Recently one of our Karate Moms asked me this insightful question. To tell the truth, I just always assumed that of course our students are intelligent and do well in school—that’s what we do. I’d never gave it much more thought than that. Upon further reflection I came up with…
3 Big Reasons Why SMAA is Full of Intelligent Children
#1: High-Achieving Families Realize That We Teach The Very Skills They Need To Excel in Academic School But That They Aren’t Learning Elsewhere
Our families know that IQ is nothing without Focus, Discipline, Perseverance, Resilience and the many other LifeSkills we excel at instilling in our children. Everyone knows these skills are critical success factors but few people really know how to cultivate these abilities like we do. Worse, people tend to teach children the exact opposite lessons, virtually guaranteeing that children do not learn proper LifeSkills.
Our children receive a Systematic Education on how to develop these critical Life Skills. Our staff, and the SMAA parents, all agree that leading by example is the best way to teach our children.
Shared Values and Parenting Philosophy
In addition, our families share common values and Parenting Philosophy. High-Achieving Families know that the Core Martial Arts Values, including Respect, Commitment and Social Intelligence, directly influence how successful their children will be in school and in life.
Our families always act in the best Long-Term Interests of Their Child versus feeling good in the short-term. This philosophy allows them to overcome almost any obstacle in the way of high-achievement and happiness.
#2: High-Achieving Families Tend to Know Each Other
This is the simple answer. Once the first few families with gifted, high-achieving children began their study with us, they naturally spread the word to their friends. Over time we have built a reputation as “THE place to go to for academically-minded families.”
The most intelligent parents realize that the real benefits of a quality martial arts school do not just come from putting a child in a uniform and a belt and then jumping into a huge class of screaming kids.
#3: High-Achieving Families Are Drawn To SMAA Because of
the Unique Knowledge And Experience of Our Heads of School
Of course when new families first meet Master Brad and Dr. Karla Scornavacco they immediately know that SMAA is “far beyond the ordinary martial arts school.” Their educational backgrounds, including Harvard, Northwestern and CU create an environment of higher learning and academic achievement unmatched in Colorado.
Our “Education-Centered” Martial Arts Academy naturally attracts intelligent and well-educated families, both inside and outside academia.
So there you have it. SMAA successfully marries the best Martial Arts Character Development Strategies with a solid background in the Best Educational Practices. Our families take the long-view with their children’s mental and emotional education, sharing the oft-forgotten traditional values that create intelligent citizens with strong character. Finally, these families invite other, like-minded families to join them.
There are many things we take for granted, and many things we just assume. Many people assume, for example, that the best position from which to read a book is sitting. Or that someone studies better at a desk, alone on a chair. Our schools in particular base many of their activities around outdated and silly theories that completely ignore the importance of physical movement in helping to activate neural connections in our brains.
Granted, many talented teachers figure out ways to incorporate movement into every day classroom routines: kids get up to pick up handouts, a student walks up to the board to solve a problem, groups of kids move from table to table after each completed assignment. When I taught high school history, I sometimes had my students get up and turn around 4 times, supposedly a lucky number in Kwaikutl culture. I also just told them to get up and stretch, walk around if they needed to, get a drink, etc.. I didn’t know specifically how much movement was necessary to liven up those teenagers’ brains, or even specifically what type of movement was absolutely necessary – neither do cognitive scientists! Researchers have yet to determine just how much and specifically what type of movement is absolutely required for optimal brain performance. Ratey’s book Spark can fill you in more with the latest peer-reviewed updates in the mind-movement arena.
But No Movement?!? Whoever said we read better when we sit still? Ever tried reading standing up while reading…and continuing to stand up? It can be pretty cool. Too bad we often don’t let our kids do it. Or what about sitting on a ball-chair, the new craze in the ADHD Intervention world? I’m sitting on one right now. Someone somewhere finally said – enough with solid, stiff chairs! Let’s move, or at least subtly work our core muscles while bouncing in the blogosphere.
The Colorado State Senate just did, too.
The least-liked bill of the Spring Session is all about money. More specifically, it’s about cutting the state budget earmarked to education.
The same week I read about Harvard increasing its tuition by 3.8%, I opened up my e-mail to find that Colorado decreased its financial support of education by 6.3%.
And this was not a wheeling and dealing, go-through-the-back-doors-to-get-a-bill passed scenario. The senators voted 8-0 in approval of House Bill 10-1369.
They didn’t want to.
“This is the most horrible aye [vote] I’ve ever cast,” said Senator Evie Hudak of Westminster.
The prime sponsor of the measure, Senator Bob Bacon, added, “I think someone needs to say it’s a sad day when we’re cutting education.”
Sad indeed. Also a wake-up call.
Colorado is already at a dismal 48th place in rankings of state funding for K-12 education.
Granted, this is just state funding, just one of the revenue streams for school districts. All districts, and wealthier ones in particular, get funding from its local property taxes. But still – 48th place, of 50? Yuck.
Sometimes new families coming into our Martial Arts Academy wonder why the tuition is high relative to the place down the street led by a man who’s teaching punching and kicking as a hobby.
Because we refuse to be in 48th place.
In my role of coaching new teachers in the local districts, the number of students in the classes I visit astounds me. Even in a relatively well-off district, Boulder Valley, I walk into high school English classes with 30 students. And this is just one of the teacher’s five classes. Of course, I care how talented of a classroom manager the teacher is – how well he can engage the students during those 50 minutes, keep them from throwing spit balls, prompt them to discuss important matters of living a life of integrity. But I also care about the students’ writing development – how much effective feedback they get from the teacher, how much the teacher “knows” their writing, can fix it, shape it, improve it. Teachers need more than a minute or two with each student’s paper to get to know it, and work with it.
We demand so much from teachers…at the same time that we, for budget reasons, put them in extremely challenging conditions.
Thankfully, we have many parents at SMAA who volunteer at their child’s school. And we have many parents who work, pay their taxes, and nurture their child’s curiosity and self-discipline. We don’t “stand back” and let budget cuts stop us from offering our children a sound education.
Let’s continue moving forward with a list of educational experiences that don’t cost money. But let’s also not ignore the fact that education, as a whole, does require a financial commitment.
A couple months ago I wrote a post about my dad’s glorious sayings…the ones he repeats to himself (self-talk!) as well as to his children, his wife, the secretary at the church, the grocery store clerk, the lady he meets in the parking lot, the Girl Scout who knocks on his door selling cookies, his neighbor, etc. You get the point. He says them all the time – to just about everyone!
“Education is one thing that no one can take away from you,” is one of his mantras, and the one that likely prompted him to take a second mortgage on his home in order to pay for my sister’s Yale education and then four years later for my Northwestern ventures. “Someone can take away your car, your wallet, even your sibling,” he says, “but no one can take away your education.”
But does “education” have to cost so much money?
Below is my preliminary list of educational experiences that do not cost a dime – or at least don’t demand that you to dip into your savings account in order to nurture your child’s curious mind and need for social connection and belonging.
- Talk. Yes, talk is cheap. When a parent converses with a child, he or she is framing the ways for a child to see the world…wonder about it, engage in it, respond to it. We often think that the content of what we talk about with our kids is important (and it is) – but equally as important is how we talk to our kids. We can nurture their curiosity, offer them an identity as “a learner,” provide them with information, etc…through conversation.
- Visit the library….the oft-forgotten resource in just about every town in America. Make friends with the children’s librarian! They’re a wealth of knowledge. I love talking to them about books, and they ask kids great questions about what they like, can do, etc. It’s really fun to watch a good children’s librarian scout out new books with a kid.
