Monday, July 31, 2017

An Understanding of the Communication and Collaboration Between Parent and Teacher

There is so much that can be said regarding this relationship. Keeping the idea of the triangle in mind and who or what makes up the sides and angles, it’s an ever evolving and sometimes devolving exchange. However, I like to look at it like a dancing of particles, similar to an explanation given in an elementary lesson called “God Who Has No Hands.” We have to understand the particles involved, and how they interact with each other, knowing their roles and the internal and external influences upon them in order to keep the balance as close to an acute equilateral triangle as possible. To have a simple image and a goal in mind is important when communicating something like this. 

What I am going to touch upon will eventually be so much more comprehensively covered than these blog posts can do justice to what I ultimately want to and will convey. However, please consider this as an introduction to look at what you know, or may not know, in a different way to aide in communication and collaboration with each other. I find that these strategies, attitudes, and perceptions help me be an effective communicator, so I want to share them with you. Based on my successes, failures, and feedback that I have received, I have been working on creating and communicating what I feel will be different, more intuitive, practical, and easier to grasp and follow in areas where we may be lacking and to give us a control of error to fall back on when we may have a blind spot or just may not be sure about something.

Before moving forward, have in mind this image of the triangle, but only the part that relates to the parent/teacher relationship. One vertex of the triangle is the Teacher/Guide and another vertex is the parent(s). We will be aware that “administration” is on the other vertex, “environment” is on the bottom, “assistants” are a side of the triangle, and the other side of the triangle consists of “other adults” who interact with the child. The child is the center of the triangle. Our focus is between Parent, guide/teacher and child.

Now, for a framework. The parent, teacher, and child would not be interacting in each other’s lives if one was missing. They are all connected, which is so important to keep in mind. There is an interdependency; yet, so often, there is an air of entitlement with at least one. Expectations are not even communicated, just expected to be known. All too often, collaboration does not happen. One expects the other to do their job, report back and be done with it. How can this model be successful when there is such an intricate interdependency that is truly and constantly at work? 

Practically speaking, there should be an open forum discussion between each adult. So often, schools ignore or forget the constant notions that have been drilled into parents’ heads about how things should be, and it is usually a very traditional and unfortunately all too common way of thinking. Parents don’t care or do not even realize that, for the most part, teachers are faced with this day in and day out. Teachers are usually in a constant struggle between the dynamics of their student’s home life, parent expectations that don’t match a timeless philosophy, school dynamics, the education from their training, and the experience that they are offering to the students. 

Children are in the middle of everyone’s expectations and eventually, as they get older, a realization of their own expectations becomes convoluted based on the adult’s impression of them and their experiences in different environments. With all of that said, there is one thing that needs to be crystal clear. A Montessori education is for ALL children. Montessori may not be for all parents, generally because they have a different perspective on human development and expectations or understanding of children. Lastly, the piece that I find is too often left out is that a child may not be a good fit for a certain Montessori classroom, but it does not mean no Montessori classroom is a good fit. 

Just like in the classroom with children, we can only meet parents where they are, not where we want them to be. In our communications with them we have to remember not to take anything personally. Which is also good advice in our everyday interactions in life. Have you ever been yelled at by a parent? Maybe you have been told that their child absolutely does not lie. Have you experienced a time when a parent was upset with you because you did not meet their expectations of how you should handle a situation, but you handled it in a way that falls in line with Montessori’s philosophy? I have definitely experienced these situations. You are either going to successfully turn these situations around or you are not. Simple and obvious, right? Well, it is true and we have to accept that. Once we do what we do, the rest is out of our control. We have to find peace in that idea before moving forward. 

