Approaching a Teacher with a Problem

Have you had to approach a teacher about a problem you can see with your child? Has your stomach been full of butterflies as you try and sort out in your mind what you want to say?

This has happened to me. I am a teacher myself but I was unhappy with the way things were being handled in the classroom with my Gifted and Talented daughter (aka Baby Blue). I knew I needed to speak to the teacher when June/July holidays came around and my little girl got excited about going into year 2 (and she still had 6 months left of year 1!). I planned my conversation carefully, using the formula explained below. I hope others might find power in this model too.

The first thing I did was speak to a couple of people I trusted about my concerns. I presented the situation to them and asked if I was over reacting. I think it’s important to get this viewpoint because if you are seeing things close-minded, you should have someone within your circle who can tell you that.

Secondly, I skimmed Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. I have been extremely impressed by the work put out by  Susan Scott and recommend her books to anyone who has to have any type of conversations (which is all of us! ).

I then planned my conversation using Susan Scott’s “Mineral Rights” conversation model. Planning is important because it makes clear in YOUR head what you are there to talk to the teacher about. I used the following:

Tips for Mineral Rights

Challenge people to distinctly define the truth by repeating the question: “What is the truth about that?” as many times as necessary to uncover the core nugget of truth in a given situation. This unlocks a persons’ own capacity to strip away the unimportant and distracting issues so they gain a clear sense of the actual or ground truth.

Identify fears: People resist change out of fear of the unknown. Allow people to surface their fears and talk about them by asking simply: “What are you most afraid of?”

Dig deeper: Understand the first one or two responses a person offers rarely gets to the core of their own truth or issue. Keep them talking and exploring with open probes such as: “Can you say more about that?” or, “Tell me more.”

Avoid Laying Blame: This creates a space where people can talk about mistakes and failures without shutting down. “In any situation, the person who can most accurately describe reality without laying blame will emerge as the leader, whether designated or not.” – Edwin Friedman

Remove the word “but” from vocabulary and substitute the word “and”: “I hear what you’re saying, but…” will be better received if you say, “I hear what you’re saying, and …” This shows the person you can make room for multiple realities and reduces defensiveness.

Put into real life terms, this is what my planning looked like:

What is the truth? My daughter is not behaving in class. She is coming home bored. She is begging for school work from me. (I presented these “truths” to the teacher).

What am I afraid of? I was afraid my daughter would continue to develop naughty habits whenever she was bored. I was also afraid she would grow up believing that mediocre is enough.

Avoid Laying Blame. I made sure I took responsibility for Baby Blue’s behaviour at home and asked what I could do to make sure she is well behaved in class.

Tell me more. At this point, I asked the teacher what she was doing with Baby Blue in the class. I wanted to know her perspective. You can give more detail yourself in this section too, if it’s warranted.

Not But AND. I love this sentence: “I hear what you’re saying AND…” So in Baby Blue’s case, I said, “I hear what you are saying and I would LOVE to see Baby Blue challenged with her reading.”

So the next time you head into a parent/teacher interview with issues to discuss remember to:

1. Plan the conversation

2. Make sure you embrace TRUTH

3. Identify fears

4. Avoid blame

5. Dig deeper … “Tell me more”

6. Not Buts, just Ands

Have you ever had to approach a teacher about a problem you can see with your child?

Be A Fun Mum Links

Handwriting

Social Stories

Baby Communication

External Links

Queensland Association for Gifted and Talented Children

Gifted and Talented Education

Defining Gifted and Talented students

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Bonnie

Bonnie is a Mum of three teens and a teacher. Together with her husband, they are passionate about raising independent, empathetic, resilient and compassionate teens. As a teacher, Bonnie is committed to helping all students achieve their full potential by creating learning spaces that cater for all needs. Bonnie is a dedicated traveler. She loves to go places, see things, experience things and know things!

Comments

  1. says

    Great post. I have the exact same problem with Mr Z (age 6 & in grade 1) and need to have a similar conversation, but with the school principal as well as his teacher.

    • Bonnie says

      @Melissa, we actually had the deputy principal and the special ed teacher there too! It was quite a meeting but very successful. I think everyone left feeling positive and I must thank the Mineral Rights Conversation model for that because we didn’t fluff around. We got straight down to business.

      I hope it goes well for you (or went well!)

  2. says

    SO so so useful for me today. I am headed for a meeting at school with regard to Olivia (6) who is having some problems……THANK YOU!

  3. Erin says

    A great post. So many parents feel very intimidated by a childs teacher which i have learned about this year being my sons 1st year of school. I found most are happier to “playground gossip” about certain situations and things happening and its just not useful to parent teacher or child.
    im quite a shy person but believe when it comes to my children, I need to be the voice for them because no one else will. the more you address a teacher the quicker they wise up to how involved of a parent you are and I now find every now and then the teacher asking me for a chat at pick up time. I guess they figure they may as well get it done with their and then cos they have learbned i will be down at the school asking questions the very next day. it has worked very well for me. I owuld like to think I approached it in a very similar way as the tips that have been given above. its so important to have a possitive relationship with yor childs teracher and keep the lines of communication open. thanks for such a great post I think every parent should read it and there should be a copy of this handed out in the Prep pack you recieve on the information night for school. :)

  4. says

    Unfortunately I have spoken to my kid’s school more this year than I have for the last 6 years combined. I take a planned approach to it, BUT I certainly picked up some great tips in this post!

  5. Mon says

    What a great post!

    As a teacher, I find it difficult to help parents who come in with “all guns blazing” and on the attack… I think these hints are a great start to promoting a productive conversation about what is best for the child.

    I applaud and cheer for parents who make the time to speak with their child’s teacher rather than getting involved in gossip outside the school gate in the afternoon. I have found that some parents who engage in this gossip (which is completely different to discussing your concerns with trusted friends who are removed from the situation) manage to work up a minor concern into something out of this world so that by the time they DO get to speak with the teacher they are so upset that they are not open to solutions and suggestions.

    I love the point in your post about “not laying blame”. I think if parents and teachers can approach a child’s learning as a joint effort than SURELY the child will benefit. :)

    Again… great post! :)

    • Erin says

      @Mon,
      As a parent at a school i see it time and time again, the mum’s who all like to sit around most of the time “guessing” what has gone on and how it was handled. I have tried to encourage a few to just take it on board to talk to the school/teachers about it themselves and they will find its a toatl different story and at times, your child is not always in the right and perfect which most of them think they are.
      And yes the all guns blazing is a no no in my opinion too and its so nice to hear froma teacher saying they appreciate it when a parent does come in to talk about their issues. i think its great to show our children how to problem solve in a possitive way too so thanks for your post too Mon. Was lovely to read a teachers thoughts :)

  6. says

    Have just discovered your blog through Book Chook – thank you for this great post. Having been at both ends of the conversation, I can only agree about both the butterflies and the negativity of confrontation. There are some great tips here – especially the AND not But – in fact, that’s definitely a lesson for life!

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