- Play in the park. Pretend to be pirates on a ship. Dress up as superheroes on a mission to save the world. You catch my drift – PLAY! Hands down, play helps children (and adults) develop critical cognitive and emotional competences that not only nurture a child’s spirit, but helps them sort through complex data in envisioning new possibilities. Make-believe type play, especially, is an exciting time when kids and teens talk to themselves. Self-talk often knows no boundaries…it can carry over into other aspects of a child’s life. When pretending to make chocolate oatmeal for me in the bathtub two-year old Siena, for example, needs to figure out what she is going to do next, and how she is going to do it – especially if she wants to get my attention and taste her concoction. This is a similar cognitive processing a scientist goes through when planning out a research design, or a CEO goes through when strategizing next steps with his or her Board of Directors. What next, and how to do it….and whether she thinks she is capable of succeeding at it.
- Go for a drive. Okay yes, you have to pay for gas, but you can use that to your child’s educational advantage. She can calculate how much money the family car is getting per mile, how much it will cost to make it to Grandma’s house, etc. One of my favorite stories about an impromptu “educational drive” comes from my college roommate Kelly who grew up in rain-soaked Seattle. She didn’t believe that her home state could actually have a desert in it (the other side of the Cascade mountains). Her dad opened the passenger door, buckled Kelly into the Station Wagon, and started driving.
- Practice. Whatever it is your child is on the way to mastering – a safe roll on the soccer field, a dramatic hit on the hockey rink, a new line in a play, a solo in the school band’s upcoming concert – he or she must practice if she’s going to get any better. No matter how brilliant our children, at some time in their educational journey they are going to run into challenges in school – something that they can’t do or “get” at first exposure to it. If she’s in the habit of practicing to get better at something, then she’s well on her way to a life of educational success.
I’m not sure where my daughters are going to attend college. They’re 2 and four months, for gosh sakes. But I do know that their father and I started saving. It feels good to save. A tiny bit of movement toward a sense of security that is still lacking in other aspects of our lives. We’re fortunate, too. Their uncle Brian gives them stock each year instead of presents – or actually, should I say, in addition to finger puppets, Mardi Gras masks, and books that his wife loved as a child. He says it’s “not much,” but I wish he admitted it, every bit helps. We’re very grateful.
Harvard Magazine announced their recent tuition increase. A 3.8% increase, bringing the total for tuition and fees to a whopping $50,724 per year. Thankfully, financial aid increased 9% to a lovely sum of $158 million. The college takes pride in its need-blind admission process. So, if Siena and Petra were actually college-bound age, they would benefit from an application process that did not even take a peak at our savings accounts, mortgage payments, or investments (or lack thereof!). Princeton offers the same benefit, as does Yale and Brad’s and my undergraduate Alma Mater, Northwestern.
Princeton, though, wins the prize for not only initiating a path toward need blind admissions, but for ensuring that its students who cannot afford to pay the exorbitant price tag of nearly $200,000 for four years at the university (along with a lifetime of the academic skills and social interactions that come with a Princeton education) do not have to go into financial debt. Other schools, like my Alma Mater Northwestern, have a need-blind admission process, but only the students whose families fall in a lower-income bracket (under $40,000, approx) can truly go through college without shouldering student loan debt.
Hats off to Princeton! And three cheers for the schools that are taking the financial risk on its applicant pool. But let’s put this in perspective. Few schools can afford to be need-blind, let alone support a full-need financial aid system. Only six colleges and universities, in fact, are need-blind with a concomitant financial aid system that offers to pay for its students who cannot afford to the fees: Amherst, Dartmouth, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Yale. Six out of over 4,000!
So what are we, as parents, to do? Save, sure. But there’s got to be more. Whether our kids are preschool or college-bound age, we constantly live within a tension of wanting (or needing!) education to “cost less” and wanting (and needing!) to pay teachers and other educators for their time and expertise, let alone paying for the day to day operations of schools, e.g. transportation, lease or mortgage payments, insurance premiums. Even homeschoolers have to shell out a lot of cash to pay for curriculum materials, family trips, testing fees, etc. Let’s think through the multitude of educational experiences that do not cost money, or at least do not cost a lot of extra money. I’m going to start brainstorming. Would love to hear your ideas too. A list in the works!
