Friday, 20 March 2009

Dealing with Challenging People

What's the starting point for this?

My assertiveness? My experiences? A definition of challenging? An analysis of what I'm challenged by?

Teaching is by it's very nature 'dealing with challenging people'. Every interaction we make is a challenge of some kind. Analysis of what a teacher does, with over 1000 interactions per hour, indicates that teaching is comparable with Air Traffic control. Most of these interactions are well within our comfort zone - our training and our experiences mean that the nature of the challenges we deal with are generally not too stressful, usually because most of the interactions are with children. But there can come a point when the nature of the challenges, or the sheer quantity of them, can be overwhelming, leading to stress or even illness.

I remember in my second year of teaching when I was really struggling with a year 6 class in an extremely deprived area of Birmingham, one colleague gave me the advice: "Just focus on having one good lesson a day." That helped. I learned what good interactions looked like without beating myself up about the failure of my other lessons and soon I was able to transfer those good interactions to the entire day. It was a starting point. A way in.

But of course the "people" in 'Dealing with Challenging People' are not children, they're adults. And I presume because the context of this skills day is a course within Leadership Pathways, that the people will be colleagues. People I manage and people who manage me.

My presumption is interesting in itself, because when I asked my DHT she said 'challenging people' would be the press and Ofsted. A colleague who was already completed the course and reflected on it on Talk2Learn admitted that he had thought challenging people would be parents.

So we all have a different perception of who challenging people are.

In an ideal world, I woul have all the answers, everyone would read my mind and work with me to achieve the goals that I think are important. It's a good job it's not an ideal world.

I think my point is that I like things to go along swimmingly. I don't like challenges. I don't always know what to do when they happen. I sometimes realise I've been manipulated a few days or weeks after it has happened. Sometimes when I'm challenged I give in too easily, I question my values, or I get defensive and blurt out something blunt or inappropriate that I shouldn't have said. Then I need to apologise.

I'd love to be calm and confident. I'd love to always respond positively to any challenging interactions, in a way that builds up the challenger and at the same time brings them back on track to the school development goals.

This year has been challenging for me in this respect. Being non-class based for the first time means that most of my interactions are with adults, not children, so I've sometimes been a long way out of my comfort zone. It's just past the midpoint of the year now - so of my goals have been accomplished, some haven't and won't, but the most frustrating are those that have drifted. And why have they have drifted? Because I haven't dealt with the people who can drive them forward. I haven't dealt with those challenging people. The successes have been accomplished where my interactions have been effective.

Maybe I should listen to that advice from when I first started teaching - just have one good lesson a day. Except I need to transfer that to a different scale. Just deal with one challenge a day.

Here's the Wordle for this article:

Wordle: Dealing with Challenging People

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