Teaching the art of respectful conversation

My friend and fellow TLN blogger, Bill Ferriter, shared the events and the thinking that led him to recently block someone on Twitter. Not only was the post classic Bill in its transparency and thoughtfulness, but also it required a courage we see too little of in social media. The courage to admit that rudeness is not okay, and that it is not only possible, but necessary to hold one another to standards of conduct.

As usual, Bill has hit on a real issue in the social media world that touches many people–judging from the comments to the original post. But the points he raises go beyond just the rudeness of people on Twitter or in blog comment boxes, and takes me right into the heart of my classroom.

I teach students ranging from 14-year-old 9th graders to 60+ year old college sophomores. One of the most important goals of my teaching is to help students learn how to engage in meaningful communication. Communication requires us to comprehend and analyze messages from others, respond to those messages, and share our own ideas with increasingly broader audiences in such a way that they will respect and consider what we have to contribute.

These lessons are hard enough to teach under the best of circumstances, but have become even harder in the current social and political settings that condone insult and personal attack as valid forms of discourse. I started my professional career as a journalist; I grew up watching Walter Cronkite and reading the work of great print journalists. My father (who was also trained in mass communications and journalism) and I used to watch and critique a cross section of news shows and news articles every day. Dad was the first to teach me to never get all my information from just one source unless that source was God–everybody else needed a cross-check.

Teaching students of all ages to be good writers means teaching them how to express ideas clearly, but that’s only one side of the communication. Truly good communicators are also strong readers, careful observers, and effective listeners. I sometimes ask my students directly: Can you separate personalities from ideas? Can you listen to someone you don’t like if that person has a valid point? Can you accurately summarize ideas in a printed or spoken text, even if the author is taking a position with which you personally disagree? Can you refute or offer a counterargument based on what another person actually said without making references to his/her mother or physical features?

These are important lessons for us to teach, and sadly, our mass media too often promotes exactly the opposite lessons. As teachers, we have a moral and a professional obligation to model good communication skills, including how to have civil, productive conversations that increase the learning  and maintain the dignity of everyone involved.

Thanks, Bill.

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  • Martha Jean Fridge

    Being Neutral

    As an adult, I have learned to listen to all kinds of opinions without the undercurrent anger and disrespect I have for those indiviudals.  It has come with maturirty and learning to separate my personal opinons with doing my job or getting business advice.  This skills takes time and patients to do.

    • StevePetoskey

      Thumbs up

      I agree, keep up the good work

  • TerriSpangler

    Anonymity

    Many may be familiar with the saying ‘Seen but not heard’, in this regard it is rapidly becoming ‘heard because I am not seen’.  Regardless of educational background, everyone has been taught some decorum and mutual respect in any conversation.  Unfortunately it requires professionalism to maintain that level of respect when a post or blog does not coincide with a personal picture.  Anonymity should not allow for rudeness, maybe a stronger voice.

  • StevePetoskey

    Passiveness

    Yes, controlling your anger is important. It is also important to speak up in a diplomatic way to offer an opinion on rudeness. Letting someone continue to openly hurt others is disappointing. Good character is passed on, just as well as bad habits are learned. Setting an example and educating others makes the world a saner place.

  • melissagronzo

    Thank you

    I need more of this. I had to log off FB today becasue of a few messages/posts I read and didn’t want to get fired up.

    It is very hard when people post so many things on FB with out researching.  Then it gets shared and shared and people are complaining but not sure about what.

    I learned my lesson not to use my FB as a way to discuss politics or education. It is to hard to get my point across with out someone taking a stab at me.

    Even if I am educated and say something that would not  offend someone, I got myself in this situation once and do not wish to do that again. You can’t win.

     

  • Brad Hurst

    Fair and Balanced

    The author of this blog does make a great point. Objectivity and “just the facts” used to be the gold standard for journalism. Clearly, media coverage of today often has its own agenda, depending on where you get your “news” from. In reality “news” is just spin on the actual facts in many cases, and that is unfortunate. In a social media world, everyone can be involved in journalism. This is good in the sense that it promotes civil engagement, but bad in the sense that actual in depth, unbiased journalism has slowly died away. 

