Principles for a Productive Dialogue

Consider the following before you reach out to any parent/teacher/administrator/community member with a question, concern or suggestion: 


1. Credibility of Information.  Ask yourself...

  • Where did I get this information?  Facebook? Online source?  Friend?  Educator?  Is it based on someone saying they “heard” it? Is it opinion or fact? How reliable is the information/source?
  • What is the perspective, narrative or possible motivation for the source of the information?  
  • Is there an emotional component to the topic?
  • How confident am I in the validity of the information concerning the topic?  
  • Am I making assumptions about a topic that require more information?
  • Do I have a solid set of concrete facts or possibly just partial information?
  • Did I correct or question the person/source who passed along inaccurate information?

2. Formulate a question based on understanding the topic more fully.

  • Is there additional information or facts that I need in order to verify this information or to fully understand this topic or problem?
  • What additional information do I need in order to more fully understand this topic or problem?

3. Source and Accuracy

  • Where should this conversation begin?  Which person is most closely connected to the issue or topic I want to explore?  
  • Am I talking to the right person?

4. Method of Communication

  • Am I communicating in the right forum given the particulars of the topic?  What is the most effective method to address my question?  Does my question require straightforward facts/details/dates, or is it more nuanced?  
  • What is the best platform to communicate my understanding of the topic (email, phone call, face-to-face meeting, etc.)?

5. Establish a clear goal or objective for the dialogue or meeting (in email or face-to-face).

  • The purpose of this email/meeting is to __________.
  • By the end of this meeting, we will have a better understanding of __________.
  • What would make this meeting a productive or successful one?

6. In face-to-face meetings or phone conversations, be mindful of the basic rules of active listening and productive communication.

  • Restate the purpose or goal of the conversation or meeting.
  • At periodic points in the discussion, re-express the other person’s main point, position, logic, critical facts, etc.
    • “I heard you say _______.”
    • “From what I heard you say, the main take-away is ________.”
  • Allow the other person to (re)clarify their position/facts/main ideas if they feel you missed the point.
  • Periodically, list points of agreement, reiterate the goal of the conversation or what you have learned (so far).
  • State what you have learned from the person with whom you are talking.
  • Accordingly, given the goals of the conversation/meeting -- What concrete action would you like to be taken?
  • Ask the other person to re-express “what they heard you say” (see b).
  • Identify and agree with the next steps to be taken.  
  • At all times, listen to understand and not merely to respond.  Discussions are not debates or arguments won by a point system, but they are a method to communicate so a problem can be resolved in order for students to be successful.
  • Avoid at all times -- sarcasm, derision, threats, ultimatums, or any other aggressive language that diminishes trust.
  •  At all times -- communicate to enhance trust.
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