While my oldest daughter is only in second grade, I have a lot of experience with parent-teacher conferences. Before becoming an instructor on the college level, I taught in public schools for ten years.
My most memorable parent-teacher conference was an example of how not to establish a working relationship with your child’s teacher. It was proof that transitioning to middle school is just as difficult on parents as it is on the students. My student, who had received straight A’s all through elementary school, was struggling with the increased expectations of sixth grade. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to develop her child’s strengths, the mother panicked at the end of the first marking period, lashing out at me during the conference and demanding something be done to fix the problem. Truth be told, this wasn’t the memorable part. Parents on the brink were quite common in the competitive district where I taught. It was the bouquet of flowers and the apology the next day that I’ll never forget.
Raising Resilient Children argues the ability to foster the kind of “collaborative atmosphere in which the parties involved demonstrate genuine respect for each other” is crucial to your child’s success at school. Think about how hard it can be to juggle your own kids’ personalities and interests when you’re home for a couple of days on the weekends – or worse yet, snowed in for a week. Now imagine the teacher’s challenge of educating students, on all different levels and from a variety of backgrounds, confined to a crowded classroom for 180 days.
So take the authors’ principle of practicing empathy to heart and don’t attack your kid’s teacher. That’s not to say you shouldn’t confront them. Just try to keep Brooks and Goldstein’s guiding questions in mind.
- What do we hope to accomplish with the teacher?
- How can we say things so that our child’s teacher will be most responsive to listening to our message and working closely with us?
Then, consider making your child an active participant in her education. Instead of whispering behind closed doors, try inviting your child in. Given the fact that during my last conference my daughter kept finding reasons to enter the room so she could eavesdrop, I know she’ll love this suggestion. Besides, if I’m focusing on the positive, brainstorming ways to utilize her strengths in a school setting, then why not to allow her to participate in the conversation? Raising Resilient Children provides examples of some ingenious ways to promote what the authors call your child’s “island of competence”, whether it’s putting a green thumb to work in the school garden or a nurturing personality to use in a kindergarten room. So long as we’re not letting “our own anxieties and anger to become roadblocks to empathy and the successful resolution of problems” the goal of developing a resilient mindset in your child can be reached.
Finally, never turn down an opportunity to meet with your child’s teacher. The elementary teacher, in particular, spends more waking hours each day with your child then you do so go hear what she has to say. If there’s not a problem, spend ten minutes sharing anecdotes that make your child feel special or let your child talk about what they enjoy about school. (A little flattery for the teacher never hurts.) Everyone will benefit.
According to Brooks and Goldstein, “The energy, productivity, and excitement of this partnership will yield lifelong benefits”. Are you really going to pass up a chance like that?