    Aristotle said that “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without embracing it.” I need to be more mindful of this, as we all probably need to. I feel like there is more movement to become more polarized and adopt a bunker down mentality than to be inclusive of divergent viewpoints to reach an appropriate compromise. 

    While our politicians seem unable do put this idea into practice, progress only truly happens through good-faith compromise. 

  • Christineportermarsh

    “Teaching the Art of Respect…”

    I think that it’s nearly impossible for most people to separate principals from personalities. Sure, I try–and often I am successful at it, but it’s a constant battle.

    In my state (Arizona), one of the state legislators sponsored a bill that I thought was offensive. The legislator was interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and came across looking–at best–like someone a but misguided and –and worst–like a complete idiot. This same legislator then sponsored a different bill, one with which I completely agreed. It was a challanege for me to separate the fool who was interviewed by Cooper and the ideas/agenda of the second bill. Most of my friends at school also struggled to separate the two. 

    I think that this article is a good reminder that we absolutely have to be able to distinguish the message from the messenger. 

  • MaureenSchabel

    Censoring and Many Masks

    The true measure of character is who we are when no one is watching.  In the world of social media, everyone is watching.  So when we are one way, with our work colleagues, and another way, with our friends, and another way, with our families, and we put something “out” there that speaks to us, we forget that ALL of those who follow our media may not see or know that side of us.  I agree, we are losing our social skills “filters” a bit when we send off our messages to all.  We need to be advocates for what we believe in, but we also need to do our homework, and consider each audiences.

  • RobyneMuray

    The Art of respect

    I agree with the article.It is important to respect points of view rather you agree or not. We as adults need to remember that diversity and a variety of views leads to engagement

     

  • juliegoering

    Respect

    Very interesting article.  I think it is getting harder and harder not to show emotions when talking to administration.  I would like figure out how to be diplomatic in many situations in teaching whether it be with collegues or adminstration.

  • trishaduran

    It’s How You Say It…Not What You Say

    On a daily basis I try to stress to my students the impact of their tone and body language have a far greater message than the words they speak.

    Social media has created a whirlwind of opportunity for people to “express” themselves through online communities. I find there is so much drama that happens because of social media. People are free to say things behind hidden names/personas, etc. that they normally would not say to a person’s face. Unfortunately lines are crossed and it carries into school or jobs. 

    I feel social media has good qualities but it has also created an improper means of communication. 

    Added into my teaching repertoire…how to effectively comminunicate with others and appropriately problem solving with others.

    Trish Duran

  • bonniebrown

    Motivations

    Attitudes are learned. Prejudices can change with new information.

  • TriciaRamsey

    exactly like toothpaste

    The situation describes why I have been slow or downright resistent to much of the social media out there.  I don’t have a facabook and I don’t tweet – yet- because I don’t trust myself to be objective and not get sucked into the tornado.  I worry that I will make a mistake and post something negative that I regret and you can never take it back once it goes onto the internet.  It reminds me of the toothpaste lesson we do with students.  It is easy to get the toothpaste out of the tube – like venting and attacking on social media- but it impossible to get the paste back in.  Nothing like a hands on activity to help students get it.  Maybe some adults need the toothpaste lesson.

  • ReneeMoore

    Modeling respectful communication

    Thanks to you all for your insights and comments. Yes, it is genuinely difficult sometimes to separate our feelings about personalities from our response to their ideas or to interacting intelligently with them. However, particularly for those of us who are trying to uplift the teaching profession, and for our students’ sakes, we have to model the art of respectful communication.

    Not every comment (FB, Tweet, blog comment, or spoken comment) deserves a response. The Bible says its foolish to argue with a fool, and sometimes silence is the wisest answer. However, sincere comments from people who sometimes sharply disagree or are deeply misinformed to deserve our attention and thoughtful response. It’s also important to examine and hear ideas directly rather than attacking what we “heard” someone said or believes—a frequent error in the digital world. Nor do we all have to agree on every point or principle to be colleagues. Our students desperately need to see this type of professional and ethical behavior in action.

