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5 Tips for Tackling Sticky Topics with Teachers

As our kids get bigger and we age in our parenthood journeys, we find ourselves in more situations where we must balance mindsets of “go-with-the-flow-it’s-really-no-big-deal” and “I’m-mama-bear-hear-me-roar.” When faced with outside influences (schools, Little Leagues, etc.), it’s often wise to approach the latter mama bear mindset with some “strategic honey” (after all, we catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!). By the way, it also helps tremendously to get the parent-teacher relationship started on the right foot, by expressing the appreciation we have for our kids’ educators.

For the times we do need to let others hear us roar, we love referring to the compassionate wisdom of Senior Fellow Andy Smarick at the Manhattan Institute. Andy is a policy expert in civil society issues, including localism, governing institutions, education, and social entrepreneurship. We find his framework for broaching tough conversation -- whether involving our kids or other matters important to us -- to be an asset for ourselves, as well as for the partners with whom we’re engaging:

  1. My story. It turns out that lots of people, especially when it comes to controversial matters, want to know something about the person trying to convince them of stuff. So I try to humanize myself--where I'm from, how I grew up, my family, etc. I want to come across as a real person, not an avatar.

  2. My work. Then I try to tie my story to the work I do. The idea is to show that I have an approach to tackling a problem that's rooted in who I am and what I care about. My story along these lines is often about opportunity, helping the disadvantaged, the American Dream, self-government, pluralism, and personal/community agency. I want to come across as someone who is thoughtful not rash.

  3. My commitment to this issue. Lots of people unfortunately assume that anyone who disagrees with any element of racial-justice strategies must be a bad person, must not care about these issues, etc. So I try to discuss how much I care about equality and opportunity, how I understand the history of racial injustice and how it influences people still today, and how I've worked on issues in my career to try to fight against this. I want them to know that I care about these particular matters and have given them time and attention.

  4. Specific critiques. Then I pivot to explaining specifically which elements of the issue at hand I'd like to oppose. Rather than going broad and coming across as opposed to the entire enterprise, I go as narrow as possible so people know I'm raising particular issues for particular reasons that can be addressed in particular ways. So instead of saying, "This entire training is wrong-headed," I'd say, "I'd like to explain why I think we should discuss and consider changing elements x, y, and z." I want to indicate that I want to think about these matters and make necessary improvements, not just rail against a whole project.

  5. Come with solutions. I like to give people other choices. Folks are busy, so if I just complain about something without showing up with an alternative, they will often find reasons to side with what's already on the paper in front of them so they can just press ahead. Also, dissenting without a counter-offer can come across as its own kind of virtue signaling--you want to be on the record disagreeing more than hunkering down and solving a problem. So if I say, "I think we should consider changing x, and here are three things we could do instead," then we can have a conversation about the problem and ways to solve it together. It offers a way for everyone to say what they are trying to accomplish and then collaborate on a solution.


Have you raised a tricky conversation with your kid's teacher or coach? Tell the Primerrily Crew about it. We want to celebrate discourse and development with you, Neighbor!


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