Monday, August 7, 2017

Keeping Parents in Mind

It is here!  It is finally here!  My baby will be going into kindergarten this year!
(In case you are not familiar with the Brian Gordon's work, he has chronicled the life of every parent in his comic.  If you are a parent you need his books.)

This year all three of my children will be in elementary school. (The same school with just one drop off point.  No big deal, I have just been waiting 5 years for this.)  As much excitement as I have for this school year, I have the same amount of anxiety.  Let me explain.
My daughter is going into third grade.  She has struggled with anxiety and perfectionism.  Her inability to focus compounds it.
My son is going into first grade and academically he is above grade level in most areas.  It took him all of kindergarten, however, to make one friend who will now be in a different class.
And then there is my baby.  He had an IEP for speech because he was unable to get words from his brain to come out his mouth. He does talk now, but I still see him know something once and never again.  He is impulsive and everything is a game.  He is extremely determined and my husband and I are still waiting to see if he will use his powers for good or evil.

Pernille Ripp, in her keynote at SITA, spoke about her daughter that was born prematurely.  They spent the first few years of her life waiting to see if there were any issues with her brain development.  She spoke about how important it is for us, as parents, to share these stories with the teachers.  How will teachers know if we don't tell them?  I will definitely be following this advice, but with hesitation.  How much do I tell?  When is the appropriate time to share?  How will I come across to the teacher when I share this information? Too involved? Not trusting the teacher's abilities? Caring parent (I hope)?  

This tweet is a good reminder to teachers to keep the parents in mind. As a teacher, I don't want any of my students' parents to hesitate or not reach out to share their thoughts, worries, concerns, etc. Last year I came across this article in Education World.  It is a simple invitation to parents and gives them an opening to share whatever is on their mind with the start of the school year. I decided to try it.  

Here is the email I sent home to parents:

The first few weeks of school are full of activities that allow teachers and students to get to know each other.  As the month goes on I will start to understand your child as a learner, identifying strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, etc.  I would like to tap into the greatest resource available to me, you.  You know your child better than anyone (including them).  So, if it doesn't add too much stress to your life, I would like to give you a bit of a homework assignment.  I would like you to tell me about your child in a million words or less.  You can share anything you want with me.  I will share important information with the other VIP teachers (ELA, science/social studies) unless you specifically ask me not to.  It can be as long or as short as you want. 
  • You can email it to me.  
  • You can write it on paper and send it to school with your child.  
  • There isn't really a due date, but in case you are like me and put things off until the last minute, try to get it to me by Sept. 15.

I want to thank you in advance for your support.  I think this will really help me understand my students, so I can best support them and help them to feel connected at DPMS.

The response I got was amazing.

Many parents wrote back.  Some wrote a few sentences, others a couple pages.  It gave me a much clearer picture of each student.  (FYI: I did have a student who was born prematurely.)  What I loved about the responses was that I was able to see the child through the parents' eyes.  They see the strengths, the flaws, the consistent struggles year after year, the new struggles, and it is all shared with so much love.  I printed the responses and I would read through them again from time to time throughout the school year.  When I was so wrapped up in a student's behavior issues, I could read the note and be reminded of the person that is within.  I had a student share issues she was having with her parents and feeling like they didn't care.  I pulled out the letter her dad wrote at the beginning of the year so she could feel the love that seemed to have gotten lost in day to day living. I will definitely be sending this message again this year.  My goal is to remember to send it when new students come throughout the year.  

Even if they don't respond, sending this invitation to parents accomplishes what John Steven's tweet encourages.  Parents know they are my partners in education and that I care about their children. 

4 comments:

  1. Wow. I must say, I wasn't expecting this, nor was I expecting to get a little emotional over it. Thank you for writing and thank you for sharing, and keep up the great work.

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    1. Thanks. Now that I am a parent I find I get much more emotional when empathizing with parents and students. It all hits closer to home.

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  2. My dad was a teacher. He used to say that when a child was making poor choices and he was at the end of his tether, he would remind himself that there was a parent who loved that child, so he would always seek to find in each child that which was loveable. And if there was no loving parent, it was his duty to try so much harder because they needed love the most. When I started teaching I always loved out school tradition of "meet the teacher" that was really a "meet the parents" night because teachers would spend 10 minutes listening to parents talk about their child. I love your idea of asking parents for a letter and showing that you are entering into a partnership with them. And yes, I got a bit teary too!

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    1. Thank you for your comments. Conferences are another time I look forward to as an opportunity to know the parents better. And your dad is right about needing to know who needs extra love. I don't know if those outside of education realize how much of teaching is not about the content.

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