Here is a story scenario you can use to help teach about the need to be diplomatic with adults in positions of power such as teachers, administrators, and parents.
Valuing & Respecting Authority are two important survival skills that all thinking individuals need to have if they wish to get along well in this world.
This is a true story.
Section 4: First Lesson in Diplomacy
A. Teacher reads story to the class called “First Lesson in Diplomacy.” Discussion questions are included with the story.
B. Story Description: Picture this. You are in the seventh grade and need help with an algebraic formula problem. You go to your teacher for help. Unfortunately, your teacher has gotten older and sometimes experiences memory problems. Not knowing that this was one of your teacher’s bad days, you work your entire homework assignment based on this help. The next day in class, another student asks for help on the very same problem. That is when you discover that every problem that you worked was wrong. You angrily yell at the teacher in front of the whole class.
Chapter 1: Debbie and the bad homework assignment
When Debbie was in the seventh grade, back in the year 1970, she had to take a Pre-Algebra class. Her teacher’s name was Mrs. Stewart. Mrs. Stewart was very close to retirement, and perhaps should have already retired. Not all older people are forgetful, but Mrs. Stewart was one of those older people who frequently was forgetful. The way her memory worked was that on her good days, she would demonstrate a formula problem and it would lead to the correct answer. But on her bad days, she would demonstrate a formula problem and it would lead to the wrong answer. Worse yet, she did not know that she had done that. This was very frustrating to the students, as they were not clear as to whether or not they really understood how to do the formula problems.
One afternoon after school, Debbie went to Mrs. Stewart for some extra help on a particularly challenging homework problem. Debbie asked, “Mrs. Stewart, would you please help me with this formula problem?”
“Of course, Debbie.” Mrs. Stewart walked to the board, wrote out the problem, and worked out the solution.
Debbie exclaimed, “Oh, now I understand. Thank you, Mrs. Stewart!” Debbie copied the problem into her notebook, exactly as Mrs. Stewart had written it. Then she went home and confidently worked all her homework problems based on the “helpful” advice given to her by her Pre-Algebra teacher. Unfortunately, she had no idea that this was one of Mrs. Stewart’s days when her memory was not working all that well.
The next day in class, another student raised his hand and asked, “Mrs. Stewart, I’m confused by number seven. Would you please work it on the board?”
“Of course, Sam. I would be happy to.” This was clearly one of Mrs. Stewart’s good days as she worked the problem absolutely correctly on the board.
Debbie was feeling quite happy as she complacently watched Mrs. Stewart work the problem. She thought, “Oh, boy! I already understand number seven, because that’s the very one she helped me with yesterday afternoon.”
Debbie’s facial expression changed from one of confidence to confusion as she looked at the problem on the board and the vastly different solution in her notebook. Debbie then thought, “Oh, no! She gave me the wrong answer yesterday. That means that all my homework problems are probably wrong, and I’ll get a zero on my homework assignment.” Debbie really liked making good grades. Additionally, she received a lot of pressure at home to make straight A’s.
Debbie felt a power surge of rage flow though her at the injustice of the situation. Debbie looked at Mrs. Stewart and loudly yelled, “But you told me to do it another way!”
Mrs. Stewart felt embarrassed and angry as well. She was furious, as she believed that Debbie was causing her to lose face in front of the whole class. So she reflexively yelled back at Debbie and told her that she was wrong.
Debbie felt absolutely mortified and humiliated at being yelled at in front of her classmates. In addition, she was more confused than ever. One of the consequences was that she was told to do that homework page over again as well as that night’s homework as well. Needless to say, Debbie did not have a clue how to work those formula problems correctly.
Teacher Says Or Asks: What was the outcome between Debbie and Mrs. Stewart, LOSE-LOSE, WIN-LOSE, or WIN-WIN?
a. LOSE-LOSE: Both student and teacher felt like she lost face.
b. WIN-LOSE: Debbie definitely felt like she LOST. She may have felt like the teacher WON as she had the power to punish Debbie.
