Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences are an important piece in the communication between teachers and parents. Meeting face to face is an excellent way to connect and continue to foster a positive relationship. Conferences are intended to give space for teachers to discuss goals and growths that they have seen in the student that year AND it is a way for parents to tell about what they have seen in their child’s growth as well. Over the years we have had many different experiences with parent-teacher conferences. We have had wonderful ones that left both parents and teachers validated and valued. We have also had some on the other end that didn’t go quite as planned. We came up with some great things to consider for a productive parent-teacher conference.

Teachers are on Your Side

Teachers genuinely care about the children they teach. Especially the ones that are struggling. It is never easy to point out challenges, weaknesses, or concerns that we have. Just know that we aren’t judging you or your child in a negative way. We are on your side, we want what is best for your child. A big part of our job is to set each and every child up for success. We don’t expect every child to be perfect and we understand that everyone is working on something. If your child is having difficulty with reading, that is not your fault. Nor is it your fault if they need extra support in math. It simply means that your child might need a different learning plan. If a teacher takes the time to do this, it means they see your child and understand what they need to be successful.

Arrive on Time and Respect the Time Limit

Most parent-teacher conferences have an allotted time. They can be anywhere from 10-30 minutes. When you have a scheduled conference it is important to be on time. If you are running late, be sure to stick to the allotted time schedule. If you need more time, it is perfectly okay to reschedule another meeting. Typically teachers are meeting with over 20 sets of parents and often conferences are scheduled back to back, so it is important to not run into the next meeting. When conferences go over, it puts the teacher in an awkward position with the following conference. No one wants to start off a meeting with bad juju!

Ask About Social Questions

Often times, the bulk of a conference is related directly to academics. Of course it is important to know reading level, math assessments, writing goals and if your child knows how to spell challenging words. Academics is what is associated with school, but school is also the place where children are learning how to socialize with others. It is where they test things out and explore different friendship dynamics. Children might need support socially, and knowing the answers to these questions could help you support your children and help them grow. Here are some great questions to ask your child’s teachers:

  • How does my child work in groups?
  • Are they collaborative?
  • Do they share with others?
  • Are they respectful towards adults?
  • Do they have friends?

Ask if Your Child is Happy

Elementary school should be a fun and engaging place. If your child is not happy, then you need to figure out why. There will come a point in your child’s life where school will become difficult and challenging (in a good way). In order to help them develop the skills to persevere and overcome these challenges, they need to have a foundation where they believe that education is important and fun. They need to understand the value of school. Having this foundation will help them when the going gets tough.

Communicate any Struggles you See at Home

If your child is struggling with something at home, it is important to communicate that to your child’s teacher. It is likely that these struggles are also showing up in the classroom. If you work together to tackle the challenge, it will make a huge difference. Understanding your child’s struggles will give you the knowledge and power to support them where they need it. Sharing that responsibility will create a village of people to support your child.

Disagree Respectfully

If for some reason you are not on the same page as your child’s teacher and the meeting is no longer productive, take a break and reschedule at a later time. It can be hard to get your point across when you are angry or upset. Gather your thoughts, make a list, try to get to the bottom of why you are upset. If you feel that your child is not being seen or understood, it is okay to express that in a respectful way.

Even if you don’t always agree with your child’s teacher, always be kind to them. They show up everyday to teach other people’s children. Regardless of differing views, you should never talk poorly about a teacher to a child. It is equally important to respect them in front of your children. If a child is hearing and seeing negative behavior toward a teacher, they will sure enough model that behavior at school. At the end of the day, you aren’t going to be in love with every single one of your child’s teachers. Being able to get along with a teacher that you don’t always agree with is going to teach your child a greater lesson about life. It will teach them to be respectful to all people. And you never know, maybe a teacher that seemed to be hard on your child at first, could turn out to be just what they needed to help them grow.

What are some things that you have found helpful during Parent-Teacher Conferences?

Teaching Children Self Care

A few weeks ago, we posted a blog on Balanced Children. We want to revisit this idea with a specific focus on how to teach self care to children. Just as parents and teachers need to practice self care for their own benefit, we also need to teach kids how to CONSISTENTLY and INTENTIONALLY engage in self care activities. Teaching kids how to take care of themselves now, will equip them with the tools they need later. Kids need to learn how to manage stress in healthy ways.