     

  • BetsyWolf

    Fierce Conversations

    The article reminds me of the training I recently attended dealing with Fierce Conversations. We need to take into consideration what every has to say and be able to filter that information into what we can use. We also need to let people know when we are in the conversation with them really what we want out of it – are they helping to make the decision, are they just giving input, is the group making the final decision or does the final decsion fall to an individual person once they have heard all the sides. I think people are more responsive and will respect the decision more if they know when going into the conversation what the outcome may be and who it will be coming from.

  • kjlisk

    Social Media and conversational skills

    I am constantly amazed how others treat each other on social media because of opposite beliefs.  Quite often the entire idea of a post is lost in the comments as others start making what is considered to be a judgemental comment and the written fight of words that ensues.

    Thank you for reminding us that everyones ideas and view points are valid and should be listened to and considered, no matter how we feel about them.  If we are to raise and teach our children these skills, then as adults we must practice and model these skills.

  • ReneeMoore

    Annonymity Breeds Disrespect

    Thank you Betsy and Katherine. There are some comments on social media to which I simply will not respond, but they are clearly not put up to promote honest discussion but to hurt. I’m particularly suspicious of folks who post their toxic remarks hiding behind avatars.

    Even in disagreement, logic and common decency requires that we listen or read the opposing argument closely in order to base our counterargument on what has actually been said, not straw man distortions.

     

  • jdbaxter20

    Great Points!

    This post is a fantastic reminder of what good communication involves.  I know that I can always improve in this area.  The question, “Can you refute or offer a counterargument based on what another person actually said without making references to his/her mother or physical features?” really is a great question to teach people to ask themselves.  A debate can really be derailed if the attacks are made personal.  A respectful counterargument can go a long way to making your voice heard.  

  • DawnKoberstein

    Anything can be posted and becomes truth in the eyes of children

    Social media allows one to publish whatever they want without considering their audience or to make comments that are opinion versus fact.  This is very sad as children read what is posted on the internet (one’s opinion) and consider it fact.  This leads to misconceptions.  The perfect example was a friend of mine whose teenage son started sharing with her that marijuana was not really bad for someone because he came across an article on the internet that said so.  Can you guess who the author of the article was?

  • snwayne

    Teaching: The Art of Respect

    I certainly agree that teaching is the art of respect. As educators, we have to respect the differences that our students bring into the classroom. That means differences in learning styles and abilities as well. Educating adults does not differ much from educating younger students. They need to be provided with scaffolding techniques, opportunities to take risks, and opportunities to be praised. Once students know that we respect them, they will strive to be the best they can be and achieve at their maximum potential. Education and learning does not and should not discriminate. We are called to be educators, so we must display love and respect for all students.

    • ReneeMoore

      Teachers Modeling Respect

      Thank you for highlighting this point, Stephanie. I wasn’t sure I had made that clear enough in the origina post. We teachers have a great responsibility to model respectful conversation in our own interactions with our students and with their parents. Students hear our words and watch our nonverbal clues more closely than we might want to believe. Sadly, I’ve heard some so-called educators make ghastly remarks to and about students. What’s more disturbing is when other educators hear those things and ignore them (“that’s the administrator’s job, not mine”), or worse yet, agree. If we are to demand to be treated as a true profession, we have to stop being afraid to hold ourselves and each other accountable for our professional ethics.

  • ChiquitaToure

    In this age of social media

    I think the author makes several valid points. While social media definitely has its validity, we must learn to model and teach appropriate and respectful internet behavior also known as netiquette. How do we respond on social media when someone misinforms us through an unreliable sources or says something that is totally false or offensive. Do we redirect the conversation to focus on the important issues or do we get sucked into a vicious you reply,I reply cycle. I say we have a responsible to set the standard for conduct and make others accountable as well. Too many times, people are driven by emotions not passionate behaviors about a theme but highly charged/non-informed-unintelligent emotions that dictate how they respond to others who have different opinions. It’s ok to disagree but respectfully disagree so that you maintain a sense of integrity. I want to see more and more of our young people learn then demonstrate they are and can be effective communicators via internet/social media. I teach highschoolers and the level of respect has gone out of the window. Anything goes with conversations and hysteria reigns supreme. We must also be willing to subject others to the consequences of their actions when they behavior in a manner that undermines and disrepects.

