Having Fierce Conversations with Kids Matters

November 11, 2019

While the term “fierce” may seem a little harsh, it got your attention.  I’ve served as a teacher and literacy coach for years — and in those years, I’ve always had engaging and honest conversations with my students.  Teachers do that. They care. They talk to their kids. I believe educators should set out to grow the whole child and teach responsively.  

I do focus on my subject matter, but getting to know my kids through a variety of means enables me to connect with students and help them grow, academically and personally. Kid watching, recording observations, anecdotal notes, reflective feedback and interpretations, all methodologies that have become a huge part of my teaching style.  It’s who I am as a teacher and a standard I believe is important to demonstrate to new teachers.  

I originally earned my National Board certification because I wanted to grow my practice, stretch my thinking, and, let’s face it, the salary increase was a definite motivator. As time passed and the winds of educational trends blew, I forged on.  When it came time to think about renewing certification, I knew it was also time to put my teacher researcher hat back on and think about what was truly making a difference for kids in my classroom.  

I discovered that the discussions I was having with kids was the key to growth.  The genuine conversations I had with kids built relationships.  That mattered. Sometimes it’s important to let silence do the heavy lifting.  Authentic conversations equal relationships and “fierce” conversations allowed me to come out from behind my “typical teacher mode” lens and make learning real.  I realized some of the best conferences I had with students happened when I paused to give the child and myself time to process. Productive struggle in a trusting relationship grows learners, including myself.  

In reflecting on my teaching, I had to ask myself a hard question: “If I’m focusing on my notes all the time, thinking about content, subject matter mastery, am I really listening to the child?”  Honestly, that stung a little. It forced me to reexamine a healthy balance between listening and recording key moments in instruction. No kid is ever going to suffer as a result of a genuine learning conversation; it’s how we have those conversations that matters.  Talking does not make a conversation, listening does.  The best teachers talk with kids, not at them.  They have “fierce” conversations.  Have you had a fierce conversation with your students lately?  It matters!

Jill Downs, NBCT

Jill Downs is a Reading Coach at Leaphart Elementary STEAM Magnet in Richland County, South Carolina. She has a master's in Language and Literacy from the University of South Carolina and is a National Board Certified teacher. Jill is a former first-grade teacher and Reading Interventionist. She is dedicated to thinking with teachers and kids.