Forging Relationships Through Tough Situations


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Many leaders put an emphasis on creating relationships within their school community. This is a necessity as relationships  allow parents, staff and students to work together to solve situations that will arise in every school. However, the question leaders often ask is “how do we create these relationships”? When you think about human interactions, It is easier to create relationships when things are going well, everyone is having fun and is successful. However, a measure of the quality of relationships within your school should be “how do the individuals work together and respond to one another in tough situations”?  

Recently, our administrative team had the opportunity to attend a training that dealt with increasing our self awareness so we could uncover our unconscious bias in dealing with tough situations.  While the training was helpful, as I drove home I reflected upon what could I take away from the training to use with staff. We developed a simplified strategy or tool that any educator could use with another individual when the conversation is tense or potential conflict may arise. We shared this with all of our staff in our PLC work as a way to add another tool to our “educator tool belt”.

Here is the strategy that can be used to forge relationships through tough situations and it provides the foundation for listening, seeing someone else’s perspective and ensuring we do not have our own bias. So during a conversation, an individual would use the following steps to help ensure there is a greater relationship built moving forward as the situation is resolved.

  1. Define the common ground

This is where in the conversation both sides can agree with what they both have in common for the topic. This should be discussed very early in the conversation.

  1. What is the goal for the student (or the goal for the topic)

This is where both sides share the ultimate goal for the topic and occurs after defining the common ground.

  1. Background questions

This is where the educator can ask follow up questions to the parent or participants to get more information on the topic. This is an essential part of solving the situation as the educator learns valuable information regarding the topic that will help determine the end result.

  1. Preferred action

This is where you have the other side share what they want to have happen.  This is essential for the other side to feel valued and part of the conversation and not just told a response.  It is important to note that when you ask someone to share the preferred action, the person may list things that are not possible or realistic but allows the person to fully be a part of the dialogue.  

  1. Next steps

This is where you share the next steps and your recommendation for the issue.  This part allows the conversation to continue to move forward but you may need to follow up with the person again as this may be the first step to resolving the tough situation. 

Here is a scenario where you can see these steps be used.  A common scenario leaders face is where “a parent is upset because their child did not get a high grade in a class and will not talk to the teacher but will only come to you as the school leader.”


Steps Parent or other side of topic Educator 
Define the common ground My child should get an A in the class as they are smart and have only gotten A’s before.  I also want your child to do well and I am happy to hear that they have performed at high levels previously.
What is the goal  I want my child to get an A I want your child to do well but our focus is not on an A but rather the child learning at the highest levels, doing their best and developing the right habits to be successful in the future as an independent learner.  May I ask you some additional questions to help me understand our situation further?
Background questions Sure – what questions can I answer? Talk to me about:

  • What is their homework pattern like at home as far as set time, location and habits?
  • Are they rushing to get work done or are they doing quality work?
  • Our work is focused on process and students are given many days, how is their time management with the work?
  • How well do they relate concepts to each other (transfer ideas from 1 to the next)
Preferred Action  I just want my kid to get an A If your child does what we ask of our students (engaged in class, great effort, quality work, caring about learning) then I think they will do well. I cannot guarantee an A, but I can guarantee they will get the most out of this class, learn at high levels and be the best version of themselves and that is our goal.
Next Steps  I would like to set up a conference with your child and the teacher since they know your child the best. You can be there to listen as well. I want to support them and our teachers need to hear how your child shares:

  • how they are doing
  • where they are getting stuck
  • what supports they need
  • a commitment to do consistent best effort
  • chance for our teacher to share strategies moving forward

Can we find a time for this meeting with your child and their teacher?

While each conversation may vary in its complexity and can change from 1 response to another, this framework provides a strategy educators can use so others feel like they are heard, educators learn more about the topic, educators see other perspectives and the next steps are identified. While this conversation may not produce a relationship where both sides are smiling at each other, it will create a platform for dialogue and the foundation that schools want to partner with parents/guardians to help their child find success. Kids – that is what school is about and if we can keep that at the forefront of our conversations and their best interests in mind then our relationships will be stronger and more productive moving forward.

True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when leaders work extremely hard to improve their own learning and that leads to an improved school. By reflecting upon how we forge relationships, especially in tense conflicts, it allows leaders to greater understand how listening and seeing all perspectives allows the relationships to be formed. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better.  We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at









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A Husband, Father and Principal with a focus on learning, leading and connecting with others.

An educator for 25 years with 14 of those being a building administrator. I have found that the more I learn form others and their experiences it helps me grow and learn as well. I hope you join our journey as we create learning environments for students and staff that create future success.

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