Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Day in the Life of a New Teacher...how do you approach parents with a sensitive topic and have a difficult conversation?

How do you approach a parent and let them know that you are worried about their child? What should you do if you think the child has a significant problem.....what if you are wondering if the child is autistic or severely delayed? These are time sensitive and no doubt about it, difficult conversations. Conversations like this take honesty, wrapped up with a whole lot of empathy. For beginning teachers and veteran teachers this is hard core.

When a teacher suspects something is significantly wrong, it is important to discuss the concerns with the people in the school who could offer the most support--the building administrators. The building administrators will be able to help the teacher determine first steps.

Begin the parent/teacher conference on a positive note...share the child's strengths. Here's what the conversation might sound like:

Teacher: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me. I am enjoying getting to know your child so much! I'd like to share some of the things I am learning about your child. I'm learning that he/she likes to-----. Share an example of a positive interaction with the child. Ask the parents how they think things are going...ask the parents if they have any concerns or questions.....

Then, the teacher should share relevant data....say: I administered this assessment---show it to the parents and explain how it was administered and why. Then say--- this is what your child knows----and this is what he/she needs to know by the end of the year....

After the parents have had a chance to digest the information and ask questions...the teacher might say something like....a concern I have is ----and I'm wondering what you think?

Ask the parents to help you think through next steps.....record these thoughts and then follow up. For example, if the teacher agrees to try a certain strategy, the teacher should try the strategy and then let the parents know how it is working. If the parents agree to take an action, the teacher should follow up and ask the parents, how it is going.

There's not an easy answer to this question. Intervening early is important. Don't wait until the end of the year to muster up enough courage to talk to a parent. Ask someone to help you think about how to approach this situation. Parents deserve to know. Partner with them. Work as a team so that the child has the best year possible!

A Day in the Life of a New Teacher...Approaching a Parent and Having a Difficult Conversation....

After a fun filled day of teaching and learning with first graders, I walked outside to greet the many parents who were waiting along the sidewalk beside my classroom. It was very common for parents and grandparents to arrive early enough to have time to talk with friends....sharing the latest rumors, news, and gossip. As I walked up to a father of a little boy in my class, the father leaned backwards, pressing his whole body against the brick wall, closed his eyes, clutched his hands against the bricks, sucked in his breath as if he would keel over any second if the wall wasn't there to support him, then uttered, "What's he done now?" You might be guessing that it wasn't the first time I'd chatted with him after school. And you're right.

I had worried all afternoon about how to begin the conversation.....reluctantly I said, "Well.... I've never had to tell anyone anything like this before." "Just go ahead and tell me," he whispered. I wondered how he read my face, how did he know he needed to brace for this news I was about to share? Mustering up all the courage I possessed, I said, "We had a little problem in class today....your son had a problem keeping his hands out of his pants....he was wearing sweatpants....there was an elastic waistband and he was distracted with the pants throughout the day....but......the problem came when others became distracted when he pulled his little thing all the way out of his pants." Totally humilated, this father looked at me and said, "Well, I guess we'll be wearing pants with a belt tomorrow!"

This was a priceless conversation and will always bring a smile to my face. It wasn't easy for me to talk to this father....but the conversation helped me grow professionally. I realized how important it was to enter into difficult conversations gently, to be honest, all the while remaining very sensitive to the parents' feelings. More importantly, I realized how important it was to have the kind of relationship with parents that you could share the good, the bad, and the ugly news. As soon as the year begins....share the good news...because you don't want to have to share something bad...before you've built a relationship around the good stuff.

When it is necessary to approach parents and have difficult conversations, consider these things:

  • The parents love the child with all their heart. He/She is their most prized possession.

  • Begin the conversation with something positive

  • Enter into the difficult part as gently as possible....then, share the information.

  • Share a plan of the things that you will be doing at school

  • Ask the parents how they might be able to help at home

  • Ask the parents if they have other ideas

  • Vow to keep the parents updated....and follow through on a regular basis

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Day in the Life of a New Teacher...Parent/Teacher Conferences

Having worked with new teachers for many years, the issues and concerns really came close to home this year as my daughter began her first year of teaching. As a lens on a camera zooms in for a close-up, I've been able to zoom in on the issues and concerns of a new teacher as I've listened to my daughter's concerns and questions. The first topic I would like to write about is conferences with parents. Parents are a child's first teacher. Cultivating close relationships with parents from the onset is one way to begin the year positively.

When preparing for a parent/teacher conference there are many questions to consider...such as:
  • When should you try to meet with parents?
  • What kind of information should you share?
  • Is it important to meet with all the parents?
  • How do you prepare for a conference?

Here are some suggestions to consider:

When should you try to meet with parents? If you are a regular elementary classroom teacher, it is helpful to meet with all the parents of the students you teach during the first few weeks of school (at least within the first six/nine weeks of school).

What kind of information should you share: If you have assessed the children, share the information you gathered--including their children's strengths and the areas of need. It is helpful if parents know the areas in which their child has needs in order for them to support their child at home. More importantly, it is critical to share their child's strengths and ask the parents to help you get to know their child.

Is it important to meet with all parents? It is important to meet with all parents. However, it is may be more important to begin by meeting with the parents of the students who are exhibiting the most concern. If parents can not come to the school, it is important to make contact either on the phone or through a letter. Set a goal to connect with 100% of the parents.

How do you prepare for conferences? This may be the most important question to consider. There may be school policies in which to follow, such as sending specific notes home in advance or gathering information from parents regarding the time of day that best meets their needs. Find out your school's policy and follow it. Gather information about the children through your school's assessment. Spend time analyzing the assessment, looking for the child's strengths and needs. Create an information sheet to record the conference details and ask parents to sign it at the conclusion. If there are specific promotion guidelines, share it with parents at this first conference. It is very helpful to share the materials the children will be using during the year. Having sample reading, math, science, and social studies materials on display is very helpful. Additionally, share any materials created by the child since the beginning of the school year.

During the conference, ask parents:

  • How do you think your child learns best?
  • If you could design any experience for your child, what would it include?
  • What do you think I need to know about your child that I may not have already asked?
  • Will you be my partner this year? Will you stay in close contact with me and let me know if something happens at home that you think will bother your child, such as a family member's death, an illness, loss of pet, etc.?

I hope this information is helpful in preparing for conferences with parents....always remember, they are the child's first teacher!