Trevor is in trouble at school.
You are Trevor’s teacher. What is going through your mind when you place the call to Trevor’s parent?
You are Trevor’s parent. What is going through your mind when you get the call from Trevor’s teacher?
You are Trevor. What is going through your mind when your teacher tells you she’ll be calling your parents and when you hear the phone ring?
What did the experience look like from the perspective of each participant? How would perspectives impact each person’s choice of behavior as they deal with the problem? One of the common feelings is fear. Maybe the teacher doesn’t like delivering bad news, especially when she doesn’t know the parent and isn’t sure how he will react. Maybe the call upsets the parent who is also having problems with the child at home and he is worried that you think he is a bad parent. Maybe…Trevor is scared about being punished both at school and at home,. He knows the home punishment will be physical.
Fear and insecurity are major impediments to developing a relationship. We do not know what the parent’s earlier experience with school has been and how they view schools as an institution and teachers in general. But we can imagine what it may be like for parents to get dressed for a meeting at school, to go into the building, check in at the office, walk down the hall, wait until it is time to go in, walk into the classroom, sit down across from the teacher, and then listen to what she has to say about their child. Many things could be going through the parent’s mind- and your mind- to make you both distrustful and on edge. This fear and insecurity can manifest in defensiveness with a poor choice of words, harsh language, aggressive body language and facial expressions, raised voices, and, in the extreme, threats of violence, and it interferes with meeting the goal: to help the child take responsibility for his actions and do better in the future.
The Good Before the Bad
Since teachers are responsible for keeping parents informed about their children’s progress, successes, and transgressions, they need excellent communication skills. Trevor’s situation would be more comfortable and productive if the teacher had already experienced a few positive interactions with the parent. Casual and newsy communications help the teacher and the parent become familiar with each other. The interactions reduce those understandable fears and develop a level of trust that lets them work as a team for the child. The trick is to use the positional power that comes with being the teacher through a lens of empathy and compassion.
The goal then is to do things that set up a foundation of trust that creates a working partnership between teacher and parents, which ultimately benefits the child. Here are some ways to do this.
- For younger students, make home visits or send them postcards before school starts.
- Send home a welcome letter that expresses your hopes and expectations for your year together and that invites parents to participate.
- Use a system of student agenda books or folders sent home daily that includes homework assignments, notices, personal notes, and a place for parents and teachers to communicate with each other.
- Write or have the children write a class newsletter or Friday note to take home.
- Design homework assignments that involve parents in a fun, meaningful way.
- Host a mini open house for your classroom or grade level a couple of times during the year.
- Use parents as classroom volunteers to help with projects, read with students, chaperone field trips, share their knowledge, talents, and jobs.
- Invite parents to visit the classroom for small performances such as dramatic presentations of a story or an author’s tea.
- Welcome parents to parent/teacher conferences by putting chairs and a desk outside the classroom where they can wait.
- Include some books and school projects for them to look at while they are waiting, and maybe a bowl of hard candy for a dry, nervous mouth. (This works for you, too!)
- And one of my favorites…the good news contact: make random phone calls and send notes home that celebrate the child’s successes or to just show appreciation for who they are.
Parents are concerned about their children, and so are we; they have a profound responsibility, and so do we; they know a lot about what makes their child tick, and so do we; they want a bright future for their child, and so do we. It is just plain natural that we should work together as a team.
Part Two: Preparing for a successful parent call or meeting.
*Parents is a generic term for those who have custodial responsibility for the child.
The odds are great that you do.
And odds are you have a few students in your classroom who are both highly sensitive and introverted.
We know this because experts who study personality types agree that:
- Around 50% of people are introverted
- 15-20% are highly sensitive. (Checklist: Is your child highly sensitive? Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.)
- And 70% of highly sensitive people are also introverted.
Given these odds, it’s to everyone’s benefit that as we prepare for a new school year, we think how we can meet the needs of our highly sensitive and introverted students, so they can feel safe, secure, and have their gifts appreciated.
Let’s start with some ways to recognize these students. They…
- Deliberate internally (inside their head) before coming to a conclusion.
- Are slower to raise their hand to answer questions and offer ideas.
- Take more time to answer when called on.
- Better show their insight and creativity in solitary activities such as writing, art activities, and individual assignments and projects.
- Enjoy talking to or playing with one or two people at a time and not a large group.
- Thrive with quiet alone time.
- Dislike presenting in front of a group.
- Might look like they aren’t paying attention or are day-dreaming.
- Have a strong sense of fairness, and right and wrong, and a want to help others.
Introverted or Shy?
