Saturday, November 23, 2013

How To Get People To Listen To You

In these times of stress and struggle, there's certainly a place for groups that can take a vocal and activist stance for teachers (such as the Badass Teacher Association, your local union, and the AFT -- no, wait, the NEA--  never mind).

But there's also a need to talk to individual human issues surrounding the Corporate Takeover Complex in education, whether those individual humans are fellow teachers or civilians. How we can present the issues, person-to-person, in a way that is persuasive and effective? I believe the following are critical.

1) Dial It Back
It is easy, in the midst of a large, sprawling crisis, to become a bit edgy. If the crisis has come to your home turf in a more immediately threatening way (hey there, Philly, Chicago and LA), it's easy to become very focused and energized. If people have been coming at you with the same questions, the same concerns, the same mistaken objections, the same false myths, the same stupid wrongheaded flippin idiotic baloney that I have explained A BILLION GAZILLION TIMES AL-FRICKIN-READY--.......    Okay, let me catch my breath here. You see what I mean.

I get that level of agitation. I was a union president in a strike year, and I remember well one of the irritating principles of running that kind of group. You could have informational sessions, discuss something at great length with the key people, and still, somewhere later, you'd be repeatedly approached by people who wanted to start the whole discussion from scratch.

Add the presence of actual opponents who really do attack you both straight on and with stealth, and it's easy to get yourself in a high state of alarm.

But you have to remember-- that person whose shoulders you have grabbed and started shaking while screaming into his face-- that person may be having his very first day of confronting the issues. He's taking his first step on a road that you've been traveling down for months, or even years. When you scream and shake him, you ARE convincing him that something is alarming, scary and dangerous. It's just that, at that moment, he thinks the scary thing is you.

So take a breath. Dial it back. You don't convince anybody like this. There are many things to love about the BATS and the BATpage, but say the wrong thing and there will be people jumping down your throat faster than Donald Trump chasing golden hair gel. Talk to them like you would talk to a person.

And dial back the rhetoric as well. I agree that American public education is in the fight of its life. But nobody is coming to take teachers to gas chambers. No teachers are being actually raped in the name of the Common Core. When your rhetoric becomes overheated, you lose credibility.

2) Switch Shoes
Sad but true. The effect that CCSS has on how you use your regular math modules with third graders is of no major concern to the average non-teacher.

And, really, tell the truth. Except for a select few, most of us didn't pay any attention for a year or two, until we started to see how all this mess would affect us. So why would the average citizen be any different.

So do not tell people why the corporate movement makes you sad. Tell them why it's going to make them sad. If they are parents, explain how it will affect their children. If they are taxpayers, explain how it will affect the way their taxes are spent.

Look, I'm with you. I wish the majority of Americans had a deeply philosophical commitment to the principles of public education, but as anybody who has ever negotiated a contract or who can read already knows, most Americans just don't think about it all that much.

You have to meet them where they are. You have to explain the issues in terms of their concerns. And if you aren't sure what those are, well...

3) Listen
The best way to get people to listen to you is to listen to them. This does not mean letting their mouth noises wash over you while you finish composing your next talking point.  And it doesn't meaning hearing them just enough to jump down their throats because that concern they just expressed-- it's all wrong.

People are concerned about what they're concerned about. Those people who vehemently disagree with you politically? That's mostly NOT because they are some combination of stupid and evil. They have real concerns.

They may be misinformed. They may be misinterpreting. They may have made some not-quite-right linkage between their concern and the specific actions you're discussing. But their concerns are real. If you can figure out what they are and address them, you will accomplish awesome things.

Oh, and listening also means admitting when you may not be absolutely correct. It means acknowledging when they're not wrong. To do anything else will make it clear that you are an adversary, not a person trying to help them see something.

4) Go Outside
Walk your dog. Eat a hamburger. Fly a kite. Kiss your spouse. In less gentle terms, get a life.

This is another Thing You Already Know From Your Classroom. You are a better teacher when you are a more rounded person and you can approach your students as a whole human being.

Same thing here. If you're a real live human being, you can relate to other real live human beings better.

Bonus Round:
When you go outside, let it be to do something useful in your community. People who know you and trust you because they've dealt with you outside of a classroom or because they've seen you contributing to your community in other ways will be way more likely to listen to you and trust you when you open your mouth.

I probably have more to add to this, but right now my wife and I are going to play with the town band on a float in the local parade for our local Light Up Night before we watch some fireworks and go to a movie. I will continue to try to get people to understand what kind of fight education is in right now, but first I'm going to play my trombone. You should get a trombone of your own, and then get back to the fight tomorrow.

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