Exercising

Encourage movement any chance you get! You don’t need to put your child in every after school sport for them to get exercise. You can encourage and model exercise in ways that don’t cost anything. Take walks, ride bikes, go on a hike. Encourage kids to dance, jump rope, roller skate, and hula-hoop. They also have free websites that encourage movement like GoNoodle and plenty of free kids movement videos on YouTube. Modeling the fun in exercise and movement for children will set them up to continue the practice as they grow up.

Laughter

Find every opportunity to laugh with your children. Laugh when things are great, but also try to find laughter when things go wrong. Children are going to make mistakes and if you laugh with them when they make simple mistakes like accidently spilling their milk, they will be less stressed about always having to get everything right and will be more open to taking different risks.

Encourage them to play fun games that make them laugh. Here is a great list of games that encourage laughter from Deep Fun. We also found a great list of board game that the entire family can enjoy from Toy Notes.

Reading

Help your children find books that they enjoy. Of course we want our kids to read “educational” books too. However, finding a book, an author, or series that your child enjoys to read for pleasure is wonderful for children.  If your child is reading something that they are interested in, then it is making them feel good. Reading for fun is a great way to help kids manage stress. It is pretty easy to setup a little cozy reading space with pillows, blankets and some of their favorite stuffed animals. There is nothing like forgetting the stressors of the day by getting lost in a good book.

Teach Mindfulness

There has been a big buzz around this word “mindfulness” in education and business recently. Mindfulness helps teach kids how to regulate their emotions. It can improve their ability to pay attention, can help them calm down when they are upset, and can help them make better choices. There are apps and websites that lead you through short mindful moments. Head Space is one of those options. They even have a series for kids. We have used these in the classroom, and students and teachers alike enjoy the mindful moments.

Mindfulness isn’t something you should force and definitely shouldn’t be used to punish kids when they have done something negative. Our advice is to keep it simple and help your children develop an awareness of thoughts, how their body is feeling, and what is happening around them at different moments. Often times, it seems like we (not just kids) are always wanting to focus on what is coming next. It is important to teach kids an awareness of what is happening right now.

Another component of mindfulness that is really wonderful in teaching self care to kids, is to focus on gratitude. This is really easy because you can do this anytime. It could be part of your bedtime ritual, dinner time talk, or you can encourage a gratitude journal. They have some excellent gratitude journals for kids on Amazon!

Outdoor Time

Get your kids outdoors! Spending time outdoors helps with the obvious, like getting sun exposure which gives us essential vitamins, and it encourages exercise, which we discussed earlier. But these aren’t the only benefits. According to the Harvard Health Blog, spending time outdoors also helps kids develop executive functioning skills, encourages risk taking, promotes socialization, and gives children an appreciation for nature. There is space for kids in nature to get in touch with their creativity. They build forts with sticks, play hide and seek, climb trees and rocks, or if the weather allows it, have snowball fights. This generation of children are over scheduled and plugged in since infancy. Spending free time outdoors is essential for development and will fuel adventure and creativity in kids.

Foster Friendships

Last week we wrote about our Teacher Tribe, and how cultivating a group of people who understand and support you can enhance your life. Friendships are important for children too, feeling a part of a community or group gives children self esteem and people to talk about their feelings to, other than their parents and teachers. This is especially important as they reach the upper elementary grades, where adolescence is on the precipes. You can ask your child’s teacher about who your child is playing with, or any recommendations about children with whom they might have a connection with. Setting up play dates and times outside of school where your child can make connections with other children is important to foster these friendships.

Manage Screen Time

This is probably one of the most difficult self care tools for parents to manage and model. We live in a world, where devices are in our hands and surrounding us all day. Everywhere your child goes, they see people staring into their devices, and this has been their world since birth.  By around 1 year old a baby knows to slide to unlock a phone, by 2 or 3 they know apps and can get onto Youtube to find the videos they like. Devices are fun, they are a distraction from the real world, however, as teachers, we cannot stress enough, how important it is to manage screen time for your child.