As you read the list, you may find yourself thinking, this sounds like my shy students. It’s important to understand that introversion and sensitivity are not the same as shyness. Shyness is fear and anxiety in social situations. Introverts might seem or are treated as shy because they are quiet while they listen to others, process internally, and then reflect on ideas and possibilities. It’s not surprising that introversion in a typical noisy, busy classroom, where answering questions quickly and moving on is part of the daily pressure to keep instruction on pace, is often misunderstood as shyness or even slowness. But introverts and extroverts are simply wired differently and therefore react differently to stimuli. The brain of an introvert would feel pleasantly stimulated by solitary activities, while the brain of the extrovert would be pleasantly stimulated by a higher level of sensory input. And both personalities need the chance to merely feel and act like themselves without feeling they are lacking.
Are today’s schools biased in favor of extroverts? Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, believes schools are biased against introverts who are usually more quiet, introspective, and sensitive, and, as a result, overpowered by those more extroverted students who love to talk, work in teams, brainstorm, and to think out loud. She wishes teachers could see inside the mind of the sensitive child, the rich world where the creativity, wisdom, empathy, and compassion lie. There are ways you can do this.
Suggestions to respect and accommodate all students –introverted and extroverted – in the classroom.
- At the beginning of each year, plan activities to get to know your students as unique people, and use this information to develop a feel for where they are on the introvert/extrovert and highly sensitive continuum.
- Teach and model an acceptance of the diverse learning and communication styles in your classroom.
- Create areas and times of the day for students to work quietly and by themselves. (Quiet reading and writing time is a welcome break for those who are easily over stimulated.)
- Cooperative learning isn’t the best approach for every student and for every lesson. Provide a balance of large group, small group, partner, and independent work so both introverted and extroverted students have a learning environment conducive to their thinking and learning style. Build these into your classroom structure so your students come to expect and feel more comfortable in each setting. They can surprise you with their insight if given the right setting to share it with you.
- Allow students to show what they know and can do in a variety of ways, and adopt a broad definition of classroom participation that goes beyond participation in discussions. One-to-one conferences with the teacher are particularly revealing.
- Slow down the instructional pace by giving more wait time for students to think before answering and resist the urge to call on the first child to raise his or her hand. Be patient and wait until more students raise their hands.
- Avoid putting introverted students on the spot to answer questions or read in front of the group. Let the learning setting create the confidence and opportunity they need.
- Use a variety of student response strategies, such as think, pair, share where the first step allows time to reflect quietly on their own to gather their thoughts, where step two allows them to try out their ideas with another person, and step three gives them a chance to share with the larger group the ideas they have thoughtfully considered beforehand.
- Use power writing as a way for students to process before they must answer. (Take three minutes to write all you know about… or, Take five minutes to respond to this quote…)
- Hold regular class meetings where each person is given the opportunity to speak, one child at a time has the floor during discussions, and the emphasis is on thoughtful solutions to problems and respect for the ideas and perspectives of others.
And work to understand yourself better. Figure out where you are on the introvert/extrovert and sensitivity scale. Then consider how this personality style affects your teaching. What adjustments could you make so all children have a chance to thrive and shine in your classroom?
Take a minute to think…
How do you feel when your students walk into your classroom? What do you see when you look at them? What is going through your mind? What do you expect to happen?
The answers reveal your core beliefs and attitudes about children and being a teacher, and you might not even be aware you feel this way.
How we consciously and unconsciously treat our students is not lost on them, and we wind up getting what we expect. The lens we look through determines how they respond to us and how we experience our time with them. Nowhere is an optimistic, generous attitude more important than in what goes on between a parent and a child, and a teacher and a student. And we are responsible for what happens under our watch.
If we approach teaching with the attitude that students are a problem because they:
- don’t listen
- are disrespectful
- refuse to take responsibility
- have no manners
- don’t want to learn
- can’t be trusted
- need to be managed
…we interpret all that happens in this light. We expect them to not listen, to take advantage if given some freedom, to show no interest in what we are teaching, and to need strict discipline. They can tell how we feel, and their attitude toward us and school reflects the messages we send:
We are adversaries struggling for control.
But if we believe students are precious human beings that are:
- inherently good
- sensitive and vulnerable
- interested in learning new things
- responsive to encouragement
- capable of learning better behavior
- at our mercy
…we treat them with compassion and concern. We expect good things from them, believe in our power to influence, see all the positives, the growth, the breakthroughs, and, the sometimes ever so slight, continuous progress. They can tell we like and enjoy them and their attitude reflects this:
We are collaborators sharing power.
These essential understandings are simple but not simplistic. We know that how we treat others and how they treat us determine our relationships with them. We also know that sometimes when we are in the midst of all the demands and stresses of teaching and life, we forget that the basics of a positive working relationship are mutual care and concern, and that we get what we model and expect.
We want good things to happen in our classroom and, if we show and expect, we will get back:
- And teamwork