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!
Do you know a teacher? If you do please contact him or her right now to say thanks for all they do. The work they do provides so much to be proud of. You are probably asking, “Who are you?” and maybe something like, “Why should I thank a teacher?”
Most importantly I am a wife and mother of two amazing kids. My son just finished kindergarten, and my daughter will begin full day pre-school this fall. Professionally, I have been a classroom teacher, an instructional/reading coach, an elementary principal, and currently serve as an elementary school assistant principal. I will share more with you about each of these experiences in the future, but today I am here to begin a revolution. Let me introduce myself. Hello world! My name is Heather, and I am an educator. Wow, that sounds like an introduction to an education support group; maybe that is what we can be to each other.
As a little girl, I always knew I’d be a teacher. I’d come home from school and play school. I organized my stuffed animals and little brother into a class and played teacher. I didn’t come from a teaching family, which I always found an interesting question when asked. My father is the oldest of nine kids in a really fun Irish Catholic family, and while two of my aunts turned out to be amazing teachers, their decision to teach wasn’t an impact upon me. Sadly, I don’t have “that teacher” who made me want to be a teacher either. I had good teachers, don’t get me wrong, but being a teacher was just who I am meant to be. In high school I had a great friend and his parents were teachers. I remember stories she told me about how it was hard to be a teacher. She told me that if I wanted to have a life and be happy I should choose a different profession. I remember these conversations vividly, and her best attempts to talk me out of being a teacher eventually failed. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed by the smell of crayons, glue sticks, and freshly sharpened pencils. How many of you still get giddy over school supplies?
I don’t pretend to be in the trenches anymore. I fully believe the only people in the trenches are teachers. They spend their time working with the most important clients – OUR CHILDREN. Many times the voices of our teachers are silenced outside the classroom. Why is that? Why do those who do the most important work in our field have so little voice outside their classrooms? I’d be interested in hearing teacher’s responses to that question in the comments below. Since I haven’t been in the classroom for over five years, I don’t think I am at liberty to offer an answer because it will be an assumption based on observation and conversation, and let me tell you that we don’t need more second hand assumptions! While I observe the teachers and students in the trenches, I am not planning for instruction in the same way teachers are. I no longer see the light bulbs turn on when a child decodes a word or sentence well enough to comprehend. No, I am not the leader of that type of instruction anymore.
I am a leader of a different type of instruction. I lead teachers. I do my very best to minimize the micromanagement of teachers while providing them with the information and resources they need to be highly effective educators. Yes, I have responsibilities to plan and implement professional development, analyze and utilize instructional data, and maintain a learning environment that impacts more than academics, but I am a building administrator. That comes with the territory, and those are tasks I enjoy. I can address the data and defend test scores. There is a fine line between shared decision making and over delegation in schools. I strongly believe teachers should teach. Bottom line. Everything they do should be focused on kids. Everything. That is a priority for our school this year. We will increase the investment in the classroom while decreasing the external demands on our teachers, especially those that lack relevance and a direct impact to their professional craft. I’ve made my share of mistakes in that area, and I am still learning. I reflect often on how can we allow teachers to focus most of their energy on teaching. How do we help them learn to ask the right questions to create critical and creative thinkers instead of drilling the mastery of basic skills? Let’s allow teachers to think and ask really good questions in order to help students do the same.
Being an educator is (insert the slide here that flashes hundreds of words in a minute) an honor. One that I am realizing comes with much more individual responsibility than was ever shared with me during my undergraduate education, and even in graduate school. We focused on the how and why we teach and lead the way that particular university felt was right; however, we didn’t dwell on the fact that being a teacher is one of the most difficult, least respected, and intensely political career choices. Those of us who forge ahead in the daily operations of an actual school understand the challenges, while outsiders banter and argue over the wild world of educational reform, accountability, assessment and think they understand the monumental task placed on the shoulder of teachers. If education is the future of our children then we need to speak up, not to cause issue, instead; let’s provide insight. Let’s no longer allow second hand assumptions to drive decisions that impact our classrooms. I refuse. I have a voice, and after ten years in a profession I’ve thought more than once about leaving, I realize it is time to use my voice. My experience and opinion matter. It has to.
I know this: educators are in crisis at all levels. There are too many extraneous things to distract teachers and building leaders from the essential intent of school: TO TEACH KIDS TO THINK. Learning is a product of thinking. Did you know teachers, really great teachers, are leaving our profession? In my school district I am aware of a handful of excellent teachers who are leaving our classrooms to stay at home with their own children or find work in an area they can feel proud of. Did you hear me? Teachers are leaving education to find work they can be proud of! How did we find ourselves in a place where teachers aren’t proud to be teachers? This is a problem. How did we get here?
At home, one of our family values is “be a problem solver”. We have family meetings focused on how to be a problem solver in all areas of our lives: at home, at school, at the swimming pool and any other area that presents a problem (so…everywhere!). I ask my fellow educators: How are we going to solve this problem? The first step to solving a problem is to identify it. So, here is the plan in our school this year:
- Identify what is going well
- Identify our largest constraints. What keeps us from our mission of providing an education that encompasses academic, social, and emotional development for all children?
- Collaborate: divide, share, plan, solve
Sounds easy, right? So, teachers and principals, are you with me? How will we find a voice to help the climate of education focus more on student learning and less on ineffective tests and accountability? Let’s spread the word that teachers and school administrators are not intimidated by accountability, but we demand authentic assessments focused on growth of thinking skills rather than those focused on master of basic skills. How can we change the climate of education from the walls inside our schoolhouse? Muhammad Ali said, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” Let’s take a big risk together. When our teachers and students return in the fall I will share with you our success and failures at solving our largest constraints. We can make a direct impact in our schools, and I’d love to hear how you work to solve yours. We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get started.
Next up: New Year Same You?