You can watch the video version of this post on my Facebook page.
Today, I’d like to talk about how to handle a disagreement between yourself and your child’s teacher- be that a daycare provider, preschool teacher, or kindergarten teacher.
In lots of areas, school has already started, we haven’t yet. My oldest son oldest son is starting junior kindergarten- or we call it maternelle because he’s going to French Immersion- and I’m going to have to flex these muscles myself.
And you’re probably thinking “Well if you’ve never done this (because I’m pretty open about the fact that my kids don’t go to daycare or preschool on a consistent basis) how the heck do you have any insight into this?” and while you’d be right- with my own kids I haven’t had to do much of this mediation yet, I have had lots of experience doing it for other people’s kids because when I was an early interventionist I often accompany children to preschool, to community programs, and even to kindergarten. So Mom often wasn’t there, I was her proxy, and I was the one having to negotiate these things on a daily basis. So I’ve got a bit of practice.
The first thing to do when you notice that something is happening that you aren’t okay with: be that a discipline method, homework practices, academic pressure, academic creep, lack of responsibility for your child… whatever it is- define it to yourself. What is it about what is going down that you’re okay with, and what aspects of it are you not okay with. Write it down. Get really clear on that with yourself. Also, acknowledge that you may not have all the information correct. We often get info second hand from our kids so if you aren’t sure about something- note that. Get everything straight in your mind.
Second is to gather your resources. I find when dealing with professionals- doesn’t matter if it’s a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer- I get taken a lot more seriously when I come with concrete examples of why I’m concerned. So that might mean you’ve got to get together some peer-reviewed research. That might mean reading some books. That might mean consulting with OTHER professionals. This is why when parents are concerned about autism red flags in their children I always direct them to the M-Chat questionnaire and tell them to print it off and bring it to their doctor. Because a doctor is going to take you a LOT more seriously if you have something concrete to back up your concern. Doesn’t mean it’s right, I wish doctors would always believe their patients, but they will often write MOTHERS off especially as being overprotective… so having something tangible to back you up is worth its weight in gold. Same when talking to teachers and principals. Having concrete resources- highlighted and flagged- to back you up means you’ll be taken a lot more serious and not just as some overprotective wackadoo.
In my own recent experience- my oldest is a November baby. So he was technically supposed to start school last year, but I chose to red shirt him and start him this year instead. While I was emailing with the principal to make it clear that he was to be enrolled in JUNIOR kindergarten she was insisting that he has to stay with his birth year cohort. But when I went to meet with her I brought a copy of the law that protects the right of children with late birthdays to stay back a year, I brought a study that was done by another school board in our province about the effect of late year babies starting school too early, and I brought another study about the gap between boys and girls when starting school- because I have a boy. So when she started in on “Oh he’ll be fine” I was able to pull out my resources and say “I disagree, and here’s why.” And it went no further than that, once she skimmed my resources the conversation changed dramatically.
Third step is to define what your IDEAL SOLUTION is, and then accept that you will likely not get that 100%. Figure out, again, where you’re willing to compromise and what is REALLY THAT IMPORTANT to you, and why. Because this is going to be a negotiation. People who work with hoards of children have systems and processes to make that task simpler for THEM- which is fair, everybody has systems they use to simplify their lives and HEAVEN KNOWS anyone working with lots of little kids needs to simplify or else it all goes to hell in a handbasket. And you’re asking them to change those to an extent. So you’re likely not going to get it executed exactly how you’d like it. Coming to terms with that NOW will help you focus better during the actual meeting.
Fourth is to make an appointment with the parties concerned to discuss the issue. This is where you’re going to present everything you prepared beforehand: what’s bothering you, why- with your resources, and your ideal solution. And then ACTUALLY LISTEN TO THEIR SIDE. Most teachers REALLY LOVE KIDS, but not all of them have thought critically about why they do what they do. For many teachers, they inherited resources and processes from teachers they took over from and “this is the way it’s always been done” so that’s how they do it. So some may really be open to what you’re talking about. Some may have a really good reason for doing things the way they are and once you hear it you may totally change your perspective. Some may be totally blindsided and need time to read over your resources and meet back with you in a week or two. Try and finish the meeting- no matter whether it’s a pause or a finality- with action steps. Own the meeting. You called it, you have to facilitate it. It’s unfair to call a teacher into a meeting and they expect her to run it- they’re not the one with the issue- you are- so you have to run it. Have your agenda, move through it, and try to leave on a high note.
