I recently conducted a workshop for international school teachers examining the skill sets that are important to effective teaching. One area we explored was verbal communication skills, critical to creating the environment and relationships that support learning. We identified and practiced the skills of reframing and paraphrasing. These communication skills are as important to school leaders and coaches as they are to classroom teachers.
Reframing allows a person to see a situation from a different perspective and can be very helpful in learning, problem-solving and decision -making. In a blog titled, Basic Guidelines to Reframing — to Seeing Things Differently, Carter McNamara describes how reframing can help someone be more constructive and empowered in a situation where they are feeling stuck or confused.
When your teenager is late getting home with the car, a set of negative thoughts runs through our mind. If you can stop and consider other possible reasons for being delayed, you are reframing.
In the workshop began looking at positive phrasing….. a focus on telling students what we want them to do rather than on what we don’t want them to do. “Don’t run” becomes “Please walk.” “Don’t forget to get your permission slip signed” becomes “Have mom or dad sign your note as soon as possible and put it with your books.”
Reframing happens when students make statements that are self-limiting or have a fixed mindset and the teacher reframes the thought to a more mastery- oriented mindset.
Student: This test was easy. Teacher: You recognize that the work you did throughout the unit made the test easy.
Student: I can’t do this. Teacher: Not yet. You see that it will require some practice.
Teacher: My students can’t focus attention long enough to complete this. Coach: So, you want to increase their ability to focus longer.
On the website, Skills You Need, they describe paraphrasing as reflecting:
Reflecting is the process of paraphrasing and restating both the feelings and words of the speaker. The purposes of reflecting are:
To allow the speaker to ‘hear’ their own thoughts and to focus on what they say and feel.
To show the speaker that you are trying to perceive the world as they see it and that you are doing your best to understand their messages.
To encourage them to continue talking.
Student: I couldn’t help being late. Teacher: Being late was out of your control.
Parent: My son complains about your class assignments all the time. Teacher: You would like to know that the work I assign is purposeful and meaningful.
Teacher: Many of my students can’t read our text for the course. Coach: You don’t see how they can be successful in meeting the course objectives.
Notice that paraphrasing is not problem-solving. Your response is not a solution. You are checking your understanding and continuing the conversation.
The Skills You Need website presents a list of guidelines for paraphrasing. Here is one that I stress:
“When restating, look for non-verbal as well as verbal cues that confirm or deny the accuracy of your paraphrasing. (Note that some speakers may pretend you have got it right because they feel unable to assert themselves and disagree with you.) “
Here is a roleplay I did with an instructional coach who was dealing with a difficult situation. Note the use of paraphrasing and reframing.
The principal asked the coach to work with a teacher who had received four “needs improvement” evaluation comments. Observations showed classroom management problems and a lack of student engagement. The students did not do homework and many were failing. The teacher has 30 years’ experience and a doctorate. The coach is in her 7th year in teaching.
The coach played the teacher and I took a coaching role:
Coach: Before we begin, tell me how you are feeling about us working together.
Teacher: I’m wondering how with all my experience and hard work there is anything you can do to make things different. I don’t think you understand.
Coach: You want to be sure I understand. Tell me things you want me to know.
Teacher: There are some very challenging students in here. They don’t do the work and fail the tests. I work very hard and have done everything I can think of. I have great relationships with kids. The principal thinks I’m too friendly but I disagree.
Coach: You work very hard and want your students to be successful.
Teacher: Yes, I do.
Coach: You believe the relationships you have with the students support them as learners.
Coach: You are working hard and students are failing, so you need to do something else.
Teacher: I’m not sure.
Coach: So, you have yet to decide whether to keep doing what you are doing harder and longer or try doing something else.
Teacher: Yeah, I guess so.
Coach: I’m wondering if I can help you with that decision. I’d be happy to look at your students’ work, then observe them in the classroom, and discuss what I see.
Interesting that when we debriefed the role play with the entire group the person playing the teacher said that she “changed her attitude” because I said “she was a good teacher.”
Note, I never said that.
I believe that paraphrasing and reframing caused the teacher to feel “listened to and respected”. The reframing caused the teacher to accept a goal for exploration. Now a coach can work with a goal to which the teacher has agreed.
Take some time to be conscious of your paraphrasing and reframing in upcoming conferences.