A mom’s job is to make a child feel loved and joyful. It’s an idea still brewing in my head and heart…and may it continue to do so, as my life as a mom will never end now that I have my own kids. I’ve been a surrogate parent for years in addition to being an active, involved aunt, academic coach, and teacher. At no time do I ever remember a criterion of my performance as a teacher being that my students feel loved and joyful. It may have been an implicit goal – something that I wanted and worked toward – but never was it something explicitly stated in a job description.
I do not intend to transform mothering into a “job,” no matter how much it might feel like it when we are juggling schedules, interviewing babysitters, and darting off to the grocery store to get dinner on the table by six. There are indeed tasks that any mother (and father) must tackle, just like an employee in a business or a teacher in a school. Similarly, many teachers don’t consider teaching “a job” either; to many seasoned and novice teachers alike, teaching is a vocation, a calling of sorts. Most educators want to interact with kids in a loving, supportive way. They want to impart some wisdom. They want to share something they’ve learned in life, whether that is a skill set and/or a new way of looking at the world.
Lisa Belkin wrote a column about a year ago in the New York Times describing a new trend in the world of mothering. It’s now “cool” to be a bad parent. In opposition to the perfect helicopter moms on guard to swoop down and solve any of their kids’ problems, the now “bad mommy” shares her doubts and admits her shortcomings. Belkin lists popular Mommy blogs and memoirs that serve as confessionals, offering a peak into the “real life” of moms who not only admit that parenting is hard, but share details of their transgressions. These bloggers gain notoriety – or at least a following – by celebrating what they are not doing correctly (e.g. using the “right” diapers). Similarly, I notice many friends joking about what they are doing “wrong.” I don’t consider it “cool,” though, that these moms are so stressed out that they are putting holes in the wall from slamming doors (the door knob into the drywall!). It’s just the way it is.
No story is given an honor of “cool” on its own. Readers and listeners participate in the conversations, offering laughter and praise, a neutral space of acceptance, or blatant criticism. In our book, at SMAA, it’s “cool” to accept…and to strive for improvement. It’s also “cool” to be a mom who works toward making her child feel loved and joyful. What that really means and looks like is up to you….and to the listeners of your tales.
The president of the Rocky Mountain Branch’s International Dyslexia Association (IDA) said something at her presentation at the Longmont library on Tuesday that has been percolating in my heart and mind these past few days:
“A mom’s job is to make her child feel loved and joyful.”
The comment was in response to a parent telling a roomful of people what she and her husband were now doing at home to support their child who had recently been diagnosed with dyslexia. The child’s school had given the parents Skill and Drill worksheets for the child to complete with the parents at home. To the school’s credit, they suggested ways for the parents to coach their child on the assignment, including when to set a timer (so the child was aware of her fluency speed) and how many words to practice each night.
“I don’t know about you,” Elenn, the president of the local IDA chapter said, “but isn’t your kid exhausted by the time she gets home?” She talked about her own son (who has dyslexia) coming home at 6 p.m., tired. In a joking manner, she rambled about kids coming home and having to do work that was a struggle for them – work that made them that much more cranky, and likely to blow up at…you guessed it…mom or dad.
That’s when she said it.
A mom’s job.
She mentioned that she “didn’t want to offend anyone.” But that was how she saw it – a mom’s job was to make her kid(s) feel loved and joyful.
She talked about not being an “atta way parent,” which she defined as someone who kept saying “atta way” when a child accomplished something. When a child learned to ride a bike, “atta way Johnny!” When a child spelled a word correctly, “atta way Sally!” Instead, she saw herself as a parent who noticed and praised improvements over time. “Wow. You remembered that difficult vocabulary word,” she said, “last week, you got two of them correct. This week, four!” I appreciated her reminder. It’s something we do at the Martial Arts Academy…a foundation of the program, actually.
But I still kept thinking about her “mom’s job” comment.
When I first heard it, I noticed something in my body shift. It was one of those feelings when you realize something big is happening, When there’s a release of sorts. A put-you-in-the-moment type of feeling.
Interestingly, she made this comment in the context of a presentation about what parents can (and must) do to fight, if they have to, for their child to get appropriate reading instruction in school….what to do, specifically, when a school is not doing what she sees as a school’s job: to teach a child to read.