“Kids and teens age 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours a day looking at screens. The new warning from the AHA recommends parents limit screen time for kids to a maximum of just two hours per day. For younger children, age 2 to 5, the recommended limit is one hour per day.” (CBC News) The best way you can do this is by modeling for your child. Put your own devices down and talk, read, play, or exercise together. Engage them in other activities that do not involve devices.

Sleep

Sleep and mental health have a close connection. We are all guilty of scrolling instagram at bedtime, but more and more studies are showing that to improve sleep you should stop using a device up to two hours before bed. If you can’t swing that, even 30 minutes to 1 hour will help improve sleep. Having a device box or a location where kids put their devices at a certain time, will help set an expectation for the family that can help improve sleep for everyone.

For more information visit The National Sleep Foundation website

All of these things that we are talking about seem very basic and obvious. And most of these things naturally took place when we were kids. We didn’t have devices and we were always outside playing. We didn’t call it self care for kids, we just called it being kids. As our world continues to evolve and advance, we need to take steps to ensure that we are aware of the effects that these changes have on our kids. Many studies are showing kids and teens are depressed and stressed and unable to handle normal things that life throws at them. We need to take a step back and make sure we are giving our 21st century kids the basic skills they need to manage stress and practice self care in this ever changing world.

Self Care for Parents & Teachers

Many times when you are taking care of children, your own needs might get pushed aside. Whether you are a parent and have kids of your own, or you are a teacher and spend your days taking care of other people’s children, it is essential to carve out time for yourself. If you are both a TEACHER and a PARENT it is even more important to prioritize some time for self care. Sometimes it may feel impossible, so we wanted to share some helpful tips when creating space to take care of you!

Spending Time Away From the Kids

If you are a teacher and don’t have kids, your time out of the classroom is your time to take care of you. Don’t feel bad taking those personal days, or calling in sick once in a while. Your class will be okay. As we mentioned in our post about balance, you will always have work to do, so try to limit your school work at home. A teacher’s to do list is never ending, you don’t have to work every single weekend and evening. Take your home time to rejuvenate. Your students will benefit from you taking care of yourself.

If you are a parent of school age children, your time is when your kids are at school. It is really important that you know that it is okay to plan adult only activities on nights and weekends sometimes too. You might miss your children, but they will be okay without you for a weekend or evening.

If you are both a teacher and a parent, you need to get really creative to find some time for yourself. Guilt can be a persistent unwanted visitor. Unfortunately in this case, it surfaces in both arenas: at home and in school. There could be guilt for leaving your sick child with a caretaker while you are at work, or guilt for leaving your students with a sub. Think of it this way: you’re watching the Superbowl. You need to use the restroom. Should you miss the game play or the commercials? IT DOESN’T MATTER, BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO GO! You need to be confident that whatever decision you choose to make is the best decision FOR ALL. Teaching and parenting both call for selfless thinking, but you have to remember that making yourself feel rested, relaxed and rejuvenated is a necessity. If that means finally using that floating holiday while your child is in daycare to walk the tempting aisles of Target for hours on end, do it.

Asking for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your family and friends. Many parents feel guilty about asking or taking help from family and friends. They feel that they must do it all and do it alone. Until very recently child rearing was a communal affair. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other extended family members helped parents raise their children. The next time a friend, grandparent, or uncle asks you if you need help or if they could babysit, say yes! Take the time to do something for yourself. We promise they are not judging you, they just genuinely want to spend time with your children and help you in anyway that they can.

Much like parents, teachers should also not feel guilty about asking or accepting help from others. As veteran teachers we love helping newer teachers. Not in a condescending “I know better than you,” sort of way, but rather in a “What can I do to help you?” way. However, all teachers should ask for help. Teaching is an all encompassing and overwhelming profession, if you do not advocate for yourself and your needs in the classroom, then no one else will. It is important to remember that your needs are your students’ needs.

Saying No

Part of self care is maintaining balance as we wrote about in our previous posts. Taking care of you might mean saying no to the endless events that come up on the weekends. People might get offended, feelings might get hurt, but it is okay to say no. You don’t need to have plans to say no to something. And you shouldn’t feel the need to come up with an excuse. People who know and love you won’t make you feel guilty about not attending every little thing.

For teachers this includes school functions. Teachers often feel the pressure to attend all the plays, festivals, dinners, picnics, and fundraisers for their schools. However, after a long day of teaching, sometimes a teacher just needs to go home and rest. There are a plethora of ways teachers are able to show their support for the school. The number one support we give as educators is the amount of time and energy we spend to make sure each student’s academic and social needs are addressed under our care. Your administrators, coworkers, students, and parents will understand.

Exercising

Exercising is a great form of self care. It helps improve physical and mental health. When you choose to exercise all the stressors of the day go away, and afterward they do not seem to be as bad as they were. “Exercise may actually help ward off depression and anxiety by enhancing the body’s ability to respond to stressors.” [Why Endorphins (and Exercise) Make You Happy, by Kristen Domonell.] If you can’t get away to do it on your own, it can be done as a family. Take a hike, a walk, or put on a fun exercise video. The kids can be included and then you are modeling self care and healthy habits.  

Time with Friends

Whether you are a teacher, parent, or both, it is extremely important to connect to other adults. It is a great way to model friendship to your children and students in your class. You can spend time with other adults with or without your children. If your friends have kids, great! Make it a party. If they don’t that’s okay too. These friends are happy to take you away from your responsibilities and give you a break. MANY people without kids WANT to spend time with their friends kids, mini versions of the people they love!

Connecting with a Partner

If you have a partner, self care could be done together with a night out, spa day, or a weekend away. Even if you plan a night to stay in and cook together without the kids, it is important to connect and check in with each other. Especially if you are parents, it is important that you take the time to figure out how you can support each other in self care. Allowing each other time away and sharing in the responsibilities will help maintain a balance.

It is so important to not lose ourselves in the busyness of caring for others. When you take the time for yourself you will be able to better show up and be present for others. When you regularly practice self care, you will be less stressed, happier, and won’t be harboring feelings of resentment.


Balanced Children Have Balanced Parents

Bringing balance to our lives and to our children isn’t always easy. We have to be mindful, make choices to let go of certain expectations, possibly change routines, and most importantly be aware that we can’t and shouldn’t do it all.

Children Mimic Us
As educators, we spend most of our days getting to know our students at school. We become familiar with their personalities. By the end of September each year, we can confidently identify if a child is going to have a fantastic day, or if one might need extra high fives and check-ins. As educators and curious observers of the world around us, it has always been so interesting to meet parents after becoming so familiar with our students. We recognize where a student might get their long eyelashes from, their cleft chin, or that one curl that has a mind of its own. We hear familiar giggles, expressions and sense of humor. It is so exciting to recognize ourselves in our children. What an astounding feat it is, to leave an imprint of ourselves for generations to come!

Apart from the genetic and biological aspect of human development, children learn by observing their parents. Parents are their first exposure to human behavior, relationships and language. There is no one so perfect and so right in our children’s eyes than their caretakers. Think of the times when children are learning to speak or walk. Before they even begin the actual act of making sounds, they hear it; before they try to figure out how to use their legs, they have been observing their parents amble around all day. This observe and do pattern does not stop! It continues long after they have moved out of the nest.

Now, you may not want to, but imagine one of those extra busy mornings. One where you feel rushed and anxious. You have to get yourself ready for work, get the children ready for school or daycare. Not to mention make and eat breakfast, make sure that everyone has a lunch, and make it to school on time for drop off. If you have ever experienced this stress and anxiety, then there is a possibility that your child was experiencing this with you. Children are very good at identifying and taking in the energy of grownups. When you are unbalanced, anxious, stressed, overworked, and have nothing left to give, they feel and exhibit that too.

When life is catching up with you and you are starting to feel this way, it is time to slow down. If there is too much on your plate, you need to prioritize the most important things and let go of other things. On those mornings, hours, or days when you are feeling overly stressed and frustrated, stop, take a breath and know that everything and everyone will be fine. If you have a partner, it will help to share your stressors with them and come up with a game plan together. It also helps to talk to other parents that are also feeling these same stressors. Find your community of like minded parents and don’t let go.  Remember raising kids is a series of stages, however overwhelmed you are feeling at that moment, know that it will pass.