  • MichelleBarnes

    Social media and conversation

    This was clear cut and to the point, a very valid point.  As both an educator and mother of 3 teenage girls social media is always active in my life.  I love the points of “Can you separate personalities from ideas? Can you listen to someone you don’t like if that person has a valid point?”  All of society could take a lesson from this.

  • KimberlyBothwell

    I read that twice!

    That really resonated with me. In today’s world of comments and opinions, I may not like what people have to say, but I do respect that we live in a place where we are all free to say what we want. However, in a school that rule is different.

    Kids today say everything they are thinking, and I think the media is just promoting that – and the sensationalism and fame that come with it. However, I do challenge my kids to separate information from personality and to learn from a perspective that they might not share. At the end of our Rosa Parks unit we have a debate. One of the topics is school uniforms, and you can imagine how many kids say they hate uniforms and cannot possibly be on the “pro” side. However, after some research, so many kids on the “pro” side end up winning the debate! They end up seeing the exact opposite of what they thought once they are open to listening with their brain and an open mind rather than a pre-conceived notion. Now if only I could get my fellow teachers to do that!!  

    • Gary L. Gilardi

      The Debate!

      What a great example of listening and processing objectively.  Imagine how many conflicts would be avoided if everyone adopted this method!!

      • Karen Dickinson

        Debate is an Art

        Debate is an art.  How you craft your debate determines whether or not people take your side, remain neutral or take the side of the opposing parties.  In history, debates often resulted in duals. We need to be able to craft the art of debate so that students don’t go away feeling that they have lost.  Emphasize that the idea of agreeing to disagree is real and they may still have their crafted opinions regardless of the outcome.

        It has been said that those who know how to debate often win the argument. Students may not be ready for debating, but it is up to us to get them there.

  • stantons

    From MT BEA F2F Meeting

    We discussed about the importance of writing to learn. The second to last paragraph points out great points about being observers, thinkers and communicators is essential to life long learning. Additionally we have to teach the skills of waiting and wanting to iterate processes.

     

    One thing Sara Hull is doing is the dissection of credible resources. Our librarian, Rachel Schillereff stated to utilize your local librarian to assess the credibility of digital resources. 

  • stantons

    From MT BEA F2F Meeting

    We discussed about the importance of writing to learn. The second to last paragraph points out great points about being observers, thinkers and communicators is essential to life long learning. Additionally we have to teach the skills of waiting and wanting to iterate processes.

     

    One thing Sara Hull is doing is the dissection of credible resources. Our librarian, Rachel Schillereff stated to utilize your local librarian to assess the credibility of digital resources. 

  • TracyCropsey

    Interpersonal skills

    Wow – this really hits home for me.  I feel like I have been talking to a brick wall about this issue most of the time.  I am convinced that social media, texting, emailing, twittering, etc. are ruining the generations of all those under about 35 years old.  I often ask my children, and my students, if they would say the same things to a person face to face that they say when hiding behind a screen.  Even when a group of young people are out together they are not really interacting with each other.  Most of them appear to be interacting more with someone else on their smartphone. 

    • ReneeMoore

      Don’t blame the technology

      I’m not sure I’d agree that the various forms of social media are to blame for the increased disrespect or rudeness displayed by teens and adults. I believe the tech tools are just the most a convenient excuse people are using for a larger weakness on the part of our society to recognize the value of every person as a person worthy of our attention and respect.

  • StaceyCabralLevesque

    Courteous Communication

    Dignity for all! Great points to remember if we wish to communicate effectively.

