Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Tricks of the Trade

Over the past few days I have had several emails and phone calls from friends who are nervous about attending the dreaded parent/teacher interviews that are coming up. I'm not sure what it is, but nothing makes a grown, confident, professional person feel more like a naughty school kid than meeting with a teacher. Maybe its the tiny, primary coloured chairs you have to squeeze yourself into or the smell of the white board markers mixed with the smell of the glue sticks and erasers that sends you into an elementary school flashback? And then add in the anxiety over discussing the strengths and weaknesses of your kid and it all becomes too much for the average parent.

But I am no average parent ... I am Super Some Random Mother!

No, not really, I've just done this a lot! Since Dude started school six years ago, I have had roughly a thousand meetings with teachers, principals and other school division employees and I have learned a few things along the way. I still get nervous and afraid I am going to forget what I want to say but over the years I have picked up a couple of tricks that help me survive these meetings, and more than survive, have a positive outcome. Here are a couple of things I do for every meeting I attend ...

     *Before the meeting, I take a few minutes and make notes about what I want to say, my impression of the report card, IEP or whatever aspect of my kids' education we are going to be discussing. If I have a specific concern, I try to come up with a few examples to demonstrate my point. If I have had conversations outside of the set meeting time with the staff I try to jot down a few notes after each one so when it comes time for the meeting I have all of the information ready and can easily refer back to my notes during the discussion.

     *Before the meeting, I also spend some time practicing the words I am going to use to discuss more sensitive issues. I know this sounds kind of silly but I want to make sure that my words do not sound like an attack because in my experience teachers who feel as though they are under attack become defensive (just like all of us!) and then its difficult to have a proper dialogue together. I also work at being relaxed and focused, at choosing my battles and reminding myself that the person sitting across from me at this meeting is, in fact, a person with thoughts, feelings and (I believe) good intentions. I prioritize my concerns. I try to take the things that are mere annoyances off the table and only discuss the things that are real issues because if I make a mountain out of every molehill school staff will be less likely to take my big concerns seriously.

     *At the meeting the first thing I do is pull out a notebook and a pen. I make sure to take notes on everything that is discussed for two reasons. I want to make sure that I have all the information on hand in case we need to discuss the issue again or if I need to relay the conversation to a third party (my spouse or the principal). The second reason I take notes is that in my experience if a teacher sees a parent engaged enough in their child's education to take notes during a meeting they will be less likely to be flippant and make empty promises. They will mirror their response to the level of concern and interest you display during the meeting.
   *During the meeting, I STAY CLAM! Seriously, that is the biggest favour you can do for yourself and your child. Wigging out at the teacher helps no one. Be respectful, hear what the teacher is saying and try not to read into their words or put added meaning to them. Engage in the conversation from the perspective that the teacher has good intentions, even if you really don't think they do. Plant your sticks (see earlier post for stick planting theory), see and treat the teacher as if they were already the kind, compassionate and interested teacher you want them to be because if they really are that kind of person they will appreciate the recognition and if they're not then you have just raised the bar and they know it.

     *At the end of the meeting I thank the teacher, thank them for their time and thank them for the good job they are doing.

    *After the meeting, give the teacher a couple of weeks to respond to your concerns. Give some time to see new programs or procedures work. If after three or so weeks you feel that things haven't changed then talk to the teacher again, remind them, gently, of what you discussed at the meeting and give them a chance to respond. If you still feel as though things are not being handled send an email to the principal with your concerns and cc it to the teacher. 99% of all issues can be solved at the school level so give it time but stay involved.

There are two other things I do outside of 'conference time' that  make all the difference. Firstly, I volunteer, get involved and stay informed. I build a relationship with staff before issues arise because once they see my dedication to my kids, know me as a person and understand where I am coming from they respect my concerns much more. The other thing I do is I contact the teacher when concerns arise, when I have a question, before I am upset. Teachers welcome phone calls and emails from parents. They would much rather hear from you when you first have a question rather than after you've waited few months until conference time when you are upset, angry and disappointed.  Teachers care about their students, want them to succeed and want to have a good working relationship with parents.

Those are the basic rules I live by when dealing with the school. I always try to approach my relationship with my children's educators from a place of respect and understanding. We are a team and have to operate as a team to achieve the best success for my kids. There are no sides ... just a group of people working hard to steer a generation of kids in the right direction.

No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it. ~H.E. Luccock

No comments: