Welcome to September, which means slightly cooler weather, Johnny Appleseed, visits to the apple orchard, and amazing apple pies. For those of us who work in schools September also presents one of the most anticipated weeks of the school year: Parent-Teacher Conferences. It is well known that many parents and teachers communicate more consistently through e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook but the individual one on on conference is a sacred time in our year. Here are a few tips to help navigate your parent teacher conference, and help you leave feeling like you know everything about your child at school.
Be Prepared to Listen
Although fall conferences happen within the first quarter of the school year, your child’s teacher has gathered a lot of information and wants to share it with you. Teachers will share important progress indicators, these are usually not grades, to help you paint the picture of where your child stands within the same age and grade peer group. LISTEN! The progress indicators shared are many times more important than an actual grade. Take note to the expected performance for this time of year and where your child is performing. This is the type of data teachers use consistently to make decisions about learning experiences in the classroom. Sure, grades are important; however, unless you really understand what the grade represents there is little difference between an A or C. Many teachers will also share their insight on how your child is growing socially in the context of school.
Be Prepared to Ask Questions
You are going to have questions, and your teacher wants to answer them. Most often we hear parents report they feel like there is never enough time to ask their questions. My son’s teacher sent home a request for questions prior to the conference so she can ensure there is enough time to talk about what is important to us. If you have specific questions, communicate them prior to the conference. This is a big tip – a teacher can tailor the conference to your needs if there is information you want to discuss. You can do this via e-mail, voicemail, or write a note. In our school we have 15 minutes per conference, and I know that isn’t adequate time. I plan to prioritize the questions I have to make sure we have an opportunity to talk about my biggest questions. The rest can follow up in an e-mail, a follow up phone call, or an additional time to meet if necessary. Remember, teachers are available to you all year long!
Thank Your Teacher
Being a classroom teacher shouldn’t be thankless job. No matter what your questions or concerns, be thankful. Showing genuine gratitude for the work teachers do every day should never taken for granted. A simple, “Thank you for all you do!” means so much to a teacher. They definitely deserve it!
We are off to a great start this school year, and after three days we’ve handled our share of conflict. Inevitably, conflict will arise in our school community. Let’s face it, not everyone will be happy with every decision made by teachers or principals. In this post, we’ll discuss a few key ideas for managing conflict to yield the best results for all involved. For our purposes as a school community we will use the following definition of conflict. Conflict is a form of friction, disagreement, or discord arising within a group or by an individual. While there are many types of conflict, we’ll use that definition as the one to describe most the conflict we see in schools.
Identify the Root of Your Conflict
The first key idea to successful conflict resolution sounds simple; however, many times it is not. Over time every student, parent, or teacher has interactions with others that may feed future conflict. Unresolved conflict from the past will compound the current issues. Before attempting to communicate with the other party, first identify the conflict without allowing the past to impact the current situation. I remember my mom teaching me from a very young age that it was better to handle one situation, or conflict, at a time because if you don’t you’ll only be more emotional when you finally decide to deal with it.
Remove the Emotion
Too many times I have observed adults allow their emotions to be the driving force in communication as they attempt to resolve conflict. If given the opportunity, children respond in this way as well. The second key idea to successful conflict resolution is to get your emotions in check. Whether the situation has made you angry or sad, heightened emotion will only decrease your ability to decide which are the right questions to ask. Only by asking the right questions will you get the information you need in order to move to the next key idea, which is listening to understand.
Listening to Understand
Ok, let’s be honest. This one is really difficult. It may be the most difficult of our key ideas to implement in the process of conflict resolution. Remember, if we’ve made it to this key idea we have identified our issue and removed the emotion we feel in order to ask the right questions. We have a strategy to teach this in schools, and I have included it below. Using I statements, children begin to process their emotions and communicate what it is they want and need from those around them. As adults, we need to ask questions in order to seek answers. Remember, though, that even if we ask the right questions it is for the sole purpose of listening to the answers. Many adults, myself included, are guilty of listening to respond in order to get what they want. Truly listening, especially when we are in conflict, is essential to be able to determine if there are ways to negotiate a solution.