So, those eager parents who shared their story with the adults in the room about helping their daughter at home through worksheets (word study practice) that the school had given them – what are they to do? Not do the worksheets? Not coach their child in completing and practicing word study drills? What does it mean, really, for a parent of a child with dyslexia to “make a child feel loved and joyful.” To ignore word study practice?
No, not at all.
One thing to ask for, if you are a parent with a child who is struggling with reading, including word study drills, is for EASIER homework for your child. Easier books to read. Magazines, lower-level books, whatever….the point is for the child to practice and feel good about what s/he knows and can do. To build confidence (and reading speed).
What is a “mom’s job?” Would love to hear more insights. Especially when a mom’s child hates to read because he or she hasn’t yet broken the code…when the child has been given a locker, but no key or lock combination with which to open the locker.
I love Elenn’s job description for moms. It’s something that’s easy to remember….or at least easy to repeat to yourself. I also love that it includes the word “joyful.” That’s such a wondrous word – open and light. Loved and joyful.
So, what’s a mom to do to fulfill such a job description?
One thing to do is to feel loved and joyful ourselves…it’s hard to give what we don’t have ourselves. Time to take stock of what we love to do. What makes us feel joyful. And do it!
PART 3: Prepare, Propose & Plan
You’ve prepared your agenda…or at least what you want to bring up in the parent-conference. Now starts the real dance.
Propose: Marriage proposals tug at our heartstrings. By design, they launch us into a wondrous space where the future looks bright thanks to a budding partnership. The same can be said for meaningful parent teacher conferences. When “proposing” in a parent teacher conference it’s best to keep things simple and private. I say “simple” because there is only so much time for a conference. This is just one conference, and while it might be a memorable one, you want to be sure that it is just the start (or continuation!) of an authentic partnership.
You may want to ask your most important question first, in case time runs out.
Parent teacher conferences do indeed run on a tight schedule…unlike marriage proposals! Arrive on time and plan to end on time. It may help to set a silent timer such as the vibration mode on your cell phone to five minutes prior to the scheduled end of the conference. That way, you feel the vibration in your pocket and know that it’s time to start “wrapping it up” and, if need be, requesting more time with the teacher for a later date.
You’ve prepared. Now, dance. And remember, just like a dance partner, teachers don’t have all the answers. At the same time, they do have some of the answers…or at least a lot of data on your child.
Listen actively, and show that you are doing so (e.g. “is what I hear you saying….?” “this sounds like something important”). Use – statements (e.g. “I just wish there was something more we could do;” “I’m convinced there’s another way to go about this;” “I’d like to help”). Lastly, always – always – feel free to ask for clarification.
It’s also a good idea to check-in with yourself (silently!) about your expectations and assumptions. That way, you won’t be thrown off guard when the teacher says or does something that just doesn’t “feel right.” You’d be more likely to figure out where that feeling is “coming from” – what part of it is you, and what part of it is the teacher, and what part might be a complete misunderstanding. You’d be more likely to communicate in a loving, understandable way. And of course, you’re communicating about your child (not you). Your child: s/he’s the focus here….even though, yes, your “ghosts in the classroom” may be speaking to you.
Plan: We all forget things. We all dream of possibilities. At the end of the conference is the time to be sure that you’ve co-created a plan with the teacher about next steps. Write down things that you and the teacher will do to support your child. It’s okay if you write this plan down in the car or when you get home – just be sure to commit it to writing. Helpful points to write down include what you (and the teacher!) will do, when and how often you will do these things, and a date for another check-in. At the end of the meeting would also be a good time to ask your child’s teacher his/her preferred mode of communication. At that time, share your preferences for communication as well. Communication goes two ways!
Most of all, remember to involve your child in next steps. Talk to your child about what you learned from his or her teacher. You may want to show your child what YOU will be doing differently at home to support him or her…while, of course, asking for your child’s suggestions.
Here’s for more details….Prepare, Propose & Plan.
