

Yesterday, I held a professional development one day conference for 800 ESF teachers and colleagues from around the region. The theme of the day was ‘Futures Thinking’ and along with a short keynote and plenary, the day comprised one hour workshops that were grouped under 5 broad strands; Learning and Teaching, Learning Technologies, Well-being, Leading Learning, and Enterprise. Ian Gilbert- the educational writer – gave our Keynote and 4 sessions on the day and we also welcomed Stephen De Silva- who was absolutely brilliant by all accounts- and a number of other eternal workshop leaders. In all, 93 members of the ESF community presented workshops, and we had 120 workshops in total.

It leads to the question of… what next?

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How to make the most of professional development?

For the past few months I have been working on putting together a teachers’ conference for the secondary teachers within the foundation in which I work. The day looks great: over 120 one hour sessions are on offer under the key strands of well-being (for students and teachers), leading learning, learning and teaching, learning technologies and enterprise.

With 800 teachers together in one place, the event is bound to generate energy and excitement about working with one another, the question is how to make a lasting impression from the day and to encourage sustainable and authentic networks from the workshops given.

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Heidi Hayes Jacobs: Interdisciplinary Curriculum


Here are my notes on a little gem of a book by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, all the way back in 1989. She really knows her stuff!


Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation

Edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs (1989)


CHAPTER ONE: The Growing need for Interdisciplinary Curriculum content (Heidi Hayes Jacobs)

Why Look at Curriculum Integration?

-       The growth of knowledge  growing at an exponential proportions and curriculum designers need to focus on what to teach and also what to eliminate. What do we focus on?

-       Fragmented Schedules schools react to school requirements by fragmenting the curriculum into ‘lessons’

-       Relevance of curriculum  a common concern is the relevance of isolated and discrete activities that aren’t applied. Continue reading