Focusing on Flexibility
The most important life lesson that should be visited and revisited in the classroom and at home is flexibility. Assemblies do not always follow the schedule. Dad can’t always do preschool drop off. Things do not go the way they are planned. This is an illusion that we tell ourselves when things are going well. In fact, plans work because of the wiggle room that accompanied it. In the classroom when the technology does not work, we copied the wrong papers, or the glue bottles dried up, we often say “C’est la vie.” Such is life. There are things that are out of our control in our classrooms and in our homes. Feeling frustration and anger is normal, but understanding that that frustration and anger will not fix the problem is incredibly important for our children to learn. Being flexible, regrouping, and figuring out how to move on is a skill that parents and teachers need to model for children.

Benefits of Balance
Parents that are balanced have balanced children. If you and your household are unbalanced, then your child will be too. We have had students that continuously forget their homework, misplace their workbooks or folders, have 7 water bottles in their cubbies, come to school without any of their supplies, or have big emotional reactions when things do not go the way they wanted or thought they would go. There are times when learning differences and special needs are the reason for such emotions. However, being around parents that are over worked, spread out too thin, and stressed out plays a big factor into any child’s daily performance. These emotions and behaviors manifest themselves in children too.

On the other hand, students who have parents that have a work-life balance, take on challenges with a positive attitude, and are present in the moment, often thrive in our classrooms. They tackle challenges calmly and cooly, they have better resilience, and a stronger sense of self. These students do well in our classrooms, the school yard, and with friends.

There is no way that stresses can be eliminated in our lives. We deal with different kinds of stressors all day long. However you deal with these pressures in your life, always take the time to talk to your children about it.  This, after all, is talking about balance. It is OK for your child to see you frustrated or irritated. These are all very real emotions that they will encounter and feel in their lifetime. What is important is that you address it with them before they take these observations elsewhere. Just as you would walk through each step of what your doing with an infant to expose them to language, walk your child through your thought process when you reacted so emotionally to an unsavory event. Get them involved by asking them how they thought the reaction helped or hurt the situation. It shows them that it is OK to react to frustrations and reflect on better ways to deal with these unexpected situations.

Being a parent is an all day every day job without any sick or vacation days. Everyone is doing the best they can. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and unbalanced, sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder that it is okay to slow down, cancel plans, and just take some time to get things back in order. It will make a more balanced life for you and for your children. The key is to not be perfect all the time, but to have an awareness when you need to create more balance.

Parents & Teacher Partnership

Sooner or later something will come up where a child faces a challenge. It is a healthy part of growth and development. A child underperforms in class, is bossy around his friends, cannot stay focused during structured periods, or is unable to complete her task as she navigates through “perfectionism” presenting itself as a hindrance to her success.

TEACHER: Oh, no!  I need to contact one of my parents.

PARENT: Oh, no! I have a message from my child’s teacher.

Surprise, surprise!  People who care about their children WILL have similar reactions to the situations presented above, whether the relationship is biological or honed in the classroom.  This could be the reason why teachers lovingly refer to their students as “my kids.” This is not being said to appeal to any kind of emotion from the parents’ side. It is exactly what it is.  For that school year, the students in our classes are our kids.

As we kick off this new blog, and this new year, we wanted to talk about something that is near and dear to our hearts. The Parent-Teacher Partnership. This partnership is integral for parent, teacher and student success. We want to offer some points to consider for both teachers and parents. Ultimately, we are in this together and at times, we feel that very important fact is forgotten.

Teachers become teachers because they love children, and they want to see them grow and learn. They design lessons, projects, activities, and field trips that will help their students learn and develop a love for learning. Look up #teachersofinstagram on your Instagram, and your screen will showcase teachers from all over the world demonstrating a deep love for their students and their passion to make their classrooms conducive to learning. Teachers truly want what is BEST for each child in their classrooms.

