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February 26, 2007

Lessons in Diplomacy

Last week, I had another round of bilateral talks - a.k.a. parent-teacher conferences - which again revealed the importance for pre-k teachers to possess good “diplomatic skills.”

Going into the conferences, I was enthused about discussing my children’s progress.  Tanasia, who had struggled to come out of her shell, is now participating throughout the day and moving forward in basic math and literacy skills.  A look at David’s writing folder demonstrates clear and constant growth, progressing from self-portraits he labeled with the letter “D” to short sentences written with little guidance using invented spelling.

I grew concerned, though, as I considered a few remaining difficulties with two family members in particular: Kevin’s grandmother, who emphatically disapproves of our literacy program; and Tyrique’s mother, who after more than five attempts to reschedule during the last cycle of conferences still never came.

Despite my efforts to engage her, Kevin’s grandmother had barely spoken to me since our confrontation in January.  She had, however, continued to complain to Ms. Morrison during the after-school program proclaiming, “I can’t wait until this year is over.”  While this round of conferences focused more heavily on social development and an explanation of a new assessment, I decided to start off our conversation with positive comments relating to her primary concern: literacy.  I began by discussing Kevin’s ability to read short sentences with little guidance from me (for example, he can read, “I like to see the fat cat run on the mat.”).  I showed her a short, teacher-made assessment I gave to Kevin the day before and modeled how he used his knowledge of letters, letter sounds, and sight words to read.  She was so overjoyed with this positive communication that I was able to shift gears and discuss Kevin’s need for further development in other skill areas, such as taking on roles in Dramatic Play, taking turns, and using words to solve conflicts.

Given her absence from the previous conference, I did not expect Tyrique’s mother to respond to the school’s formal efforts to set up conferences for this round.  I therefore made plans to reach out to her informally about two weeks before.    In addition to mentioning something positive about Tyrique’s performance each time she came in, I would say that I couldn’t wait to talk more about it and show her his great work at the conferences.  The day of the conferences she said she couldn’t stay, but we rescheduled for the next morning.  I made a comment about celebrating Tyrique over muffins in the morning.  She laughed and at 7:45 the next morning was at my door.  We had a productive conference and even discussed some behavioral issues which she too has noticed at home. 

In both of these cases, I believe it was my ability to talk with parents about their children in a positive light that helped us get past indifference and hostility.  It goes to show that, even when parents and teachers don’t see eye to eye or see each other frequently, communication between a child’s home and school is achievable and beneficial to all.



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