Erika Bare and Tiffany Burns are the co-authors of Connecting Through Conversation: A Playbook for Talking with Students (ConnectEDD Publishing, 2023).
Erika Bare currently serves as the Assistant Superintendent for the Ashland School District and has more than twenty years of experience as a teacher and administrator. She has a Master’s in Education from University of Oregon and an administrative credential from Southern Oregon University. She has developed and led workshops and professional development activities on topics in education, communication, and leadership.
Tiffany Burns is currently an elementary school principal in the Ashland School District and has two decades of experiences in elementary, middle, high school, and university students in public, private, bilingual, and homeschool settings in Oregon, Alaska, and Mexico. She has served as an instructional and extracurricular coach, curriculum writer and consultant, and creator and facilitator of workshops and professional development in education, equity, leadership, and communication. She has two master’s degrees from Southern Oregon University.
Ed Battistella: I really enjoyed Connecting Through Conversation: A Playbook for Talking with Students, which caused me to think about some of my own teaching practices with college students and also gave me a new appreciation for all educators. How did the book, and your collaboration, come about?
Erika Bare & Tiffany Burns: We connected in our administrative preparation program over 10 years ago and then both became administrators in Ashland at that same time. The two of us formed an unofficial new administrators’ group, connecting over dinner or during on-the-fly phone calls during the day, discussing all of the complexities of this work, bouncing ideas off each other, giving and asking for advice, and generally making each other better. We have talked about doing a project together for years, and in a meeting during the fall of 2021 we were debriefing some powerful conversations that Tiffany had leveraged to move some things forward for some students at her school. We also talked about the support she had provided for some of the educational assistants in the form of sentence stems and conversation coaching. As Erika was leaving, Tiffany said – that’s the book that is needed: How to Talk with Kids. Erika thought she meant this was a book we needed to purchase for a book study with staff. When Erika got back to her office she looked high and low and was unable to find anything on the topic. When she connected with Tiffany about it later, Tiffany started laughing and said – No! That’s the book we should write! We began the fun and invigorating journey of writing a book. Connecting Through Conversation: A Playbook for Talking With Students was born.
Ed Battistella: What exactly is a Connected Communicator?
Erika Bare & Tiffany Burns: On the first page of our book we say “Whether we talk to big kids or little kids, we have one thing that connects us. We all love children. If this doesn’t resonate with you, we invite you to rethink your career choice. For real.” That is the literal heart of a Connected Communicator. They love kids, and let them know every day through both words and actions. Beyond that, it is someone who understands that behavior is what a student did, not who they are. They can differentiate between an impulsive action a student may have made and a conscious choice. They then use this information to respond accordingly, teaching the whole way. A Connected Communicator uses body language, tone, and volume to communicate safety and invite connection. They are someone who gets to know their students well, and makes it clear to them how much they care about them. Connected Communicators understand that if they engage in a power struggle with a student they have already lost, and use effective strategies and sentence stems to avoid them. When the Connected Communicator makes a mistake, which we all will, they apologize and take responsibility. The Connected Communicator uses their daily conversations, as well as the higher stakes interactions to build Connected Relationships for Learning.
Ed Battistella: I was intrigued by the Care Out Loud Behavioral Approach. Can you describe that for our readers?
Erika Bare & Tiffany Burns: We talk a lot about how important it is to let our students know how much we care about them. This becomes all the more critical when a student has demonstrated unexpected behaviors. It usually sounds something like, “I know you are a really good kid, sometimes even really good kids make mistakes.” This demonstrates to the student that you have separated what they did from who they are, and shows them that you care about them. Depending on the student’s age or the behavior you are addressing, this can take many forms. For an older student who has cheated on an assignment, you might say, “I have always known you as a student who works hard to uphold our value of integrity. Sometimes even those of us who consistently act with integrity slip up. The most important thing to do when that happens is to take responsibility.” Again the idea is to demonstrate to both the student and yourself that whatever the unexpected behavior was, it is something they did, not who they are.
Ed Battistella: You mention many of the issues that teachers are confronted with arising from stresses in their student’s lives–I wonder if you can comment on some of these and the way the pandemic exacerbated those issues, for students, families and teachers?
Erika Bare & Tiffany Burns: When we returned from the years of disrupted learning after the pandemic, we saw clearly that the number of students lagging in social skills, experiencing mental and emotional challenges, and having difficulty communicating their needs in a healthy way had increased exponentially. Their parents were trying to parent, work, educate their children, and keep their family safe during a time of extreme upheaval in our society. So many families were under tremendous stress. As students returned to school, educators reported that challenging behaviors were occurring at an unprecedented rate. The shared global trauma of COVID-19 had a tremendous impact on our students and families. At the same time, educators were experiencing the most difficult years of their careers. This created a crisis of culture in our schools.
Ed Battistella: One of the chapters is about the importance of educators’ attending to their own physical, emotional, and mental health, because emotions are contagious. How can teachers project good emotionality? It seems that the job of teachers has gotten more and more challenging.
Erika Bare & Tiffany Burns: Educators do extremely emotional work. We know that humans are hardwired for connection. We all have mirror neurons, as part of our nervous system, that reflect or match the emotions of others. We like to think of these neurons as empathy neurons. As empathetic beings, we are susceptible to catching others emotions, including our students. So, when they are escalated, we go lower and slower, being careful not to pick up their energy. Mirror neurons work both ways so we want to project emotions that are worth catching. This is not as easy as it sounds. Many educators have a hard time attending to their own needs before trying to take care of our students. At the same time, when we are taking care of our own body, mind, and emotions, we are less stressed, have more energy, are more creative, have improved happiness levels, and a host of other benefits. All of this makes us more effective educators. Sometimes just reminding ourselves and fellow educators that we are taking care of ourselves for our students can help us remember to prioritize this important work.
Ed Battistella: Who should read Connecting Through Conversation? Teachers, administrators, parents, school boards? Students?
Erika Bare & Tiffany Burns: This book is for anyone who talks with kids! That includes bus drivers, educational assistants, teachers, custodians, principals, coaches, really anyone who works with young people. We have had a number of folks tell us this book has helped with their parenting as well! Essentially, if you want to be more effective in your communication with big kids and little kids, this book is for you.
Ed Battistella: You include eight appendices with sentence stems, scenarios, and other tools for planning communicating and responding communicating. What are a couple of your favorite tools?
Erika Bare & Tiffany Burns: It is hard to choose a favorite! We both make frequent use of the Conversation Planning Guide and Sentence Stems. The Care Out Loud strategies are a helpful reference for folks who are setting up systems in their classroom or school. We love using the scripts when working with groups of educators, as they help demonstrate how all of the tools work together in conversation.
Ed Battistella: How can people get your book?
Erika Bare & Tiffany Burns: You can buy our book, and find some free practical resources and content on our website: www.connectingthroughconversation.com. It is also available on Amazon. For those interested in ordering a multiple book for a book study or for a staff of educators, you can do this through our publisher at https://www.connectedd.org/books.
Ed Battistella: Thanks for talking with us. I really enjoyed and learned a lot from your book.
Erika Bare & Tiffany Burns: We are so glad, it was a lot of fun to write! This was a very enjoyable conversation, thank you so much. We love all opportunities to talk about how to build connections with our young people. Thank you!