“Connection before direction,” I murmur when I get home after a long day and there’s a big stack of dishes, an even bigger pile of laundry and my three kids lounging on the sectional. It’s a parenting mantra I heard years ago and it’s stuck with me. Not only does it represent the positive parent I want to be, but it’s also more effective.
Picture this. I walk into Maya’s room and she’s watching How I Met Your Mother. The floor of my artistic high schooler is strewn with colored Sharpies, magazine confetti, open scissors and uncapped glue sticks. Her “project” has been there for two days.
“What are you doing watching a show when your room looks like a badly maintained preschool?” is what comes to mind. Instead I step over the disaster area and say, “How was that math quiz you were worried about?” After we talk for a few minutes about friends, lunch, the incident with the jerk in the hallway and what’s for dinner, we’ve had our connection. On the way out of her room I’m able to say as if it’s an aside, “I’ll expect to see your room tidied up before we eat.” She may still roll her eyes or sigh as per the teenage code, but she’s much more likely to acquiesce.
Relationship research from John Gottman shows that successful marriages have a ratio of 5:1 positive comments to critiques. That seemed high when I first heard it. Five thank-you-for-doing-the-dishes connections for every please-pick-up-your-socks directions. But it makes sense.
This concept also works well when conferring with writers.
Imagine if you sat down to share your writing with me. You’re nervous; you care about what I think. You’ve been working very hard on using specific words to capture an image. And I say,
“You don’t have any periods at the ends of your sentences.”
Do you listen to anything I say after that? Probably not.
Like the mess on Maya’s floor, it can be hard for many of us to step over the obvious convention errors in students’ writing. But step over we must if we want to have our writers think and do themselves instead of fix and correct for us.
“Connection before conventions” means one conference, three conferences, seven conferences with a writer about what’s working well in writing and one idea to grow on. Then you can add the little comments like, “Where might a period go in those first lines?” or “What’s another way ‘favorite’ might be spelled?” Like it’s an aside. Conventions are used to convey ideas in a conventional way to a reader. Good talk about writing must come first and more frequently than anything else. Not only does that represent the positive writing teacher I want to be, it’s also more effective.
When conferring about writing, what does “connection before conventions” mean to you?