Prepare: This is your time to be with your child’s teacher…to start building a collaborative relationship with him or her, and to find out things about your child that you do not know. Prior to the conference is a great time to articulate your goals and have the “end in mind.” If you haven’t done so already, make sure you review your child’s work, grades, and progress reports. There is little need in wasting time in the conference to go over information to which you already have access. Also, by reviewing your child’s homework, tests, and the ways in which the teacher provides feedback (e.g. notes in the margins, number grades on the top of the sheet) you can help you get a better sense of the teacher’s expectations – both what is stated, and what is actually happening. In addition, continue speaking with your child about what s/he is experiencing in school. It’s worthwhile to get a better sense of your child’s interpretation of how s/he is doing, including what her strengths and needs are. Questions you may want to ask your child prior to the conference include:
- Do you think your grades reflect how much effort you put into your school work?
- Is there anyone in school with whom you feel you can get your best work done? Not necessarily your best friends – but a student you get paired up with, and end up working well with?
- What are some things the teacher (who you will be meeting) does that you wish she did even more often?
- What’s one thing that the teacher doesn’t know about you that you wish that s/he did?
Prepare Your Agenda: Take advantage of this opportunity to serve as a role model for your child about what it looks like to be proactive. Although your child may not explicitly express it, he or she is watching you. The conference is after all about your child! The very nature of the event has piqued his or her interest. At the same time, few children want to feel as if they are being “managed” by their parents or their teachers. The most important thing is to show your child that you have devised a list of questions and topics that you want to discuss with the teacher. Whether to show the actual list of questions and topics is up to you. Possible questions and topics include:
- Progress: What have you noticed my child getting better at? How is he or she doing compared to the rest of the class? Is he or she performing at grade level (and how do you determine what it means to be “at grade level”)?
- Social Learning: Is my child confident and friendly with other children? Since you see him/her in school, could you please share with me examples of his social skills in school? Does my child work best in a large or small group? Is there anyone in the class who you would recommend that we invite to our house for a playdate….who seems to be a positive influence on my child?
- Reading: What reading skills are stressed in your class? At this school? How do you present reading assignments to all the students? What is my child expected to do? My child loves when I read to her at home (not to mention that it helps with vocabulary development and reading fluency….not matter what the age of the child!), do you do that in class? If there was one thing you wanted me to work on with my child at home in regards to reading, what would it be? Do you have any explicit strategies in mind that I could use to help my child with that aspect of reading?
- Writing: What writing skills are stressed in your class? At this school? What is my child expected to do in terms of sharing her ideas, organizing her thoughts, writing clearly for an audience, following the rules of grammar, etc?
- Strengths & Interests: Tell the teacher what you think your child is good at, and back this up with a story or example. Also, mention 1-3 of your child’s core interests. Be brief, as teachers may zone out and even dismiss what you have to say if you come across as someone who just shows off about your child. At the same time, do not dismiss the importance of sharing your child’s strengths and interests with the teacher. You are presented with a wonderful opportunity to strengthen (or if need be alter!) the perception that the teacher has of your child.
- The teacher: Everyone needs a little praise & recognition. Teachers (and moms & dads!) expend time, energy and even their own money thinking through and learning about ways to support your child. Tell the teacher something specific you like about her class…about the ways she and/or the curriculum supports your child in ways that you love (e.g. in becoming more responsible, even more curious, goal-oriented, enthusiastic) – even if your inclined to “not like” this teacher, to resent him or her for something s/he is (or is not doing) for your child. A+ if you share an exact comment from your child. The descriptive praise will nestle itself into the heart and mind of the teacher, prompting her to do it even more often. By you sharing such a positive comment you may also be offering the teacher “just the energy boost” she needs at the time too!
So, there you go. A bunch of ideas for questions and topics to initiate at the conference. You may want to go through the list, circle your favorites – or at least the ones that make the most sense to you and your child’s experiences and needs in school (and at home) right now. Let me know, too, if you have others to share with more parents – ones that have worked for you..in gaining more insights about your child at school, usable tips from the teacher for what you can do at home, and most of all, more fertile ground on which to build an ongoing, collaborative relationship with another key educator in your child’s life: the school teacher.
