Crucial Conversations and Self Differentiation

An incredible amount of money has been invested in technology in our school district. Wireless access is a standard in every building. SMART boards are employed in every classroom, and software and peripherals are being purchased every day for teachers to use with their students. In our building alone, over 380 iPads have been made accessible, half of which are used in 1:1 classrooms at the Kindergarten and 1st-grade levels. There are also close to 200 laptops which are shared by 3rd-5th grade classrooms.  But a majority of these devices and tools are not used effectively because teachers are not provided with time to learn to use them. My plan is to change that.


It’s our goal, as educators, is to create a learning environment that inspires thinking, dreaming and doing.

It’s not enough to share my plan. The way I do that is extremely important. It’s the crucial conversations involving that change that influence its success. Crucial conversations take place in our lives every day. Something as simple as arguing with a teenage daughter about whether she can go to a party on Friday night, or where to take the next family vacation can be considered a crucial conversation. In either case, there will be opposing opinions, strong emotions and high stakes (Grenny, 2012).


To be an effective leader it’s important to know how to handle crucial conversations appropriately. I need to remain self-differentiated, meaning that I stand for what I believe in without getting emotional,  and without becoming negatively influenced by those who don’t agree with me (Camp, 2010). I will not be deterred by those who resist, or try to sabotage my plan. Instead, I will remain positive and focus on what is important to me.  I will be skilled in addressing tough issues and getting information out into the open, making the change process much more effective. I will focus on what I really want for myself and for my school. I will pay attention to signs that the conversation is becoming crucial, and then find a way to make it safe for everyone to communicate openly by clarifying any misunderstandings they may have. I will separate facts from stories, and state my path while exploring and accepting others’ paths as well. I will make decisions about how to move forward and involve my colleagues along the way. I will consider my process in making the crucial conversations effective as we pursue my goal.

Every classroom in our building will become a blended learning environment that makes effective use of technology and allows engaging activities in which students can learn more effectively on a daily basis during the 2017-2018 school year.

My strategies are based on three books I’ve recently read about making change, including Joseph Grenny and Kerry Patterson’s Influencer, and Crucial Conversations and Chris McChesney and Sean Covey’s The 4 Disciplines of Execution. These strategies address the heart, the crucial conversations and the vital behaviors and sources of influence involved in the change process. Used together effectively, they can ensure success.


Anxiety exists among those teachers who are expected to use technology devices in their classrooms, and don’t know how. They are aware that using technology in their classrooms can make learning more engaging and effective, but the fact that they don’t have time to learn how to use them creates a stressful situation; one that causes resentment and resistance to using new strategies in their classrooms.

The conversation that needs to be had is with not only the teachers in my school, but the administration in my district, who need to recognize how important release time is to these classroom teachers. In order to use their classroom tools effectively, they need time to figure out how. In these crucial conversations, whomever they are with, the stakes are high. A lot of money, time and training is invested in our technology. The pressures of district mandates create a lot of emotion and resentment among our teachers, who are dealing with a new curriculum, and oversized classes. Opposing opinions regarding traditional vs. blended learning strategies create yet another factor that needs to be dealt with strategically. No teacher wants to be told they’re ineffective. Suggesting that they should be teaching differently will surely be met with some strong opinions. Addressing these three characteristics of a crucial conversation effectively is a process.


I want to inspire my colleagues to think differently about how they engage their students in learning. I want my colleagues to think creatively about how they can create more effective learning strategies. I want the students in our building to learn, and enjoy the process of doing so.

Allowing students to take some responsibility for the learning process is how we create lifelong learners. Technology isn’t required to do this, but it certainly offers students access to more than what is available within the walls of their classroom. It also allows them to collaborate and create, which are skills they can apply to any concept. Blending the technology with other independent activities allows students to see concepts from different perspectives, making their own connections. It creates an understanding that is deeper than recalling information that a teacher has presented.


When introducing the idea of my push-in integration at a staff meeting, a number of teachers will have questions. Others will tune me out or find distraction with something else. I will pay special attention to notice who will need encouragement, and who will be my initial co-teachers.  Outside the meetings, my conversations will typically be with those teachers who are on the go. On a daily basis, I am talking with colleagues before or after school. It’s the only time we really have available, other than lunch, which varies from teacher to teacher. I arrive to school much earlier than our contract requires me to, sometimes before anyone else gets there. It’s that quiet time of day that teachers actually have time to focus and think about fresh ideas, and that’s my time to have a one on one with them.

On occasions that I get to co-plan during lunch, I’ll pay attention to those teachers who are listening to our conversation. They are the ones who will be most willing to work with me in their own rooms.


Teachers shouldn’t have to worry about loosening their grip on the learning process. In fact, it’s not a bad thing to learn with or even from the students every once in a while. It demonstrates a teacher’s love of learning when they welcome input from their students and don’t distribute the information to them. The same principle holds true with teachers working together. No one wants to be judged by their colleagues. They should all be on the same team, and feel safe sharing opinions and ideas. My goal in creating a blended learning environment is to make my colleagues feel safe by co-planning and co-teaching lessons in their classrooms, on a voluntary basis. I will let them know I’m available to push in to their classrooms, and am willing to help them use technology in any way they choose. Our purpose is mutual.


Teachers that I work with will experience creative learning activities that allow students a variety of perspectives of a unit of the curriculum. They will learn how to use these new tools as we co-teach a lesson over a period of days. My gradual release of the technology aspect will assure their ability to use the tools in the future. I will share these successful experiences with my administration. My colleagues will share their experiences with their PLC’s (grade-level teams), who will be more comfortable with trying the strategies in their own room. They may even choose to work with me on a unit in their own classrooms. Creating a scoreboard will also tell a story by communicating to my colleagues that teachers are successfully creating blended learning environments in their classrooms.


My collection of shared lesson plans and feedback from participating teachers will create the path. Allowing teachers to share their experiences during our regularly scheduled staff meetings will communicate that teachers in our building are created blended learning environments in their classrooms. Hearing their discussions will allow me to target issues that could negatively affect my innovation plan. If I’m paying attention to the triggers that create the negativity, I can focus my path in ways that address them.


Effective communication with my colleagues will result in a shared pool of information. This information can be used for us to work together to plan lessons that we can co-teach using tools that address our goals and objectives. It is this teamwork that influences the change toward blended learning.


We’ve all led change. It may have been in our personal lives. It may have been at work. It may have been an effort to convince others how to vote in our most recent election. Whatever the case may be, the way we deal with change plays a big role in how we influence it.


Camp, J. (2010, November 10). Friedman’s Theory of Differentiated Leadership Made Simple. [YouTubeVideo]. Retrieved from

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2012). Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. Columbus, OH: McGraw Hill.



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