My week was spent thinking about what a tough job it is to raise kids, and teaching them (or doing both!) What an amazing opportunity we have to work and be with kids each day. Even though I wouldn’t change this gig for anything, I do love the days when we get to sit and talk with parents. Those conversations are not always easy, but they are always, always valuable! They produce benefits for the child and for the adults as we share our observations, admiration and hopes for these young learners.
Often participants are focused on their own agenda or worries that it is easy to forget why we are there – to work together to move the child forward in his or her development. Before these conversations can truly begin, there is some groundwork that really needs to be covered. After scads of conferences, there are 6 basic premises we all need to keep in mind as we engage in these conversations throughout the year.
A sort of “preamble” to the declaration of development that each child makes along with their forefathers and foremothers.
- Children are strong and capable. Children are innately strong, capable, curious, and ready to engage with their environment and others. Sometimes we have to look hard to see these strengths and other times, it oozes out of them. Sometimes what appears to be a deficit is really our issue, not theirs. When we look at children from positive, growth perspective, we are better positioned to help them move forward. Expect good things, look for strengths and share ways you see the child as capable and competent. Much easier to work on goals, good habits, and emerging skills when you can play off strengths.
- We’re all working hard. I’ve never met a parent who isn’t working hard on a number of levels. Ditto for teachers. We get busy, but our hearts are in the same place (the child). We may waiver or let priorities slip, but we’re here to help each other stay on course. Accept nothing less than a sense of partnership which is held up by respect, shared purpose, and trust. Remind each other and support each other when necessary; reaffirm the goals and efforts by each party.
- Trust takes time to develop. Hopefully by October we’ve had a chance to meet a few times. Ask questions. Engage in dialogue. Whether it’s in person, email or phone, most good teachers take time to lay the groundwork for a relationship with parents. If it hasn’t happened yet with your child’s teacher, take the bold step and reach out to your child’s teacher. Believe that you both have your child’s best interest at heart and know that your child’s teacher has years of training and expertise. Parents bring so much to the table as their child’s first teacher, so speak up and share. Teachers have the perspective of child development, curriculum and seeing children in the context of peers. Feed off each others strengths to move your child forward.
- Honest talk helps. Teachers try to talk about observable behaviors and patterns of behaviors which help us identify strengths and growing edges and to see where children are in their development. They also help us find solutions to problems or ways to challenge kids. Don’t be shy about conveying what drives you nuts! Teachers can offer strategies or hone in on similar behaviors in class so you can work in concert to change that behavior or modify expectations. Focus the conversation on the problem or behavior, not about how difficult a child “always is.” Blaming, getting angry, arguing doesn’t move the child forward either. Hollow praise or generalizations don’t foster trust or understanding. If a problem is identified, accept that the conference might simply be the start of the problem solving stage.
- Active listening pays off. Make sure you are listening, not simply hearing. You may need to vent, but listen to the observations shared. Convey your concerns in the form of “I statements,” such as “when my child comes home and doesn’t share about her day, I feel at a lost… I wonder what she is really doing.” This is more effective than, “My child never tells me about school…she must be unhappy.” If a teacher offers observations or strategies for home and/or school, paraphrase those back to ensure you’ve got a clear handle on the plan. If necessary, jot down some notes or follow up within the week to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Conferences take time. Nobody likes to wait nor run late. I’m always antsy when the pediatrician is running late, but when he sits down with my family and really listens and takes his time, I’m comforted, reassured, grateful. Ditto with conferences. Sometimes these conversations take longer than the allotted time, but it’s important we stay focused an listen to each other, while still respecting the schedule and other people’s time. If you feel rushed or have questions, ask for a follow up meeting or call.
Childhood is fleeting and children are all gifted in their own ways. Take the time to look honestly and thoughtfully about their strengths and what they communicate about themselves, their interests, and their environment. If we are doing our best each day, including following best practices, understanding child development, and knowing each child, adults have the awesome responsibility to show children the joy in learning, relationships and their own gifts as human beings. A thoughtful and open partnership between parents and teachers is essential to move children, the class and the school program forward. Do your part to communicate with clarity, honesty and empathy. And remember, you’re your child’s best advocate and valuable partner to with his/her teacher.