Parent Teacher Conferences. Mention that in a staff meeting and you’ll get groans, eye rolls and the question “If I schedule all of them in the morning, can I take the afternoon off?”
True, conferences take an inordinate amount of prep time. This is where Know the Child hits the road. Sometimes there is great apprehension – the difficult conversation, the difficult parent, the clueless parent, the parent that might not show up, or if does it will be wrong day, wrong time.
No matter the child. No matter the parent, you start at the same place. Your job is to help guide the parent in the development of the whole child. Yep, the child may have blaring speech problems, an advanced reader, a diva, a sensory seeker, a juggler/mind reader/circus trainer. That does not matter. Each child should be analyzed under the template of child development.
* Observe, Observe, Observe The Whole Child
Why? First, you can make sure, you do, in fact, know the child. As you sit down to do this, you are thinking to yourself, easy. Then after doing 7, you think, can Joe recognize a pattern, how are Liz’s scissor skills, was that a 9 piece puzzle or a 24 piece puzzle Jim did yesterday? At times it is just a matter of reviewing your observation notes. Other times, checking with the other teacher. And still other times, you might need more observations.
* Be Confident - You Are The Educational Professional
You are sitting at that conference table, often in tiny tiny chairs across from 2 parents who have been staring at this child since he was a photo on an ultrasound. Most parents love to talk about their child. It’s their favorite topic. Others might be skeptical. “What does she know I don’t?” You are the educational professional in the room. The parents have trusted you with their child for several hours a day. So knowing the child not only helps you teach the child, it lays the groundwork for trust with the parents. Trust that they will be open to your observations. Trust that they will listen to what you have to say. Trust that they will accept your input as to the issues with their child.
* Know Child Development
Child development is more than the stages set before you on the NAEYC child development chart. We all can read that. When you talk about large motor development, a parent pretty much knows if their 3 year old can run across the playground. But why does it talk about balance? Why is it important that you observed Charlie cling to you in fear when you placed him on top of the monkey bars? Why is it important that little John frequently trips or falls out of his chair at the table? There are neurological, scientific reasons behind why a child develops as she does. These steps of development are important. And they give you goals to discuss with the parent. Yes, we are working on improved balance. He is a fast runner, but have you noticed he trips frequently. Yes, at home he trips over nothing, laughs the mom. This would be a good opportunity to talk about building up core strength and balance. How it helps not only in sports later on to prevent injuries, but how it is essential to sitting at the desk in 3rd grade doing schoolwork. Now you have educated the parent, established trust and respect that you know what you are doing, and set the correct goals for the child. It’s in the details.
* Break Bread With the Parents – The Child Did Not Ride To School in a Vacuum
Relationship with the parents. Often, this is one of the few times you have to speak with the parent without the child present. A breaking of the bread. It opens doors into the family. And, for the families, it gives them a look at how their child is out in the world. Your classroom is one of the first places in the child life that they have relationships without the parent. The child doesn’t come to you from a vacuum. And you don’t return the child home in a vacuum. This is your chance to learn about the parents observations at home and to build a two way street of communication with you.
* The Difficult Conversations
Those difficult conversations. The ones we lose sleep over. The child with obvious issues that you know needs early intervention NOW or the child everyone thinks is perfect, but you notice something (The “Oh she is just so gifted and advanced, that’s why she refuses to play with others.”). These take an extraordinary amount of planning. This is why I know I am blessed not to teach alone. First, I have another educator in the room. One who gathers great observations and has amazing insights. Second, after I gather all my details, I use the experience of the other teachers in the school. No reason to reinvent the wheel. They can help put together the puzzle that is this child. More importantly, they can help you with a strategy of communication with the parent. The goal of these difficult conversations is not just to get through it. “Whew, I said it. Now I can go”. No, the purpose is to communicate with the parent the issue or issues at hand, the goals, the observations, the science, the resources available in a clear method. Use the professionals at your disposal. You don’t teach in a vacuum. (Note: If you do work in an environment, where you are alone professionally (a home preschool for instance), develop some professional relationships with other providers.) Stay out of the vacuum. Whatever you do, DO NOT AVOID THE DIIFFICULT CONVERSATION. That helps no one.
* Share The Wonder That Is This Child
During the difficult conversation, don’t just highlight the issue at hand. Go back to that child development template. Not only is that a guide to gentle work up to the issue, it shows the parent you know the child. It helps the parent see the areas that are age appropriate. The anecdotes that bring a smile to the parent’s face. Every single child has wonderfulness that is smile worthy. Share that. That strength might be part of the answer. If anything, it opens the parents up to the other areas that might need more focus. Until you communicate that you know the whole child, you cannot communicate effectively that you know part of the child.
Now go take off the rest of the day.