Chapter 2: Debbie’s gets her first lesson in Diplomacy from her father
That night, Debbie asked her father for help. “Dad, would you please help me on this formula problem?”
Her father was feeling rather busy. He asked, “Why didn’t you ask your teacher for help?”
Debbie began whining and complaining. She snapped, “Well, I did go to Mrs. Stewart for help, and she totally messed me up!” She then told her father the entire story.
When she was finished, Debbie’s Dad said, “Deb, you were not being diplomatic.”
Debbie exclaimed, “Huh? I don’t know what that word means.”
Her father loved using quotes and expressions. He said, “You catch more flies with honey.”
Teacher Says Or Asks: “You catch more flies with honey.” What does that quote mean?
Students Respond: People respond better when you are sweet and kind than if you are rude and doing the attitude thing.
After her father said that quote about catching flies with honey, Debbie looked even more puzzled and said, “What?”
Her father said, “Look, you basically accused your teacher of lying. That is not a good idea to do to adults in positions of power like teachers, parents, or principals. Secondly, you backed her into a corner and caused her to lose face.
Teacher Says Or Asks: What happens when you back an animal into a corner?
Students Respond: They growl or scratch or bite.
Her Dad continued, “When you back an animal into a corner, it will growl, scratch, bite, or go into full attack mode. Humans, hopefully, are more civilized than that; however, your teacher did growl in a way, as she yelled at you. And of course, you’re lucky she didn’t send you to the office.”
Debbie complained, “But Dad! She contradicted herself! She showed me how to work the problem wrong the day before yesterday, and then she showed the class how to work it right today. And now I have to do the homework page all over again, plus my other homework. It’s not fair!”
Debbie’s father patiently said, “Deb, that is not the point. Granted, she may have been wrong. But you both ended up LOSING the way it was handled.”
Seeing that Debbie still wasn’t getting it, he asked, “All right, what did you want to have happen?”
Teacher Says Or Asks:What would be a WIN for Debbie?
Students Respond:She would like to have extra time to work the problems, she would like to have been given the correct answer in the first place, and she did not want to be on the bad side of her teacher.
In answer to her father’s question, Debbie said, “Well, I wanted to learn how to work the math problem correctly so I could do well on the test we’re going to have soon, and I wanted to get a good grade.”
Debbie’s Dad then asked a more challenging question, “Okay, what do you think Mrs. Stewart wanted?”
Teacher Says Or Asks:What would be a WIN for Mrs. Stewart?
Students Respond:She would like to not have any of her students yell at her in front of the class, she probably always wants to be able to show her students how to work problems correctly, and she would like to have a better memory.
Debbie found this question about Mrs. Stewart rather hard. It had never crossed her mind to wonder how a teacher might be feeling. Reluctantly, she responded, “Well, …, I guess she wants to teach the class how to work all these problems correctly. I guess she would like to always give us the correct answers.”
Debbie’s Dad probed, “So, do you think Mrs. Stewart gave you the wrong answer on purpose?”
She slowly said, “No, I guess not.” Then Debbie snapped, “But she didn’t have to jump on me the way that she did.”
Her father said, “And she is probably thinking that you didn’t have to embarrass her in front of the whole class the way that you did.”
Debbie finally understood what her father had been trying to tell her. She said, “Ohhhhhhh! You think I embarrassed her?”
“Yes, Deb! I think you made her lose face. Debbie, it is much better to always give people an out. Don’t make them feel backed into a corner to where they feel they have no choice but to lash out. The best way is to make it a WIN-WIN situation for both of you.”
“How could I do that?”
“What do you think?” her Dad asked. It would have been so much simpler if her father had simply told her what to do straight out; however, he really liked to try to make his daughter think. Debbie didn’t like that strategy of his much at the time, but she did grow to appreciate it more as she got older.