  • sarahfloyd

    communication

    I agree with this article 100%! I am probably the 1% of people that does NOT have a facebook or twitter account. Not because I think there is anything wrong with having one but because I feel there are so many better ways to share memories and communicate with people. In a world where we text, email, etc to communicate sometimes we need the “old school” phone converstaion or even the weekly “grab a cup of coffee and chat with a friend”. Our students are so used to communicating via social media I do agree that we need to teach them and model for them what good communication skills are!

     

    -Sarah Floyd

    • Gary L. Gilardi

      Communicating with Respect – Person to Person

      I love it!   Person to person, instead of IPhone to IPhone.  I usually plead for colleagues to call me, not just email.  It’s so powerful!!  If it has to be electronic, at least Facetime and Zooms are close!!

  • Stacey Howell

    Chemistry and writing? Students diconnect…

    We have been doing more 5 pararaph type essays in chemistry because of core requirements. I had just finished a unit on nuclear chemistry and after the test gave the students an article to read and then asked them to write a 5 paragraph opinion essay on should we use nuclear chemistry in our lives or not.  They were to state what their opinion was and then break it down into 3 main ideas for the three middle paragraphs and then summarize.  I was very disappointed in wat was turned in.  Students struggled with an opinion and identifying 3 thing to argue and support.  I had many rambling papers that proved nothing.  I thought by high school a basic 5 paragraph essay would be easy…I guess not.  I get to become an English teacher too.

     

    • ReneeMoore

      Respectful conversation—in 5 paragraphs?

      Not sure why you or your school think doing 5 paragraph essays is a good way to promote communication or thinking skills. Most college English teachers (myself included) spend a great deal of time trying to drive the 5 paragraph model out of our students.

      What you touch on in your response–which is important to this conversation thread–is the importance of teaching students how to communicate sincerely and effectively with a variety of audiences for different purposes. I’m guessing that you’re seeing is not an English problem, but rather a problem of how to think and write  like a scientist about scientific concepts. As they wrestle with their thoughts and try to develop the necessary vocabulary to talk about the science topics, they will find themselves coming to understand the topics even better, but this is usually a process, not a single act at the end of a unit. Have you considered having them blog or journal to each other about these topics and how they apply to their lives throughout the school year (or semester)?

      How we respond to our students’ comments and their writings in class is a critical teaching moment for building respectful communications. Does our feedback show that we value what they say (or are trying to say), or are we focused only on the errors and deficits we can find?

  • Rochelle

    Completely agree

    About 4 years ago, I created my own writing curriculum for my 5th graders because I’ve always strongly felt that writing is just as important as reading. I shared this with our curriculum coaches and basically was told that writing wasn’t important because it wasn’t on the “test”. In other words, they didn’t want me to spend the time teaching writing because that time should be spent on reading. I argued my point and refused to exclude writing from my curriculum. I did spend that time and discovered fantastic writers. Better yet, those fantastic writers discovered themselves as a writer. They didn’t know they could write the way they did. I had a poet who won a contest and got published in a book. If I didn’t teach poetry, she wouldn’t have discovered her talent at such an early age. Story writers emerged. Even my one student who struggled through writing, who couldn’t write a poem during the 5th grade at all, wrote a poem the summer after & his parent sent it to me. The next year, common core curriculum started to surface and writing was a huge component in it. Low and behold, writing became “important” too. On the topic of social media, I get disgusted reading rude comments. Everyone has a right to their opinion but at least write the opinion with class and purpose. After reading this article, I’m going to include a short lesson on responding effectively in 1-2 sentences. Most of my students are not yet into social media and I don’t want to introduce that to them. It’s not place but I can teach them how to comment the right way.

  • giuseppinastellato

    Response to “The Art of Respectful Communication”

    From the reading, “The Art of Respectful Communication”, I feel having a real, meaningful conversation with someone is also listening to them, trying to see from their point of view even if you don’t agree.  That is part of being respectful.  We do see so many negative comments on social media and I think it is in response to what people share and not understanding or rather they are misinterpreting what the other is saying.  Some people just see the negative in what people are saying.  I do feel as teachers we have some type of obligation to model good communication skills but we need to practice it ourselves in our lives.  Students notice how adults interact with each other.  We need to practice that and show it all the time with whomever we are speaking to, including the students.