Click below for a strategy for helping children with conflict resolution:
Negotiate a Solution
By the time we make it to this key idea, both parties clearly understand the conflict. It is likely both sides understand the position of the other, and a mutual solution may be clear to all. If there isn’t a clear solution at this time, the conversation may have revealed fundamental differences in your position. If this is the case, it is important to find a win-win compromise when possible.
Will there be times during our school year where you feel as if our concerns weren’t heard? It is our goal to say, “No!” Remember, there are a few principles present in our approach to resolving conflict: be calm, be patient, and have respect. Many times resolving conflict is more about the approach taken than the solution, because when both sides of conflict seek to understand each other many times that mutually agreed solution becomes crystal clear!
“If you don’t prioritize your life, somebody else will.” Greg McKeown
Before boarding an airplane this spring, I stopped into a magazine and book shop looking for something to keep my interest during the flight. I stumbled on a book that drastically changed my professional perspective, and how I approach my daily work habits. Seriously. I think my closest colleagues may be a little tired of hearing about it. I just can’t stop sharing the knowledge I’ve gained from reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. The many personal and professional lessons learned by reading this book can’t be shared in a single post! Instead, the essentialist theme will weave through my posts this school year demonstrating essentialism in action.
Why did I decide to buy this book at the airport? Inside the front cover it reads:
“Essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.”
Then you read four questions:
- Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?
- Do you simultaneously feel overworked and underutilized?
- Are you often busy but not productive?
- Do you feel hijacked by other people’s agendas?
Answering “yes” to all the questions above, I was intrigued to learn more. McKeown defines essentialism as a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things look almost effortless. I am guilty of being the person who wanted to be involved in everything. Some closest to me would say I have a desire to control those things. While I agree to some extent, I also know that I am naturally curious and my commitment to schools was never narrow in scope. I wanted to know more about every detail of schools and the operational versus instructional side. I still do. Does that remind you of anyone in your professional circle? Something troubled me as I began to notice the aura I gave off to those around me. They approached me with a question and began to apologize for asking because they believed I was “too busy” or “juggling so many things right now”. Did I appear too busy to be supportive? What was I working on that made me appear this way? Was this work vital to the mission of our school?
Then it hit me. Flying at 35,000 feet and buckled into my seat, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was working on so many different projects that I wasn’t able to devote necessary energy to the tasks and the people that needed it most. I was doing everything but accomplishing very little. According to McKeown, “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.” This started a spring and summer of self study: essentialism in training. After finishing the book I realized I am a natural essentialist in many ways, and with a few adjustments in my approach to taking on projects and responsibilities I can be better at focusing my energy where it is needed most. I was challenged to identify areas in which I can make the highest contribution. With the help of great administrative colleagues, we have identified those areas:
- Development of the whole child – emphasis on positive behavior supports & enrichment experiences to enhance our curriculum
- Teachers: High Expectations & High Support – emphasis on observation cycles with specific feedback
- Parent Education & Support – emphasis on consistent and purposeful communication
McKeown was correct when he said, “everything changes when you give yourself power to choose.” The contrast between the non-essentialist and the essentialist is crystal clear. The non-essentialist believes “I have to” while the essentialist believes “I choose to.” While there are things we must do that will forever remain out of our control, the amount of energy we put toward those tasks will always remain our choice. McKeown shares that when we forget our right to choose we learn helplessness and fall prey to the priorities and agendas of others. Being specific and intentional about how to make the biggest impact, decision making becomes easier and connected to those specific areas.
“What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?”
I don’t know about you, I have a lot of life to live beyond the walls of my school. I am dedicated, committed, and passionate about my professional work. I also have two school age children who deserve a present and attentive mom. I have a husband who deserves a present and attentive wife. I have an extended family who deserve the same. I am challenged by the thought of less but better. I am excited to try it in action.
How will you become more like an essentialist in your role?
Next Up: Education: Searching for Silver Linings