Dealing with Skeptical Teachers at Trainings

Alisa is doing a high stakes training in NYC soon. We had this conversation:

Q. My question for you and the PLC is, has anyone ever walked into a school or organization training knowing there were some smart but ignorant skeptics/teachers in the audience? These are places where the principals are convinced, since the parents and students aren’t satisfied, but I think the teachers are uneducated in pedagogy and maybe defensive….

A. Defensive isn’t the word. They will be hostile, but in the way of Cheshire cats. But your own personality and knowledge will overcome their negativity. It will be amazingly difficult as at each turn there will be passive aggression but you will be the stronger one simply because you know your field so well. Those teachers can’t hold a candle to what you know and so you will win. But don’t expect any big hugs from their scared selves.

Q. I want to be able to gracefully command their respect for the research and the two decades of teacher grass roots work that have brought us to this point – and head off a wholesale rejection. But there is nothing we can do to prevent the reaction.

A. But there is nothing you need to do to prepare to react to them. You already have the knowledge so that simply by showing up and doing your thing, without anticipating any reaction from them, or worrying about it other than just stating your truths about this work over and over and over with a smile, you will be in perfect command. The bosses will see that, and the only significant things happening will have nothing to do with you but rather will be the unmasking of certain people in full daylight so that THEY not you need to stress about this. All you do is be yourself and watch the strong teachers, like trees, take the new information/windstorm and bend but not break and the weaker trees will break but you have nothing to do with that. You are a machine delivering the information. You bring the wind but the wind does not concern itself with what trees it knocks over. Just be yourself and bring the demos and the coaching and minimize the theory.

Q. Any more thoughts on dealing with skeptical teachers at a training are greatly appreciated.

A. There will be questions designed to do two things: trip you up and divert the attention from what you are doing to how smart they are. The most difficult thing will be to not react. They will do the same thing that smart rebellious students to do teachers in high school classes: try to engage you in mental mind games and expose you when you make the mistake of saying something that they can twist. That is what they will do. They will try to turn the tables and expose you as a fraud. But you are just too damn good. Too knowledgeable. Your mistake would be to engage in their desire to expose you. So avoid their side intellectualization discussions like the plague. Say, “I’m sorry but all of that is written down and we can read about it – I will send you material (then send them my books I will send them to you to send to them) so as not to waste time here so we can work on our feet to put this new training into our bodies.” ALWAYS return to the need to work, work and work on their feet some more. Demo demo demo and coach coach coach. Throw technique after strategy and skill – not ideas – after them like hand grenades. Keep them in their bodies and out of their minds. It will be a war because their entire professional self-image is about to be deconstructed by you and those not open to it will either attack or hide behind a haughty gaze. Luckily there are few of these folks but they can really unnerve us.

Q. Serendipitously, the school is hosting an evening community event about Growth Mindset on Tuesday, right in the middle of my visit!

A. That is either serendipity or just a loving gesture from a loving universe to support you as you now move to a new part of your professional life on behalf of children.



3 thoughts on “Dealing with Skeptical Teachers at Trainings”

  1. I admire you, Alisa, for all you do for our field. I read this dialogue here as also advise on how to talk to a skeptical administration evaluating our performance. Very helpful.

    I’ve done some meditation on this myself. I’ve come to a place of peace as my thoughts settle on an awareness that I don’t have to always answer their questions, “You say… which makes me wonder…”, and on an awareness to listen to them fully and just reply with something real simple, perhaps brief. And if they seem open to hearing more, then offer more.

    They say that you can’t convert people to practice yoga (asana). They have to discover it on their own. Well, I married a partner that has grown to hate yoga (asana). At least she says she hates it. Of course, I practice asana yoga. I used to be a serious ashtangi. 1-2 hours a day everyday. I’ve backed down. But just by being around and seeing me practice over the years, and hearing me talk about it from time to time, my yoga has intimated her. Maybe I’ll find her on a mat one day, but I’m sure that will be after giving her space to discover it on her own.

    *Granted, she is the most kind and loving person in the world. She’s got her yoga practice.

  2. In my view everything we do should have the qualities of a yoga practice, and inviting kids into a life long language practice – since we don’t have the time to actually teach them any more than just a small part of the language – is our real mission. However, having never been invited but always forced (via testing and judging), the kids understandably are reticent to accept our invitation. It makes our jobs so very difficult.

    1. Yes. The kids have been trained too well or hurt rather, that they discredit or reject the invitation that is there in front of them. There will be other invitations but not one like this one.

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