So, Trevor is in trouble at school. It’s time to contact his parents.
You want to get the parents to work with you to find a solution, so keep in mind that you are talking about an emotional issue–the welfare of their child. This conversation relies on your communication skills and ability to empathize. Hopefully you have had some of the positive contacts with Trevor’s parents, like those mentioned in Part One, before this problem arose and you have to make the call home. This foundation of positive experiences serves you well when you have to contact parents about unpleasant situations and field their calls and visits when they are unhappy. This helps you go into the situation with the frame of mind and self-confidence that something good will come of your joint efforts.
As the teacher (the professional in the relationship), you can do a lot to make these kinds of phone calls and meetings successful. You have the power to set a positive, respectful climate conducive to problem-solving. Being prepared boosts self-confidence and your chances for success, so take time to prepare for the call or meeting. You are more relaxed and communicate more effectively if you know what you want to say and how to say it in a straightforward, kind way. You are also better situated to actively listen to the parent.
When there is a problem or concern:
- Wait until you calm down before you call.
- Choose your words carefully; use non-labeling words that describe the situation instead of disparage the child, especially if you are sending something to the parents in writing, including email.
- Review what you want to say.
- Keep in mind that if the problem happened at school, the school has the primary responsibility to solve it, not the parent; you are looking for insight and help.
Initiating the Call or Meeting:
- Have a paper and pen ready to take notes.
- Take a minute to put yourself in the parent’s place.
- Be friendly, polite, and professional and begin the call on a congenial note.
- Address parents by their correct name (check the records first).
- Be aware of cultural differences.
- Share your genuine concern for the child and your wish to work toward a solution.
- Convey that you want to help through your choice of words and tone of voice.
- Be honest and tactful. Avoid blaming or making accusations that put the parent on the defensive.
- Establish a calm, professional climate.
Discussing the Issue:
- Calmly explain the situation and/or have the child explain it.
- Let the parent talk and listen carefully to what he or she says in words and between the lines.
- Jot down ideas during the conversation.
- Put a realistic, yet encouraging, spin on being able to solve the problem.
- React calmly to parents if they are upset; keep in control of your own emotions and responses.
- Invite them to come in to talk if they would like.
- In person look at body language, facial expressions, and signs of agitation and relaxation.
- Assure them that you know it is not easy for them to hear their child has a problem.
- Ask them if they have any thoughts about what happened.
- Listen to them and stay understanding of their perspective.
- Confidently share your professional assessment of the issue. Educate the parent to the possibilities, and make suggestions.
- Remain professional and positive.
Finding a Solution:
- Share school expectations, services, and policies.
- Ask about approaches that work at home.
- Discuss the approach you will use.
- In a tactful way, discourage suggestions for punishment and other non-productive ideas.
- Set a time to check back with each other to see how the plan is working.
- Ask them if they have any more questions.
- Thank them for their support of the plan and for working with you.
- Remain professional and positive
Concluding the Contact:
- Have a three-way meeting with the child to explain how you and his parents are working together to help him make better choices.
- Send a letter home that summarizes the problem and the solution, and that thanks them for their help (run it by a colleague or principal first).
- Sign and date it, and keep a copy for yourself.
- Implement the plan and do what you can to help the child be successful.
- Provide progress reports to the child and parents.
- Contact the parents at the agreed upon time to assess how the plan worked, and make changes if needed.
- Stay in touch.
- Remain professional and positive.
You need parents and they need you, and your students need both of you. If you work confidently from a place of professional expertise, openness, and empathy, with the belief that parents love their children and ultimately want to do what is best for them, you will make parents feel welcome and valued and you will discover the power of a strong parent/teacher partnership.
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?
Obedience or Rights and Responsibilities?
As we set up our classrooms and start the new school year, we need rules that motivate students from within. Encouraging high personal standards in our students takes more than positing a chart of the classroom rules. It requires a positive approach to discipline that:
- teaches responsibility (intrinsic motivation) over time
- rather than merely expects obedience (extrinsic motivation).