  • Annettemacfarlane

    The Art of Communication

    When it comes to social media, it is easier to say things when it is not to someone’s face.  People find it so easy to make negative comments or unproven statements on social media.  That is because it is attached to a computer not a human being.  Plus things are much easier to construe when written versus spoken. Our students and parents all need a class on social etiquette.  It is easy to teach in class a respectful atmosphere but it is hard to stop the social blasts when you can hide behind a screen. 

  • JenniferFerguson

    I love the paragraph that

    I love the paragraph that reads “Truly good communicators are also strong readers, careful observers, and effective listeners. I sometimes ask my students directly: Can you separate personalities from ideas? Can you listen to someone you don’t like if that person has a valid point? Can you accurately summarize ideas in a printed or spoken text, even if the author is taking a position with which you personally disagree? Can you refute or offer a counterargument based on what another person actually said without making references to his/her mother or physical features?” because it is true. To be an effective communicator, you also need to be an effective listener and take information from multiple sources in order to piece together some factual evidence. Too often students and adults assume because it is nonfiction information like the news, it is 100% true. The truth is the media (and humans in general) skew things, so we must synthesize information from multiple sources in order to make sense of it and find our “truth.” 

  • CathySkinner

    Module 3: Pre-Work Perspective of your audience
    Which audience do you anticipate the greatest challenge and why? I think the audience I anticipate the greatest challenges with are people who are not my close colleges and those I do not have worked to create a true trusting relationship. My Capstone work is on changing funding policy in Arizona or changing the politicians themselves. When I say a “true trusting relationship” I mean that teacher/parent/administration down the hall that I say “Hi!” to in the mornings but I avoid the difficult discussion on, well, anything. I think I am learning to separate the personalities from ideas but sometimes it is hard.

    What preparations must be made to take on such a challenge? I am participating in many Teacher Leader “classes.” The common thread is craft your message, be clear and concise. Be prepared and know your stuff. Thank you Sandy for working with the ECET2 conference!

    How can your local or state association assist you with these communication challenges? My state and local are a wonderful support for these communications. They are both directing me on how, when and where to meet these challenges – Thank you Nell for the great NBCT Teacher Leader night!

  • CathySkinner

    Challenges

     

    Module 3: Pre-Work Perspective of your audience

     

    Which audience do you anticipate the greatest challenge and why?  I think the audience I anticipate the greatest challenges with are people who are not my close colleges and those I do not have worked to create a true trusting relationship.  My Capstone work is on changing funding policy in Arizona or changing the politicians themselves.  When I say a “true trusting relationship” I mean that teacher/parent/administration down the hall that I say “Hi!” to in the mornings but I avoid the difficult discussion on, well, anything.  I think I am learning to separate the personalities from ideas but sometimes it is hard. 

     

    What preparations must be made to take on such a challenge? I am participating in many Teacher Leader “classes.”  The common thread is craft your message, be clear and concise.  Be prepared and know your stuff.  Thank you Sandy for working with the ECET2 conference! 

     

    How can your local or state association assist you with these communication challenges?  My state and local are a wonderful support for these communications.  They are both directing me on how, when and where to meet these challenges – Thank you Nell for the great NBCT Teacher Leader night!

     

    Do any of your audience members have perspectives or concerns, which are in conflict with one another?   Yes, I have found a big conflict with my administration, the PTO and the vehicle for change, VIP or Valley Interfaith Project. 

     

    Describe the situation. Can you identify any of the positive outcomes from both sides of the dilemma? Some how the leader of VIP has offended the parents of the PTO and complained to the principal about their “religious affiliations.”  I am working to educate them on the nondenominational and nonpartisan focus of the group.  I think the article we read, “Teaching the Art of Respectful Conversation” sums everything up.  I need to help these groups to look at each other and separate the personalities from the ideas.