The Power of Building Relationships in Education


August 15, 2023

A Conversation with Dr. Kevin Mabie and Dr. Frederick Buskey

The following transcript excerpts are taken from a podcast conversation Dr. Kevin Mabie, CPI Enterprise Sales Executive, had with Founder and Lead Consultant of Strategic Leadership Consulting, Dr. Frederick Buskey. Their conversation explores the value of building relationships in education, and how educators can use the Crisis Development ModelSM to better handle challenging situations with co-workers and leadership.

You can listen to the entire podcast episode here.

Talk with a CPI representative today to learn more about bringing CPI's proactive de-escalation training to your school or district.

How to Build Meaningful Relationships with Co-workers and Why Those Relationships Matter

Dr. Frederick Buskey: So, we're going to discuss crisis support and difficult conversations, but the foundation for helping people is relationships. So, let's begin there. When we talk about the need to have a relationship with someone, what does that actually look like? And in other words, what constitutes a healthy relationship between a school leader and a teacher?

Dr. Kevin Mabie: Yeah, so if you don't mind, I'm going to share something I know about advertising and marketing. If you want to reach an audience, you have to have seven impressions. That's the number they give on average. It takes somebody seeing your name or your messaging seven times to really resonate with somebody that you exist as a company. We, as school leaders, really need to approach our relationships with our teachers in a similar way.

One of the biggest lessons I feel I learned as a principal was that I wanted to take that relationship from congenial to collegial. So, one of the things that I like to do with teachers anytime I get that chance to talk with them one-on-one or in a small group is just engage with them on collegial conversation about schools.

  • We can talk to our teachers about how we can keep new teachers feeling involved and feeling like they're growing and feeling positive about the experience.
  • We can talk to our veteran teachers about the way we serve our Tier One kids and what we can do to help them not grow into those other tiers things like that.

School leaders, if we can have collegial conversation and be genuinely curious and interested and those pieces, sometimes those can have a greater impact than those congenial conversations about our families and things like that.

Dr. Frederick Buskey: So, to be clear for listeners, the congenial part—is that more personal life and understanding what's going on there? But then layering onto that is the collegial part which is talking about our practice?

Dr. Kevin Mabie: Yeah. And Frederick, to add to that, I would say that if you jump straight to the collegial, sometimes people as school leaders, sometimes teachers might be thinking, well, what's he trying to do here? Is he trying to figure out if I know something or don't know something?

We’ve got to make sure we have that congenial relationship first so that we can then truly share what you really think—collegial conversation. And that's where the fun really can take off.

Building Deeper Relationships with Purposeful Interactions

Dr. Frederick Buskey: When we first met, you mentioned the idea of purposeful interactions and I really like that term is all about intentionality. And one of the challenges that school leaders have when they're caught in that black hole of urgency— they're reacting. And yet, you're talking about reframing some of that and using purposeful interactions. So, what does that mean and what does that look like?

Dr. Kevin Mabie: So, when we think purposeful interactions, we are maybe even doing a step beyond where we just talked about. You've got congenial and collegial, let's talk about big picture things. Now let's get into the nitty gritty and talk about what's going on with you today. What can I help you with? What can you maybe help me with? So again, the relationship grows to that point. We can't just jump into that but a lot of us try to.

We try to walk into a classroom and observe it and be immediately helpful with some feedback that we might think is really, really valuable. But if we can really build up to those sorts of conversations, that's one key. But then the second key is don't be afraid of those types of feedback conversations.

What is a Crisis and How Can We Respond Appropriately in the Moment Using the Crisis Development ModelSM?

Dr. Frederick Buskey: I think the big reason I wanted to bring you on the show was to talk about crises. You've done a lot of work around that I think is critical. So, what constitutes crises? And then I think you have a crisis framework that you can use to help us understand that.

Dr. Kevin Mabie: Yeah. So, a lot of people think that a crisis has to be something gigantic to everybody in the room. You know that there are different things we see on the news that we could definitely define as a crisis, right? However, when a person is in crisis, there is something going on that's causing them to behave in an escalated way. And so the thing is, we all, we each are in crisis at some point. Every single day that there there's something that makes us what we would define as an escalated behavior and so that does often stem from something traumatic.

But one of my goals in coming on the podcast, was to tell you about the different behaviors that we would constitute as a crisis at the Crisis Prevention Institute.

Dr. Frederick Buskey: Yeah. And I think, again, we tend to think about kids in crisis and we know who our high-flyers are and we look for that. But I think we do a less stellar job of looking at our teachers and recognizing crisis. And I love what you're saying about big crisis. So, I may know if somebody just lost a parent or is fighting cancer, but I may not know all those other little signs that that show us that there's other things going on. So, I'd love to hear you dig into this.

Dr. Kevin Mabie: I'll say it this way, we take all of the behaviors that you might see—any negative behavior—and we try to categorize it into one of four different things.

And the reason we do that is because if we made a list of 20 or 200, teachers wouldn't be able to remember that. I as a leader wouldn't be able to remember that.

So, our four behavior levels are anxiety, defensive, risk behavior, and then what we call tension reduction.

Now, risk behaviors get most of the attention. Those are the things like the school fighting, the kicking and the biting and you name it. All of those things where a person's trying to hurt oneself or hurt others.

However, we as school leaders, we're more likely to encounter teachers who are either anxious or defensive.

That's where I might be anxious just because I'm interacting with you right now, my school leader, and I've had a bad interaction with the school leader in the past. I might have had a bad interaction with you in the past or one where I felt unsupported.

So, what we try to do is give a corresponding staff approach to any kind of behavior we see. So, for instance, in an anxiety behavior, we want to be supportive. If we see a defensive behavior, we want to be directive.