Step one in any of these situations is to breathe. People do not need a reaction right away, so don’t give them one. Just breathe, and ask a reflective question or reiterate what you hear them saying. In any one of these situations this works to begin to diffuse the situation either for both parties, or at least yourself. Explain that before you go any further, you would like to agree on what the hope for the outcome is for this situation. When you know what the desired outcome is for both parties, you know there is a place to navigate to, a goal. You may think you know what your desired outcome is and what the parent’s is, but the idea that they are identical is an assumption that is practiced all too often. I have been so successful in diffusing situations and saved time by making this initial clarification my “go to” during a meeting with parents. You might go through a whole rigmarole with parents only to find out they have had every intention of pulling their child out of the school. I am not suggesting to ask if they are planning on pulling their child, although in some cases that may be a good idea. Just make an opportunity to clearly agree on the goal of the meeting. I find that parents are usually surprised by that, and usually end up appreciating it. Once the hopeful outcome is established, it is something you can go back to if the response isn’t, “well, I am pulling my child anyway.” 

So, let's say a parent is yelling at you and/or upset with you for whatever reason. Breathe, reiterate the situation if applicable and say, “So, what is your goal for the end of this meeting?” If it is a reasonable answer I would say something like, “I like to think we are on the same team. We both want what’s best for your child, although that may look a little different for each of us. Since we both want the same thing, I think we can work together to A) handle a situation like this differently and here is my suggestion about how this can look. What is yours? B) I want to support you in what you are trying to accomplish with your child and I would like to feel supported by you in how I am trying to nurture your child’s natural characteristics and tendencies so they can be the best person they can be.” Then a more hostile-free dialogue can stem from there. 

What I want to communicate is that we have decided to take on a career where we have to accept the fact that we must continuously play the role of diffuser and rebuilder. If we do not have this mindset then we are setup to fail. When we accept this role, we get less frustrated and take things less personally. It is silly for a garbageman to get mad at the people who throw away the trash that is set out for pickup in the morning. They chose a role and must accept it. Part of our description as guides, which was never told to us, is to be a diffuser and bridge builder. Parents are people, they are what they are, and we can’t get mad at them if we are meeting them where they are. If we are not coming from an emotional perspective, but a higher, more mental perspective, it is what it is. We have to use our emotions to bridge the gap and our mind to rise above a frustrating emotional perspective where we are “taking it personally.” When we work collaboratively together, interactions are optimized for growth, and both sides are benefiting the child, end of story.


Jenny Wyrick said...

I really like the idea of being sure that you understand the expectations of another person as you begin a conversation with them, especially in what can sometimes be such a tense or emotion filled situation between parents and a teacher. Starting a response by pausing to breathe is so important. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

Meghan Gwin said...

I've never thought of it that way of we've never been told that we were the diffuser and bridge builder. But I can totally see that point of you. I've been in Montessori a long time and I have always from the beginning said that Montessori is for every child but not necessarily for every family. So I'm sure you heard that from me. I also like the idea of having a goal for the meeting set out of the beginning I think I actually will use that tomorrow and I have a meeting with a parent and a teacher who are having conflict. Thank you for sharing.

Iseult Catherine O'Brien said...

Hello Matthew Simberg ~
I enjoyed reading your Posts on the relationship or lack thereof between parents / guardians / carers and the teachers of their children. This is a matter I have considered a good deal. I believe much of the 'aggressive' style of approach from parents, etc, is a cover for a lack of confidence, resulting from their own poor school experiences. These can range from brutal teachers, or just not having done well, possibly with undiagnosed dyslexia, or whatever, and they can come to P/T meetings in a bullish frame of mind, which is hiding the frightened child of decades ago who never left.

I know this is not an answer, but as you have pointed out, a question can be the way to reaching an accord.

I wrote a Post on LinkedIn entitled "Help Parents, Guardians & Carers Become Involved, 01 August 2017 Update". Perhaps you would consider some of the ideas and if any of it is interesting or useful to you, I should be glad for you to use it. I do not work in Montessori because of a constant migraine since 2009, but it is where my heart lies, and the welfare of children is central to my thinking. To help children we have to deal with the significant adults in their lives and, indeed, meeting these adults can explain a great deal about the nature and behaviour of the child in question. I enjoy your writings greatly. Regards, Iseult.