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Leadership in Action: Using conscious communication in high school

From our friend and inspiring leader, Calleen J Lester, Photography teacher, Highland Public High School, Salt Lake City, UT.

The Issue: I work with a racially, culturally, linguistically and socioeconomically diverse group of high school students at Highland, an urban public high school in Salt lake City. Their challenges range from being late to class to living in fear of their parents being deported or their families becoming homeless. Their challenges are often tied to the most basic of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, such as feeling safe and getting enough to eat. In order for them to succeed academically, it is my responsibility to find out what’s going on and what can be done about it. Taking contact and productive time away from other students to calm or ground a challenged student diminishes my productivity as a teacher, which trickles down to negatively impact the culture, morale and productive of my students’ learning experience. These impacts are prolonged if the student and challenge are not addressed and resolved quickly and effectively for all parties involved.

The Shift Move: I use authentic speaking and resonant listening to positively address challenging situations. I listen without interrupting the student while maintaining an open, welcoming body posture to avoid looking physically disinterested, defensive or shut down. I request to interrupt to ask clarifying questions about what the students are sharing, so I don’t miss what they’re saying due to a long verbal outpouring. I am especially fond of the responses I’ve learned through Crafted Leadership, including “Tell me more," “I wonder how you experienced that," and “Sounds like you feel ____." By listening without interruption, I stay focused on the student and don’t share my own similar experiences, which would draw attention away from the student.

The Impact:   The responses I’ve learned let students know that I want to know their experience  - without putting my template over the student and trying to push them through it,  in order to fit my assumptions and expectations. I don’t take responsibility for part of the student’s challenge; I use Crafted Leadership skills to scaffold them to take responsibility and offer plans of action. As a result,  students feels empowered in their own experience and outcome and have proven to be more willing to work on change, as well as speak openly with me about what’s going on.  The students grows in self-efficacy, all parties return to being productive, and the classroom culture and morale remains safe, positive and encouraging.



303.709.3145 | 801.230.0983


PO Box 521213

Salt Lake City, UT 84152


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