As a teacher, one thinks about the overall well-being of each student: there are the encouraging remarks while students go through challenging assignments, the creation of flexible curriculum that goes with the whole group flow but also addresses individual needs, and the endless questioning of the effectiveness of the application of tested and current pedagogy to the development of the students in the class.  But it doesn’t stop there. There are also gentle nudges to finish their snack and stay hydrated while having an internal battle over keeping the students inside the air conditioned classroom during a California heat wave (in the middle of January), but also remembering that the class has been cooped up in the classroom the last three days due to the elusive California storms.

Parents are invested in their child’s best interest starting in utero.  Soon to be parents will change diets, move to a better school district, listen to classical music, attend birthing classes, and the list goes on even before their child is born!  They read all the books, make their own baby foods, and do everything in their power to make their children’s lives the best it can be. When it comes time for school, parents research options, tour schools, weigh out public vs. private schools, attend admissions or welcoming events, and then make the best decision they see fit for their child. Parents around the world want what is BEST for their children.

There are many factors that need to be considered to build a positive partnership. The most important thing is to focus on what is BEST for the child and to always be child-centered. The best part of this idea is that both parties want the best for the child already. If both parties want what is best for the child, we would suppose that the parent-teacher relationship would always be a strong partnership. After all, they are both on the same side and have the same interest. However, like any relationship sometimes the parent-teacher relationship is not productive. Today we want to adress how parents and teachers form strong, balanced, child centered relationships.

1. Put the child first

Focus on what is going to help the child succeed long term. Not just a quick fix to make the child “happy.”  Happiness is not something that can be created for them (All Joy and No Fun, J. Senior.) A child might need extra support, an evaluation, or help from an outside expert. Putting the child first means that we remove our egos and ideas of perfectionism, and get the child the help and support they need for the long term.

2. Keep the line of communication open

Reach out in a positive productive way. Don’t wait for challenges to escalate. Better to reach out early and often if you see a pattern. We recommend never emailing when you are angry. If something very serious has come up, best to set up an in person meeting. This will also give time and space to think about a productive way to approach the situation. Teachers should also pick up the phone and have a conversation with parents. It’s often better to have a conversation about difficult topics than it is to read it over an email.

3. Mutual respect

Approach challenges from the lense of being a productive problem solver and wanting to understand a situation rather than accusing and blaming. Assume the teacher or parent has good intentions. We love the saying, “I’ll believe 50% of what your child says about you, if you believe 50% of what your child says about me.” Remember the source, children are extremely clever. As much as we love our children and students, they know how to play the game. OR depending on their age, they might not always remember things correctly or be able to accurately assess all the facts.

4. Take responsibility when you make a mistake

Parenting and teaching are both incredibly hard jobs. It’s okay to make mistakes. Mistakes make us human and help us grow. Let’s model for our children so they can learn how to overcome, learn, and forgive mistakes. Remember that little ears are always listening. Even if you don’t agree with a teacher or a parent, try to stay positive in front of the children.

5. Collaborate

Oftentimes, teaching is not a one-person job.  It really “takes a village” to raise balanced children. If something is working at home with your child let the teacher know, so that they can implement the vocabulary or strategy in the class. Teachers should also let parents know what they are working on in the classroom, so that parents can use the same or similar strategies at home. Consistency and collaboration are the keys.

6. Be a united front

The best thing for a child is knowing that their teacher and their parents talk and that they are on the same team. We love the moment when a child realizes you know about their home life. They ask, “How do you know that?” And we respond “Yes, I talk with your parents!”

7. Humor

At the end of the day, raising these little people is the most wonderful and funnest part of our lives, both as parents and as teachers. Enjoy the silly giggles, jokes, funny drawings, messes, and playtimes with the children because they grow up really quickly, and what seems so incredibly important today, is not what you are going to remember. It’s going to be the laughs you had with your child and the village that helped you raise them.

Throughout our careers, we have all had parent-teacher relationships that have been productive and positive, and others that, put quite simply, have not. There is no perfect equation that will work for every situation but we have found that in general, these tips will help make for a more positive partnership.

We would love to hear your thoughts! What are some things that have worked for you?