As teachers and administrators, you are bound to see behaviors from students that parents don’t experience. As parents, we are protective and sometimes naturally defensive, especially when others don’t see our children the way we do. Even worse, if it appears that someone is mistreating our child or not being fair with them, we sometimes turn into people we don’t even recognize
I have witnessed positive and negative behavior from both the school perspective and as a parent.
I recall going to meet with my daughter’s history teacher because – according to my daughter – he spent most of the class period talking about sports and everything except history. He also expected her to know what to expect on his exams, and of course, to pass the exams. The more he talked, the more I believed my daughter and . . . yes, I became very defensive and prepared to let him know exactly what I was thinking.
I have witnessed teachers and administrators trying repeatedly to contact parents when students needed to leave school due to serious rule infractions. I have watched teachers become frustrated with students and after threatening to call the parent for several minutes, they finally called. Unfortunately, by that time the agitated teacher ends up leaving a voicemail message with a long list of behaviors they have had to “deal with all week.” Unfortunately, parents became even less inclined to work with the school.
What can be done to bridge the communication gap that oftentimes occurs when we are talking about our children or students? What can be done on both sides to help our children be successful at school? Ironically, the answers to this dilemma can work for all parties – parents, teachers and administrators.
Whether you are the parent or a part of the school’s staff, consider the following suggestions to help build and maintain relationships that benefit the child/student:
1) Take time to manage your own behavior. If you really want to be heard, be sure you are in control of your actions. Sometimes it helps to talk it over with another person to get his or her opinion but also to give yourself a chance to calm down. On the other hand, if you are responding by email, let someone else read it first before you hit send. If you know you have a hard time talking with the parent, teacher or administrator, take someone with you to help you remain calm, especially if your child or the student is going to be present. You – the adult – need to “be what you want them to see.”
2) Ask clarification questions. Sometimes our children don’t convey the story quite accurately or they may inadvertently leave out a few key parts of the story. At other times, they are right on. Either way, take the time to ask questions for clarification. Be willing to ask enough questions (and listen to the responses with an open mind) to feel comfortable that you have a clear understanding of the other person’s expectations and perspective.
3) Be an active listener throughout the conversation by:
Limiting what you have to say while the other person is talking;
Keep the conversation going;
Acknowledge what is being said;
Accurately paraphrase back to the person what he or she said (when necessary);
Offer statements of empathy and understanding;
Use appropriate voice inflection;
Finally, display proper posture or body language.
4) Give and receive feedback. We have a common purpose… to help our children be successful in life, at home, school, etc. It is important that we are all able to give and receive feedback in a manner that will help achieve our common goal. As parents, we should be our child’s cheerleader and advocate. On the other hand, we must also be willing to hear the school’s perspective regarding the behaviors they observe in the academic setting. As teachers and administrators, we want parents to be a part of the student’s team and need to be mindful of the importance of conveying information in a way that parents will receive it . . . and be willing to hear the parent’s perspective. Below are a few suggestions to help school staff and parents:
Convey your positive intent;
Describe specifically what was observed or said;
State the impact of the behavior or action by doing it differently;
Ask for input from the other person;
Focus the discussion on solutions.
Give the other person your full attention;
Listen to the situation as told by the other person without making excuses and with limited interruptions;
Discuss possible solutions together;
Follow-up later to see if the solution worked (optional).
You may be thinking, even if I implement these suggestions, what if the other person does not?
Remember, the only person we can control is ourselves but we might be able to set an example for the other person.
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