Before Defending Yourself, Ask a Clarifying Question

Teachers can often feel like they are being second guessed or even attacked. And at times, there’s a good reason for feeling that way. But before you dig in and start a headstrong defense of yourself, ask a clarifying question. Here are a few reasons why:

  • There are times when you are not being attacked, but rather, the other person communicated their thoughts poorly. Or, you may be over-sensitive, which leads you to take the person’s comments too far. Asking a clarifying question may get the record straight and save you from an embarrassing scenario.
  • There are times when you are being second guessed or accused for a completely irrational reason, and the best approach is to not defend yourself, but rather to put the accuser on the defense. For example, “Let me be clear, are you saying that I don’t care about your son’s safety on the playground?” Or, “Are you saying that we did not review the material before testing the students?” A clarifying question may help the accuser better evaluate whether the accusation is ridiculous or warranted. If the accusation is ridiculous, your question can shift the burden of proof to the accuser.
  • There are times when your methods are being questioned, but it’s not a personal attack. Getting those two confused will make the situation even worse. A clarifying question can help the conversation become more productive and less argumentative. For example, “Are you saying that you would like for your child to have more one-on-one time with me to improve the reading score?” Whether or not you believe this request is reasonable, it would be counter-productive to level a personal defense of how much you care about your students’ well-being and grades when a parent is merely suggesting that you modify your teaching methods.

If you are not sure what the clarifying question should be, take the defensive thought you are eager to unleash and turn it into a pointed, yet respectful question. If what you are thinking sounds like this – Why are you acting like I’m a communist for disciplining your daughter when she would not stop disrupting my class, distracting other students, and allowing me to teach – then try one of these clarifying questions. “Are you suggesting that your daughter was not disrupting my class?” Or, “Are you suggesting that the punishment does not fit the crime?”

 A defensive spirit can inhibit progress because it shifts the focus to personal feelings rather than improving the situation. Defensiveness is a huge mental blocker that keeps you, the professional in the room, from thinking clearly enough to solve the problem at hand. Focus on fixing problems rather than defending yourself, and in the end, you will be more respected for being a professional who gives parents and students hope that problems will be resolved.