Next up – Propose & Plan.
Hmmm….Parent Teacher Conferences??
They appear to be straightforward and simple. You show up, ask a few questions, listen to the teacher, ideally review some of your child’s work.
If you’re lucky, you already know your child’s teacher and really like him or her.
If not, you know his her name, and can possibly pronounce it correctly. You may be familiar with his or her visual cues, such as hairstyle, choice of dress, and tortoise rimmed glasses that remind you of Mrs. Pinchbeck, your favorite fourth grade teacher.
She greets you at the door. If in an elementary school, you get stuck sitting on a blue chair no bigger than your six year-old’s bottom. At a middle school, you have the luxury of sitting in a larger seat, but it’s a cold metal chair, prompting you to transform your wool jacket into a makeshift pillow. Within moments, you are sitting face to face with an adult who spends as much, if not more, time with your child than you do each day.
Given the nature of the event, the conference can easily gloss over what you are “really” thinking and feeling. You are not, after all, sitting across from your therapist or best friend. I’ve mentioned one of my favorite books on parent-teacher conferences, Essential Conversation by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. In her seminal study of parent-teacher conferences across the nation, Lawrence-Lightfoot (2003) found that parents come to the table with “ghosts in the classroom” – experiences of their own childhood when they were the student sitting in the chair, beholden to the teacher’s expectations and judgments.
There is an element of power to a parent-teacher relationship. She grades your child’s schoolwork, is the official arbiter of the curriculum, and has the power to discipline your child during the school day, or at least in her class. You, however, know your child in a different way than she ever will – throughout time, from birth to present day – and are the eyes and ears of what your child is experiencing at home. You both want your child to learn and do well. Yet neither of you have the power to live your child’s life.
“I stand here ironing,” writes Tillie Olsen after receiving a phone call from her daughter’s teacher, “and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron.” In this story, Olsen narrates the inner life of a mother who like the teacher wants the best for her daughter. The mother does not assume that she has the magic key for supporting her daughter, and she wants to protect herself from what she sees as the teacher’s judgment of her parenting. The story continues with excerpts of the phone call interspersed with the mother’s self-talk:
“I wish you would manage the time to come in and talk with me about
your daughter. I’m sure you can help me understand her. She’s a
youngster who needs help and whom I’m deeply interested in helping.”
“Who needs help.” . . . Even if I came, what good would it do? You
think because I am her mother I have a key, or that in some way you
could use me as a key? She has lived for nineteen years. There is all that
life that has happened outside of me, beyond me.”
And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total?
I will start and there will be interruption and I will have to gather it all together again.
Or I will be engulfed with all I did or did not do, with what should have been and what
cannot be helped. (Tillie Olsen, 1953 , pp. 9-21)
For over fifteen years, I have been on the side of the “teacher” in parent-teacher conferences, and have benefited from stories such as the one by Olsen above to knock me out of my comfort zone to experience the needs, struggles and dreams of someone other than myself….of someone who also cares deeply about my students’ education and well-being: my students’ parents.
So, what are parents to do? What are the three key things we can do to ensure a productive parent-teacher conference? When meeting with teachers about our child(ren), we are bringing together an array of experiences, values, and voices. It’s essential that we do not discount our own life experiences since we, too, are learning and growing in “this thing called life.” Acknowledge those feelings, those memories, those assumed expectations. Label them. Talk about them with friends and/or write them down in a parent journal.
Next, follow the Three P’s: Prepare, Propose, Plan.
My blogs are getting too long…so let’s save the details for next time. Ahh, what a lovely tendency of mine – always thinking in the big picture, with lots of pondering about what things “really” mean. The details are important, though..I know that, trust me. I learned as a teacher that I couldn’t really “wing it” if I were going to teach a fabulous class. I think through what I want for my students, specifically…what I want them to learn, what I want them to show me, how I want them to ENGAGE in important material. I plan for the details ahead of time before each Tuesday class at CU too. And now – it’s off to those plans. Great class last week, btw!