Now- a few tips:
Express appreciation for your child’s teacher OFTEN- not just when there’s a problem. Being in charge of a group of young children is exceptionally difficult- it’s something I have less than zero desire to do. People often really encourage me to open a preschool, and I ran a day-home in Alberta for exactly 4 months. When I finished my degree in Early Childhood Development and all my friends went off and started working in daycares I HIGHTAILED it into early intervention because I REALLY HATE focusing on more children than I have hands. I like to get to know a kid really well and focus deeply on them. My brain can’t handle 30 kids in a room with me. So I have a DEEP appreciation for those who can. Say thank you, often. Just like kids “Catch them being good.” When they do something you appreciate, TELL THEM.
Give your child’s teacher a heads up before you jump in the whole hog with the big meeting. Send her an email asking for her side first. It may be something that can be resolved that quickly.
ASSUME COMPETENCE. I know this is hard. I found it REALLY hard- because I often “knew what I was talking about” when it came to behaviour management more so than the teachers I was working with- because they’d had one or two courses doing their teaching degree on behaviour management and I’d lived and breathed it for 10 years and counting. But really try and assume your teacher knows what she’s talking about until proven otherwise. You will rarely win friends by going in with the attitude that your child’s teacher is a basic idiot. And remember back in February we talking about the cycle of success? So just a quick recap of it: your beliefs affect your expectations, which are reflected in your actions and colour your results. So if you believe your child’s teacher is competent, you’re going to expect competence, and you’ll get results in line with that. If you believe your child’s teacher is a moron, you’re likely going to expect incompetence and your behaviour in your meeting will reflect that and you’re going to get less than stellar results. Lead with a competence mindset.
PROVIDE RESOURCES- whether they’re physical things, money, or time.
This is another reason having your peer-reviewed resources is so important because going in and saying “I read that…blah blah blah” then forces your teacher- if she has any hope in hell of validating or negating your concern- to go do research, probably on her own time, on the topic. VS. If you show up having DONE THE RESEARCH and she just has to read it… well, that’s a much smaller ask. And again- don’t just do this when you have an issue. Do it year round. If you’re implementing strategies from me, send her the blog post in an email with some excerpts that you feel are particularly important. I’ve had a lot of people be like “Why do you have a blog, a video, and a podcast that all say the exact same thing?” I do that on purpose- because everyone learns differently. If you send someone a blog post from me they can read it, they can listen to it on the podcast in the car, or they can watch it while making dinner. People are busy. If you’re trying to get someone to do something for you- remove the friction as much as possible. Do as much of the prep work as you can for them.
And above all else- KEEP IT RESPECTFUL.
Check your tone of voice and your eyes and your body language. This is also really hard for me because when I get stressed I tend to look up at the ceiling without even noticing it, and it’s often read as rolling my eyes. So I have to be very conscious of keeping my eyes front and centre and if I’m feeling stressed, closing my eyes instead to break eye contact and give myself a rest. I have to consciously open my stance- I’m one of those people that when you piss me off the first thing I do is cross my arms and lean away from you. I’ve taken so many meetings where before we start I’ve put my hands on either side of my papers and I challenge myself to keep them there because it’s INCREDIBLE how much more productive a meeting is when my stance is open vs all closed up and removed.
It is possible to have a respectful, collaborative relationship with your child’s teacher- even if you disagree. And YOU are the expert on your child, so never feel intimidated about bringing whatever is bothering you up. It’s a relationship- just like any other. You need to keep the lines of communication open or it breaks down. Don’t bottle shit up. Talk to them about it, and most of the time you’ll be able to come to a mutually acceptable agreement. And modelling for your child how to do this- that you can not like the way someone is doing something and still be civil and work out something that everyone can live with- is a really valuable lesson. They’re watching us!
About two weeks ago I took my kids to the park and Logan was horsing around and a woman kind of barked at him to watch himself because her daughter was on the same platform and he stopped, looked at her, and said “I see what you’re worried about but please don’t talk to me like that.” He’s 4! Now he’s not always that self-possessed but the fact that it came out of his mouth at all had me floored. They watch us, and they learn. And even if you really hate someone’s guts- there is very little that pisses someone off more than you being UNBELIEVABLY polite to them when they’re being a snot. It generally brings people up short. Channel Michelle Obama-
Alright! I meant for that to be short but apparently, I had a lot to say on the subject. As always, if you enjoyed my perspective on this subject don’t forget to grab my Free script pack. Instead of teachers, it teaches you how to talk to your child during 10 different misbehaviour events. And it’s totally free- so if you’d like that- you can grab it below.
Okay. That’s all I have to say on that subject, at least for now. Solidarity to anyone who has a baby starting school this year… I can’t decide if I’m excited for petrified. We’re so used to doing our own thing over here with me working from home that this amount of structure is a bit terrifying for me. But we’ll get through it. So will you.