TL: DR Meetings with parents and guardians can be made simpler and with more care.
I have more to add later: just a placeholder. https://t.co/CLWlXiJsAg— Kelly Love (@mrskellylove) January 19, 2022
A little story:
Many years ago, I saw the need for an alternative to the current ASB (Associated Student Body) group. The ASB at the time was comprised of very highly motivated, engaged, and energetic students who also understood the “rules of school.” Mind you, and I’m saying this clearly so there is no misunderstanding: the ASB leader and students were amazing. And, it was not a club where everyone/anyone could join. It’s based on elections and voting and is often a popularity contest.
So, I asked my students if they were interested in starting their own club. They were mostly Black and multi-racial girls, about six of them, many of whom had negative experiences in school. They decided to go with the club name of Royal Queens because the feeder high school they’d be attending next year are the Royals, and yes, they were Queens. Okay, cool. Got permission from one of the assistant principals, (one of the most amazing women I’ve ever known) and carried on.
The girls did projects like, on Valentine’s for example, put a valentine heart on every single locker (over 600) from them. Some kids said it was the first Valentine they’d ever received. They would get a special pass to go help with projects around the school. And yes, sometimes — they took advantage of this or were a little disruptive for some teachers, and yes, I had at least two other teachers* complain about them. But they had fun, and so many of them grew and matured, and are loving young adults today. Just an amazing bunch of students.
Pausing to a parent meeting with one of the girls, “T.” T was imaginative, intelligent, funny, joyous, and a loyal and fierce friend to her peers. For some reason, she was in trouble, and we were called into a parent meeting. The other teachers* were ready to attack. They said their piece about how awful and disrespectful “T” was. When it was my turn, I told her mom that T was part of this club, worked really hard, and from everything I could tell did an amazing job of advocating for herself, and many other positive things. Her mom just stopped and stared at me for a second and said, “This is the first time a teacher has ever said anything good about my daughter.”
This doesn’t work for every situation, content area, teaching style, or student. I’m trying to coalesce concepts that are not easily filtered.
Parents and guardians want their children to do well. To thrive. Generational trauma, systemic racism, and white supremacy create a toxic mix when parents come into a meeting about their child. Add to that our own experiences we bring to the room, and our beliefs about parenting. The assumptions, stereotypes, and white savior tropes get in the way of many (white) teachers. Clear that away from one moment of clarity and just remember: no matter how good or bad you think the parent/guardian is sitting across from you, there is a blood bond between them and that child in the room, too. Our role is not only to deliver instruction and to ensure their child strives for mastery of that content area but to be and grow to who they are — that’s it. And it’s a collective, nourishing growth. They, students, can show up with love and self-respect. Do not demand respect from students and parents when you have not modeled self-respect.
When it comes to grades, oh boy, nothing upsets many teachers more than when I say don’t markdown for late work. Just don’t. If a student has nothing turned in, build a system in place, especially for older students, where they can call or text their parents to let them know. They always have their parent’s number, even if the grading software isn’t updated. In the age of digital grading systems and alerts, I promise you — speaking from my own experience – all the alerts in the world will not help a parent of a child who has #ADHD or other neurodiversity. And if the parent also has ADHD (ahem) she is most likely doing their best to function in the workplace as well as tend to a child who is struggling to stay organized. And please — throw out this “real world” notion that the real world only functions in a linear, time-demanding way. Notice I didn’t say always — I said only. There are many ways the world functions. People have depression, ADHD, autism, and many other cognitive demands. This does not mean whatever you’re asking them to go can’t be done. It means you’re going to have to work WITH parents/guardians and students to make it work for them. That’s it.
Asset-based mindsets, accurate diagnosis, continuous reflection, and readjustments. And for goodness sakes, just say something good, okay? OH AND FOLLOW THAT IEP/504. This is not a war of attrition against parents where teachers are “winning” something. The cruelty, egos, and overall garbage I’ve witnessed are egregious. But as Mr. Rogers says, I look for the helpers. Who’s in charge of making sure the education law and rules are followed? Who’s in charge of the grading practices and equity? What is my role in the following and adherence to the laws? Quite a large one, actually, as are most teachers.
If there are serious issues, such as gang-related, criminal activity (and no, sorry, crop tops and spaghetti straps don’t count) those are issues that are at the administrative level. At this time in my career, I will do whatever is in my power to disrupt and stop the school-to-prison pipeline. But if it’s reached that point before the student is in front of me, I will still do what I can. This might mean offering an online course for a student, making my time and instructional available in flexible hours, whatever. This does not mean this is a choice other teachers can and should make.
One thing I’m “good” at, which came with a lot of tears and hard learning, is how to interact with parents and guardians in meetings. I’m not naturally good, or…perhaps I am. I took something in my personality and experiences and reflected many times over the years — what would I need and want to hear if I was on the other side of this table? And, with my second son, I was on the other side of the table. I learned so much.
I’m going to offer this to any teacher, veteran, or rookie, this service: I will have a conversation about how to approach grades, discipline, and just an ear to listen — with this caveat — I will give advice and ask questions. You can ask me on Twitter @mrskellylove