Parent-Teacher Interviews are just a few days away – here are some useful strategies based in kindness and compassion to help us have meaningful and productive meetings.
For Teachers & Parents: Perhaps we could all be a little more humble.
International Kindness Week has just passed and parent-teacher interviews are upon us. Is it just a coincidence that they occur around the same time of year? Perhaps whoever picked the date was trying to send a message to the most influential people in our children’s lives…What a perfect opportunity to remind ourselves that we should be kind to our fellow human beings, especially our child’s teacher, or alternatively, or students’ parents.
Why so many conflicts?
There are plenty of reasons why parents and teachers get stressed out during interviews, but I believe we can boil it down to one thing: fear of failure. I truly think it’s that simple. It may be the parents who are worried they aren’t doing a good enough job at home, or the teacher who is worried she isn’t effectively…
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One of my recent posts had to do with questioning the assumptions that give us a dramatic emotional response. So it seems appropriate that we talk about the end of the school year.
It’s a time of year when although we feel like we should get to chill and slow things down, the pace actually picks up as we race against the clock. Simultaneously, challenging behaviors tend to worsen.
A few years ago, in the month of June, a child whispered in my ear, “I’m really sad school is ending…”
I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I was truly caught off guard by this confession. How had it never occurred to me that for some kids, summer is not a time of fun in the sun?
I asked this young girl to tell me why she felt that way. She explained that her parents would be working all summer. They were not able to get any vacation time. Plus, she was not looking forward to going back to the same day camp where she had been the previous summer. Her camp leader had been really strict, border-line mean.
This little girl had been sulky in my class for nearly a week. I had tried to reach out to her, but she would just shrug her shoulders and tell me she was tired.
I wonder now if the reason she had held back from admitting the truth was because I had been trying to set a tone of celebration in the class. She was not able to identify with that and I was therefore inadvertently alienating her. I had assumed that all of the kids were looking forward to the summer. Let’s be clear, I’m pretty sure all kids WANT to look forward to the summer, it’s just that sadly, that’s not the case.
The message I wish to deliver to teachers is this: As unfavorable behaviors escalate in the classroom, question your assumptions about why this is the case. If you have a tendency to sound like you’re looking forward to the end, try to remember that some kids may be hurting. They may need to hear you say how much you are going to miss them, ALL of them. Take the ones who have challenged you the most aside and let them know that you would like nothing more than to create happy memories of these last few weeks of school. Acknowledge that you have had your ups and downs together, but tell them how these challenges have only made you love them more. Let them know that you see their goodness, and that you believe in them. Ironic though it may seem, some of our most challenging students really look forward to school. Many kids will be saying goodbye to their friends for the entire summer. Do not underestimate how attached the children have become to you as their teacher, either.
My message for parents is this: you may not be in a position where vacation is an option, but perhaps a heart-to-heart with your child on why that’s the case could really help them to see how fortunate they are nonetheless. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to those who have it “better” than us, but we neglect to see the billions of people in the world who have it much tougher than us. Teach your child to count her blessings. Then, sit down as a family, pull out the calendar and pencil in things like: go for a walk in the forest, play tennis or basketball at the local courts, go for ice cream, hang out in the backyard or at the park, go for a bike ride through the neighborhood, visit our cousins, have a friend sleep-over… You get the idea. What kids want more than anything is to know that they will have time to kick back with their family and friends.
One more thing: if your child complains that her camp leader is mean, please listen and react. So long as the camp organizers do not get feedback, they have no reason to intervene. Do not be aggressive in your intervention (I have a post on my blog entitled “Kindness is…” that’s worth checking out), but do intervene.
That little girl taught me to ask the kids questions about their summer activities and I was shocked and saddened at how many of them had negative feelings about their camp counsellors. That just seems crazy to me! It does not have to be this way.
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“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” – Isaac Asimov
Since none of us can truthfully claim that we never make assumptions, it’s time to replace this inaccurate ideology with a more appropriate one. I propose the following:
“Always question assumptions that give you a dramatic emotional response.”
It is when our assumptions create noise in our heads that we need to pay attention. When a situation brings about a strong emotion, than empathy and kindness need to be called upon for assistance before we can trust our interpretation. Too often, we can feel so sure of our judgement of a situation and act on our beliefs without fully entertaining other possibilities. We may think that we are helping by coming to someone’s defense, but if we have not properly questioning the other side of the story, we may be doing more than harm than good.
