Do not force people to choose between doing what is smart and doing what helps them save face.
I am fortunate to swim in two worlds professionally. I’m immersed in reading about literacy, teaching, and learning. But Choice Literacy is also a business, and business writing is a completely different animal, with a different set of gurus, charlatans, and reading lists to keep up with. The worst of the business books are a lot like the worst of the books on literacy teaching — full of pablum and quick fixes that don’t actually work in the real world but earn their creator a bundle on the lecture circuit.
Just when I’m getting my most cynical about business books, I read something that changes the way I think not just about work, but about life. Negotiating the Impossible by Deepak Malhotra was that book for me last year. It has great life lessons for anyone, even if you don’t run a business. We all find ourselves in a conflict or difficult negotiation at some point (whether you’re buying a house or trying to convince an aging parent that it’s time for an assisted living facility).
Malhorta highlights three aspects of a tough negotiation. One is framing—you need a frame where everyone can claim victory. The second aspect is the process—it needs to be flexible and credible, with no ultimatums. The third aspect is empathy—being able to step into the shoes of the person you are negotiating with and see it from their perspective. Malhotra is a professor at Harvard University, and he loads the book with compelling case studies.
Tough negotiations and conflict are inevitable. If you’re a literacy leader, sooner or later you’ll be telling a staff member they need to be reassigned. If you’re a teacher, at some point you’ll be telling parents their child did not qualify for the gifted placement they had hoped for.
In a society that thrives on villains, winners, and losers, it’s a challenge to drop the categories and find a frame that allows everyone to claim victory. Putting a child in a program they aren’t qualified for is likely to cause stress and pain for a child. Taking away a leadership role from a teacher may be a big blow not only to her ego, but to her identity.
In that moment when you have to deliver the news, it’s not the time for platitudes about how every child is gifted in their own way or time is the most precious commodity, and you’re giving the teacher more of it. We honor those we negotiate with not by telling them how bad news is really good news, but by listening to their reaction. And within the listening, the seeds of what should come next might appear. For the child, what is an alternative that might feel like a win, a healthy intellectual challenge? For the teacher, how can you genuinely show their work is valued in the days or weeks after the news? Empathy is probably the most important part of negotiating, and likely the hardest. Because there wouldn’t be conflict in the first place if you didn’t see the world in very different ways.
I wonder how many spring meetings in schools that are designed to deliver bad news would change if teachers and school leaders viewed them as a starting point of an impossible negotiation — one that begins with disappointment, but ultimately will end with everyone winning (or at least saving face). Because that new lens changes everything.
This week we look at opinion and persuasion. Plus more as always—enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
Melanie Meehan works with fifth graders who are struggling to elaborate on themes in their opinion writing.
Shari Frost explains the power of shared writing in intermediate classrooms as a tool for building argument skills, especially for struggling learners.
NCTE has compiled mentor texts for teaching argument writing, with everything from picture books for the youngest readers to sophisticated newspaper columns for high school students.
We hope you’ll make our online course program part of your personal improvement plan this spring. Instructors include Ruth Ayres, Katherine Sokolowski, Dana Murphy and many others. Topics in the self-paced classes include student research projects, smarter reading conferences, and better coaching cycles. Members receive discounts of 20-40% on course fees, and nonmembers receive three-month trial memberships to the website.
New members-only content is added each week to the Choice Literacy website. If you’re not yet a member, click here to explore membership options.
Tara Barnett and Kate Mills slow down the “Article of the Week” nonfiction reading activity, making space for more reflection and thoughtful discussion.
Louise Wrobleski uses video clips, children’s literature, and newspaper articles to teach middle school students new ways to craft persuasive writing.
In this week’s video, Christy Rush-Levine helps her students create an “opinion proof chart” in their notebooks. This exercise helps them build their skills in backing up opinions with evidence.
The line between copying and plagiarizing can be a difficult one for young students to understand. In an encore video, Heather Rader and Linda Karamatic share a humane strategy for helping two second graders craft nonfiction writing.
Lead Literacy now has a new home as the Leaders Lounge at Choice Literacy. We’ll be posting the new content updates here in the Leaders Lounge section of the Big Fresh newsletter.
We think of teachers who are easy to persuade and work with as being the most “coachable.” Stephanie Affinito explains why the teachers who challenge us may teach literacy coaches more.
Louise Wrobleski explores the power of rants and the lesser-known ubi sunts in a professional development session to help teachers understand persuasive writing in fresh ways.
PD2Go: Developing strong thesis statements are at the heart of writing persuasive essays. This workshop and video guide take you into Beth Lawson’s fourth-grade classroom.
Melanie Quinn has a poor start in her coaching relationship with a teacher. She begins again by going against her natural instincts to challenge her colleague, and is surprised by the results.
When you are trying to persuade teachers, what is the identity you present to them—boss, bully, or leader? John Baldoni explores differences between the three when it comes to leadership style.
It takes tremendous discipline to control the influence, the power you have over other people’s lives.
That’s all for this week!