How do you manage to have private conversations with students?

A: With kindergartners, I do a lot of quick check-ins during class time, but when a longer conversation is needed, I use the quiet corner in our classroom. It’s a small space set up with soft, comforting things (bean bag chair, stuffed animals)—specifically meant for children who need to calm down. If it’s not occupied, I’ll have a one-on-one meeting there.

A key to successful talks in this setting is to have them when the other children are occupied with independent work or play, such as during a choice time. Once everyone is settled, I invite the child I want to talk with to the quiet area. We sit so I’m facing out towards the class and the child is facing in, towards me. For a kindergartner, this arrangement feels quite private, while allowing me to keep an eye on the class.

Suzi Sluyter teaches kindergartners at King Open School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A: As a guidance counselor, I often helped teachers problem-solve with children. It’s hard to make progress unless the most important people—the child and the teacher—have had time to talk about what’s going on.

I enabled these conversations by letting teachers know I’d  step into their classrooms and cover for them—for instance, by doing a read-aloud. If teachers needed a private place to meet with a child, I’d offer them my office.

Susan Titterton was a guidance counselor for sixteen years in Vermont and now coaches and trains teachers throughout New England.

A: When I needed to chat privately with a child or help a few students work out a problem together, I often did it during lunch or recess. Meeting outside of class time gave us more time to work on complicated issues and let me devote more energy and attention to the conversation. We’d do a walk-and-talk outside while I was on recess duty, or we’d have lunch in the classroom. Students usually appreciated this special attention, and setting aside a specific time for the talk gave everyone a chance to cool down and think about what they wanted to say.

Mike Anderson taught third, fourth, and fifth graders for fifteen years in Connecticut and New Hampshire. He joined NEFC as a full-time Responsive Classroom consultant in July 2008.

A: When I needed to have a private conversation with a child, I’d often give a choice of times: We could meet at lunch, before school started, or at the end of the day. Many children chose lunch or after-school, but for some, the beginning of the day was the best time.

Since at my school students weren’t allowed to enter the building early, I developed a system to let the arrival time staff know when it was all right to let a child come up to my classroom ten or fifteen minutes before school started. The day before our meeting, I’d give the child a colored index card. He or she would show the card to the person on duty, and that was the agreed-upon signal that the child had permission to go inside.

Gail Zimmerman has more than thirty years of experience as a teacher, reading specialist, and literacy coach in Boston, Massachusetts.

Tags: Conversation Skills