How to Be Supportive When Someone is Anxious

Dr. Kevin Mabie: The word trauma is another one that that we can really further define, and we can think about. The way that our psychological and physiological responses differed before an event versus after an event, right.

And so if I didn't used to respond in this anxious way, and now I do—there, that is a there is a trauma that is involved there.

And it might be the trauma of course a bad interaction with an assistant principal or any other sort of feedback related trauma.

So, part of being supportive when people become anxious is to be nonjudgmental. Being supportive means that we're going to be nonjudgmental and we're going to be empathetic. We're going to try to recognize what it is that I can help you with today.

  • So that might be letting somebody know that hey, there's nothing to be anxious about here. I'm here to help you, not to challenge you today.
  • It might be just by being direct and saying hey, here's what we're going to accomplish in this meeting today.
  • Other times, it might be something that is more on that congenial side. It might be a side hug. It might be a, hey, I'm going to take your hand in mine and say, hey, I'm thinking about you and your family, and I want to make sure we as a school family are here for you.

Those types of things, you name it. There are so many different ways to be supportive when a person is anxious. Any questions about that, Frederick?

Dr. Frederick Buskey: No, those all those all make a lot of sense. I think if people are dialed in and realize and recognize that anxiousness. These are kind of natural responses, so this will resonate with people.

Dr. Kevin Mabie: Yeah, we will, so we hope so. We hope that they are natural responses. But one thing that is important to note is that sometimes we, for whatever reason, we turn off those natural responses. We don't see it happening right in front of us.

Because, I mean I will say as a school leader when I've got a dozen different things going on and I need to go deliver this piece of information or have this quick conversation and move on to the next thing,  I'm thinking about my agenda. I'm not thinking about slowing down and being supportive.

And I might have had to come into your classroom to give you an update on a student. And then if I'm not ready to recognize your anxiety in front of me, it might not be about me, it might be about something going on at home or something like that, then then I'm not going to be helpful. I might even make it worse.

So it's really important that we just kind of have like an anxiety radar kind of going on because like I said, we all probably at some point today will be anxious for one reason or another. Even just for a fleeting moment. So if we can help, if people can help us, if we can help others, that that can make a big difference.

How to Be Directive When Someone is Defensive

Dr. Frederick Buskey: Yeah, thank you for that. So, can we move on to defensiveness?

Dr. Kevin Mabie: Yeah, and so I think maybe this is where the most learning can happen from my explanation of these behavioral levels.

Defensiveness is responding to a real or perceived challenge. So I mean I might not be challenging you, but you might feel challenged or you're perceiving me as a challenge.

This is where you get things like:

  • Information seeking questions that are not necessarily polite. They're more, well, “why do I have to do this?” “Why do I have to do it the way like that?”
  • Then there's more challenging questions where people, they're maybe wondering, what gives me the authority to do something. Something along those lines where they're questioning my credentials or authority.
  • Then the other defensive behaviors include things like refusal—just refusing to do something, verbally or non-verbally.
  • Release is when I yell, or I might even cuss.
  • Then intimidation is another tactic that sometimes people use.

And I'm not necessarily saying the teachers would use all of these, but sometimes if we catch a person at the wrong time, there's something that's influencing their behavior and making them feel threatened or challenged by me.

So, my goal as a school leader or just as a human in those moments is to be directive. And that doesn't mean that I'm going to tell you what to do all the time. My goal though, is to help you move from your emotional brain into your thinking brain.

And I know there's a lot of talk about this in education right now, but it’s a real scientific thing. Like right now we are both thinking with our prefrontal cortex. But if I got emotional, or something surprised me in a negative way, I might start to use my more primitive limbic system. And that's where that's where I start to make bad decisions and say things I wish I could take back.

So it's really important when a person is in their emotional brain, when they're being defensive, that I give them some way to get back to their thinking brain.

  • So sometimes me saying, “Hey, big, deep breath with me.” I mean we take that big deep breath and we're starting to get back into our thinking brain.
  • Other times it's, “Hey come take a walk with me” or “Let's take a seat.” So, I'm literally telling you what to do. I'm giving you a directive that's easy for you to pick up.

Other times I can be directive more so with my body language.

If I'm standing there with my arms crossed and having a very strong conversation with you and you start to get upset, I might uncross my arms and take a step back and put my hand on your shoulder and say, “Hey I'm sorry to upset you today.”  “I'm sorry that this news is surprising.” Whatever it might be, my apology might actually form a connection with that person and get that person back into one's thinking brain.

So there are so many ways to do it and that's one of the things that we really get dig into deeply in one of our Crisis Prevention Institute Courses. The right thing to do when we see defensive behavior is not to be defensive ourselves that that can have an incredible impact.

Bringing CPI Training to Your School or District

Dr. Frederick Buskey: So before we go, anything else that you want to share with your listeners, with our listeners?

Dr. Kevin Mabie: I talked a lot about the Crisis Prevention Institute today and one of my goals as a person who provides training for CPI is to help grow our impact in general education classrooms.

We are widely seen as a company that helps teachers who work with escalated behaviors regularly—like special education teachers and school administrators.

But we have such an incredible curriculum that can be used in tier one sort of situations—so in Gen-Ed classrooms that kind of thing. I just hope that if you are a person who's not familiar with us or maybe you're familiar but I haven't really dug in too deeply, check us out

You can bring proactive trauma-informed de-escalation training to your school or district by partnering with CPI. Contact a CPI representative to learn more and to see how you can make a positive, sustainable impact for the well-being of students and staff.

Dr. Kevin Mabie continues to share his insight with education professionals; take a closer look at additional resources he has contributed to CPI:

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