Debbie answered, “Well, it would be a WIN for me if she could have told me how to work the problem correctly the first time around. I need to understand how to work the problems so I can do them right. Also, I want to have extra time to work all these extra problems and not lose any homework points.”
Her Dad then asked, “What would be a WIN for Mrs. Stewart?”
“Kind of the same thing, I guess. She wants to always be able to show us how to work the problems correctly. But Dad! How can I fix this situation right now? She’s still mad at me, and I still don’t understand how to work these formula problems.”
Debbie’s father finally was ready to give her the advice she was looking for. He said, “Okay. Here is what I suggest. Before school tomorrow, go to Mrs. Stewart’s classroom and privately apologize for blurting out the way you did in class. Explain the situation as politely and respectfully as you can. Ask her again if she will help you with the formula problem. Also, see if she will give you some extra time to work all these homework problems.”
“All right, Dad! I can do that. But what should I do in the future if she gets forgetful again like she did?”
“That’s an excellent question, Deb! Like I said in the beginning of our conversation, you need to be diplomatic. If this happens again, raise your hand. Wait until she calls on you. In a polite and calm tone of voice, use an I Message and say, ‘Mrs. Stewart, yesterday, I UNDERSTOOD YOU TO SAY THAT THE ANSWER WAS THIS ONE.’ Or you could say, ‘IT WAS MY UNDERSTANDING THAT THE ANSWER WAS A DIFFERENT ONE .’ Or ‘I GUESS I MIS-HEARD when you were helping me yesterday.’ Or ‘I THOUGHT YOU SAID the answer was a different one.’ And show her your notebook. After class, see if she’ll give you some extra time to re-work your homework assignment.”
Debbie’s father continued, “If you do this very respectfully, you will have given her an out. She can feel like she has saved face and then can clarify what she really meant to say. She will probably say, ‘Oh, no. What I meant to say was this.’ Then you both WIN. You get to learn the correct way to work the problem, and you don’t get yelled at. She gets to teach the class the best way she knows how, and she doesn’t have her students complaining. Like I said, you both WIN. That is what I mean by a WIN-WIN situation.”
Debbie discovered that her Dad was exactly right. She later felt that this was probably the most important lesson her father had ever taught her. She has used that technique countless times since then with teachers, principals, parents, bosses, friends, and her former students. It has worked wonders for her. Try it and see. It just may work wonders for you too.
Teacher Says Or Asks: In what ways was Debbie being Passive? Aggressive? Assertive? What about Mrs. Stewart?
A. PASSIVE BEHAVIOR BY DEBBIE:
* Debbie did the ATTITUDE THING when yelling at Mrs. Stewart and when she talked about the teacher to her father.
* Debbie WHINED when requesting help from her father.
B. AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR BY DEBBIE:
* Debbie YELLED at Mrs. Stewart.
C. ASSSERTIVE BEHAVIOR BY DEBBIE:
* Debbie used an I MESSAGE on Mrs. Stewart when asking for help the 2nd time.
* Debbie made a SINCERE APOLOGY to Mrs. Stewart.
* Debbie TRIED TO UNDERSTAND what happened from the teacher’s point-of view.
D. PASSIVE BEHAVIOR BY MRS. STEWART:
* Mrs. Stewart did the ATTITUDE THING with Debbie after getting yelled at by her student.
* Mrs. Stewart made a QUIET DENIAL about giving Debbie the wrong answer the day before.
E. AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR BY MRS. STEWART:
* Mrs. Stewart YELLED back at Debbie.
F. ASSSERTIVE BEHAVIOR BY MRS. STEWART:
* Mrs. Stewart tried to POLITELY help her students understand how to work formula problems.
* Mrs. Stewart ACCEPTED DEBBIE’S APOLOGY and TALKING THINGS OUT with Debbie the next day.
Return to Diplomacy Lesson Plan Hub page for First Lesson in Diplomacy.