Consider the following common scenario. A child, let’s call him Trenton, comes running up to you. “William said I’m mean!” he cries. He is clearly agitated and hurt by the unkind words spoken about him. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have dealt with this type of accusation. A typical, familiar response might be, “You go tell William he hurt your feelings,” or “William, that’s not nice! You need to apologize.” While these types of responses are well-intentioned, they do very little in terms of helping Trenton to understand what’s actually going on inside of him. To truly help Trenton and to turn this into a learning experience, we need him to question his reaction by speaking to his heart as well as his mind. We must help him to see that he has just made an assumption and that in order for William’s accusation to be so upsetting, a part of Trenton had to actually agree with William.
Let’s back up to when Trenton comes running over upset about William calling him mean. Here is an example of how I might respond.
“Why would William say that about you, Trenton?” I’ll ask him in a neutral voice.
“He says I pushed him to the ground, but I didn’t! I was running and I bumped into him.”
“So William assumed you knocked him over on purpose, but you want him to understand that it was an accident?”
“Ya, but now he thinks I’m mean!”
“Is he right?”
“No. It’s not fair that he said that, it’s not true.”
“How did you react, Trenton? Were you calm and did you kindly apologize right away? Or did you get angry and defensive when he accused you of being mean?”
“…I got angry, but only because it wasn’t true!”
“Do you want me to let you in on a little secret, Trenton? The only person who ever really needs to know the truth, is you. When you know the truth, you do not need to get upset at all. Since you know what really happened, you can stay calm and apologize wholeheartedly. I know it doesn’t feel fair that he accused you, but by you getting angry in return, it makes it seem like you have something to hide and that you aren’t telling the truth. Accidents are going to happen. When people see you staying calm and sincerely apologizing, then it is easier for them to see the truth.”
There is a pause as Trenton digests this information, and then he asks, “But what do I do now? He already thinks I’m mean.”
“Is it true?”
“So prove it. Your actions speak louder than words, Trenton. Say sorry to him like you really mean it. That ought to be enough for him to see that you were not trying to be mean. Haven’t you ever wrongly accused someone before? This is a chance for you to think twice about your own reaction the next time something like this happens to you. It’s also a chance for you to question if what other people say is true, especially when it’s unkind. We can’t control how someone else is going to treat us or react to us. We can only control how we respond to them. You have to admit that it is fair to expect someone could be upset when they suddenly get knocked to the ground.”
“Ya, I guess that’s true.”
“Okay, let’s go see William together to clear this up.”
As we approach William, it is clear he has been expecting us. As I address him, my goal is to disarm him. “Hey, William, are you alright?” I ask in a mildly concerned voice.
At this point, William has had time to realize that he overreacted and that it really was just an accident. Otherwise, Trenton would not have wasted his time going to get a teacher involved. “I’m fine,” William responds.
My next step is to model the generosity of spirit that I wish to inspire in both of them when future misunderstandings occur. “It seems Trenton really surprised you when he accidentally knocked you to the ground. Are you still angry about that or is it okay now?” Phrasing it this way gives William the opportunity to no longer be angry. The power of choice is huge and can be used to resolve countless conflicts. Otherwise, children may not even realize that they have the option to let go.
“It’s okay,” William replies.
“Did you know that Trenton feels really bad over what happened? He wants you to know he really wasn’t trying to be mean. Did he apologize to you?”
“Did you maybe get a little too upset with him?”
“Thank you for your honesty, William. Neither one of you meant for this to happen. You were both surprised and didn’t react in the best way. It happens. How about you both clearly and calmly say sorry to each other and we can put this behind us.”
I love watching the transformation on children’s faces as they realize the truth. The ability to empathize exists in all of us. We need only call attention to it and it will appear to serve us. The more we cultivate it, the more harmonious our daily interactions with others will be. We cannot help the fact that our ego is typically on the front lines, ready to defend us. It is the ego’s job after all to keep us safe. There comes a point however when we can catch our ego before it takes over and learn to be more generous and empathetic in any given situation.
Now, some of you may be thinking that I put an awful lot of thought and effort into something rather trivial. I beg to differ. Neglecting to take the time to give these boys tools to resolve a conflict in an empathetic and peaceful manner would be a missed opportunity. Conflict resolution courses are great, but nothing serves anyone better than real life experiences. It is when we are in the moment that we can bridge the gap between theory and reality.
Accusations are so easy to make and children are often quick to jump to conclusions. Could this be partly because they are mimicking the adults in their environment? If more adults could learn to address these types of situations in this spirit, I sincerely believe we would witness a dramatic decrease in bully type behaviors. We would create a new, healthier version of “normal” for our children.
If you know yourself, then you’ll not be harmed by what is said about you.
– Arabian Proverb
***Featured image of this article generously provided by https://www.flickr.com/photos/nattu/