Children are more likely to follow guidelines for behavior (rules) that they had a role in developing, understand, and view as fair. The school, classroom, and home are the most natural and logical places to give children an active role in defining what it means to be a contributing member of a well-functioning community. This includes defining and living according to the rights and responsibilities shared by all members of the group. They learn rules are not arbitrary and mean, but helpful guidelines for getting along with each other.
Classroom management based on personal responsibility is more effective than traditional authoritarian control. The obedience model sends the message that students must follow the rules that adults impose without question regardless of the students’ ideas of right and wrong, special needs or circumstances, instincts and experiences. The message from adults is, You must behave in a certain way because I have the power and I tell you to do it. The obedience model says, Here is the list of what you can and cannot do. The responsibility model tells children, I believe you know what is right and wrong and can do better. I will help you respect others and take responsibility for your choices.
The Obedience Model
Obedience develops behavior motivated by an external locus of control instead of an internal conscience. If a student’s primary goal is to avoid being caught and getting in trouble, this can motivate him to hide or lie about his behavior. If caught, he may blame it on someone else or try to get even with the enforcer. This creates an adversarial and disrespectful environment that damages the single most important factor for a safe and effective school climate: positive relationships among members.
Obedience may tempt teachers and parents with:
- The power of an absolute authority.
- A sense that they have the power and control over their children.
- A predetermined comprehensive list of rules and matching punishments.
- Some hope of keeping children “in line.”
- And the most alluring of all–compliance.
But a focus on obedience also leads to children who:
- Lack emotional maturity and self-discipline.
- Cannot own up to their choices and fix the messes they make.
- Are not able to think critically or problem solve and make decisions.
- Feel powerless and frustrated.
- Withdraw or “act out.”
- Blame others for their behavior.
- Engage in power struggles.
- And the last thing we want to promote: act in aggressive ways – covertly and overtly.
The Rights and Responsibility Model
Compare this to another message that is communicated to students: We respect you as an individual with basic needs and hopes, and we believe you have or can develop the skills to make constructive choices. We understand the context of your life and will hold you to a high standard while we guide you to being successful.
Such a climate, based on rights and responsibilities, offers teachers:
- Healthy relationships with students.
- Satisfying interactions and more time to teach.
- Less frustration and more success with handling misbehavior.
- A redefinition of their role from warden to mentor.
- A sharing of power.
- Steady progress toward accomplishing meaningful goals.
- The chance to take discipline off the top of their list of concerns.
And it leads to students and eventually to citizens who:
- Are motivated from within.
- Have a sense of right and wrong.
- Are critical and creative problem-solvers who make healthy choices.
- Work toward the good of the community.
- Are not afraid to take the emotional and intellectual risks needed to learn.
- Recognize and respect the rights of others.
- Act ethically.
- Stand up for what they believe is right.
- Take responsibility and fix any messes they make.
The rights and responsibilities approach asks students to develop the rules together. They discuss how they should behave in the classroom and school in order for everyone to get along, feel safe, and have an opportunity to learn. They can describe what the perfect classroom would be like and use that as the basis of a code of conduct. Students then come together to see the rationale behind behavior guidelines and understand the cause and effect of their actions.
When a child breaks a rule or code of conduct, we keep the focus on building the child’s self-control and remember that we are there to teach. We want them to develop an internal guidance system, and not to behave well just because we are watching. We can ask them to apply the New Golden Rule of Empathy – Do unto others as they would like you to do unto them – when they find themselves in a challenging situation. And rather than imposing punishment, we use a verbal or written behavior plan that teaches problem solving and builds character by asking these questions:
- What behavior got you here?
- Why was that behavior a problem?
- What could you choose to do instead next time?
- How will you make amends for your behavior now?
With this type of positive discipline, children learn that:
- Adults do care about them and want them to do well.
- Everyone shares the same basic human rights.
- Rules define how they should behave in a learning community.
- What they say and do is who they are.
- They have the personal power and responsibility to make good choices.
- If they cause of problem, they have to fix it.