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Speak Up or Burn Out: Five Crucial Conversations that Drive Educational Excellence

Uncooperative Colleagues,
Unsupportive Parents,
And Students With Discipline Problems


About the Author

David Maxfield is coauthor of the New York Times bestseller, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. He is also a sought-after speaker and consultant, and leading researcher at VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance.

Five crucial conversations drive educational excellence while preventing teacher burnout. The last three of those conversations are uncooperative colleagues, unsupportive parents, and students with discipline problems.


Teachers dont just work with students. They work with other teachers both within their department and across the school. They collaborate on curriculum issues, team teaching, and a wide variety of critical issues, including discipline. And more than two-thirds of teachers feel dissatisfied with the performance of one or more of their peers. For example:

I'm currently sharing middle-school band rehearsals with our 5th and 6th grade director. She is frequently late for rehearsals and not prepared for her rehearsal responsibilities. It is difficult to develop expectations and consistency for students if the director doesn't demonstrate them herself.

That kind of poor performance has consequences. The top three consequences cited by teachers are increased problems for school leaders, parents, and their peers. And yet fewer than one in five has had the crucial conversation with their peer. But those few teachers who speak up and share their full concerns with a non-performing peer are more than twice as likely to succeed in solving the problem.


Parents play a large role in the education system by facilitating student learning, encouraging good student behavior, and supporting their childrens teachers. Seventy percent of teachers are currently struggling with parents who are failing to do their part to support their childs education.

I recently had a student who found out that his biological father was not the person he knew as dad. It led to an ugly divorce. The students mother is an emotional wreck, and she has told her son that neither his dad nor his biological father wants anything to do with him. It is no surprise that this student has zero self esteem and is acting out in my class.

Teachers describe the top three impacts of an unhelpful parent as preventing the student from learning, creating problems and stress for the teacher, and creating problems for school leaders. But only a third of those teachers have had the crucial conversation with the parent. Those teachers, the ones who confront and resolve their concerns with unsupportive parents, are significantly more satisfied with their school and more confident that they are making a difference.


Read More

Be sure to read all four parts of “Speak Up or Burn Out: Five Crucial Conversations that Drive Educational Excellence,” David Maxfield’s series on avoiding teacher burnout.
* Part 1: Running Toward the Fire
* Part 2: Unsupportive Leaders and Failing Teachers
* Part 3: Uncooperative Colleagues, Unsupportive Parents, and Students With Discipline Problems
* Part 4: A Few Tips to Get the Conversations Started

Some students are more ready and willing to learn than others. Some are interested, disciplined, and able to follow through. However, 86 percent of the teachers in our study struggle with at least two students who are easily distracted, exhibit behavioral problems, and get in the way of their own learning.

I see students trying to get other students' attention and thinking it is cool to talk back or act up. I also see students acting up due to situations in their lives, such as family, friends, or medications. I also see students who cant deal with situations at home before they come to school. They can get so upset that when you simply remind them to sit up, they start screaming.

Of course, those problem students create problems for others. The top consequences teachers cite are:

  • The behavior inhibits the students own learning.
  • The behavior makes the teachers job more difficult.
  • The behavior makes it difficult for other students to learn.
  • The behavior creates stress and tension in the classroom.

But, when it comes to problem students, there is good news. Unlike the previous four situations, teachers step up to this crucial conversation. Fully two-thirds of teachers share their full concerns with the problem student, and 71 percent say that discussion drives improvements in the students behavior.

If those teachers would take the same initiative to have skillful discussions with unsupportive principals, assistant principals, their fellow teachers, and parents, they would improve students learning, create a better work environment, and reduce stress.

Return to Part 1: Running Toward the Fire.

See all four parts of David Maxfields series, Speak Up or Burn Out: Five Crucial Conversations that Drive Educational Excellence.