Monday, February 2, 2015

#28 Days of Writing 2 - The Magic Triangle

Day2 of my 28 day, 28 minute writing challenge.

Much is made of the importance of the relationship between a teacher and their students. John Hattie rates it right near the top of his 138 factors that influence student improvement. All good teachers understand that knowing your students and having a positive working relationship with them is vital if learning is going to take place.

But the relationship between student and teacher is not a linear one, it's triangular and at the apex is the child's parents. It's very difficult ( although not impossible) to foster a positive relationship with the child unless the parent is part of the team.

As a young teacher I would never have survived without the support of the parents in the small rural schools I taught in. Many times I was saved by mums or dads coming in to fix equipment (sometimes my car), to listen to reading or accompany excursions or share their expertise with the kids. At Woorndoo I even had a couple of mums who made me lunch! They embraced me in their communities and afforded me a respect that their children noticed and emulated. In these tight triangles everyone thrived.

These days we still have great parent support and I really value the great relationships I've built with parents, particularly through the Performing Arts and camps. Generally, parents are extremely supportive of our teachers and grateful for extra effort we put in. When kids see their teachers and parents working together they know that everyone is on the same team.

I feel I have been pretty lucky in having a generally positive relationship with the parents of my students but there have been exceptions. I've been sworn at often and spat upon rarely and twice I've had chairs thrown at me. I've taken abusive phone calls during dinner on Sunday nights and on a couple of occasions angry parents have turned up on my front door. On one occasion I was so terrified by a threat that I wet my pants in fear.

These irrational behaviours are thankfully very rare and as I've grown older I've become better at dealing with them and with recognizing the sort of situations that might escalate them. I understand that many of these reactions are triggered by uncertainty or anger or disappointment or the frustration of listening to a one sided perception from an upset child. I've always felt very sad for the children of these parents. Inevitably the kids are left confused, worried and embarrassed, long after the parents' angst has gone.

Even more insidious though are the 'devaluing' conversations about teachers that sometimes take place at home or in public or on social media, in front of the children. It's pretty hard for kids to respect their teachers if they think that mum and dad do not. If students are going to perform at their peak, they need to believe that their teachers are skilled at what they do. Little ears are quick to pick up on critical comments and disenchantment is contagious. I get that sometimes parents don't agree with our decisions but I wish that they would have those conversations in private, child free zones. Most issues can be clarified through honest discussion and even when they can't, we can agree to disagree.

Take the time to know your child's teachers; they are people, just like you. Attend parent teacher interviews, read the notes that are sent home, communicate often, by whatever medium suits you. If something about school bothers you, ask questions. Don't take everything your child says verbatim ( I promise we don't believe EVERYTHING they say about you). Offer assistance for extra curricula activities or at the very least, show support for the teachers who provide them. Be a presence in your child's education, all the way through school, even when they say they don't want you to. They will reap the benefit later.

The optimal space for learning is where school, student and family are all on the same page. At the end of the day we are all working toward exactly the same goal - happy, healthy, well educated children.

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