Communication with parents is a two-way street By DR. JONI SAMPLES The “Encarta” dictionary defines communication in part as: an exchange of information, a message, rapport. As I look at the definition, it sounds very much like a two-way engagement, a conversation, a two-way street. We educators often take a one-way street approach to communication with parents. We know what we want to say. We’re familiar with the language we’re using. We can clearly express the thoughts we have, and we do so either verbally or in writing. However, we may be surprised when what we’re so clearly communicating is misunderstood or not heard at all. It’s easy to get frustrated with those on the other side of the communication, the parents. Why don’t they “get it?”What you said was very clear. Yes, it is clear to those who understand “educationese” and who are interested in what you have to say. I speak “educationese” well, so if you tell me you want at IEP (Individual Education Plan) for my son for consideration of a RSP (Resource Specialist Program) to help with English Language Arts vocabulary and comprehension, I will understand what you’re saying.To say that I’d be interested is putting it mildly. I may have a great deal to say about what you’re proposing, especially if this is the first time I’ve heard about some of the issues. For a parent who doesn’t speak “educationese,” your message could be ignored from lack of understanding, or you may get a very strong reaction with a great deal of interest, but again, little
FALL 2013 SouthEast Education Network
understanding of what is involved. We then began to believe they’re just not interested. I would like to propose that the reason you might not be hearing from parents is not from lack of interest on the part of the parent about their child. I have led hundreds of parent workshops and talked to thousands of parents over the years. I have yet to talk with a parent who isn’t interested in their child’s success. Often they don’t know how to help and when I look more closely, the parent may be going in a totally different direction down a different street than I am. She’s headed for the mall while I’m headed for the university.The child and the parent are off to the ball field, and I’d like them at the library. So what can be done to create a different scenario, one in which communication is clear, one in which there is an exchange of information, and one that leads to learning for a child? We talk in education about building capacity. Often we think about building the capacity of the parents. In this case I’d like to address building the capacity of teachers and parents to communicate clearly with each other. One of the techniques I like to use to work for communication both at a staff level as well as with parents is a modification of a system called “Compassionate Communication from Words Can Change Your Brain.”* The steps are relatively simple.
Relax We educators multi-task — doing all kinds of activities at once — watching
Susie tie her shoe, making sure Jimmy doesn’t take the fish out of the fishbowl again, and checking for everyone’s lunch ticket. We’re good at juggling. We have to be. However, when having a conversation watching Susie, the clock, and your conversation partner at the same time is self-defeating. Relax. Enjoy the time together.The other stuff will get done when you can turn back to it. Let’s say you’re having a parent conference day.This is your fourth parent in the last hour that you want to talk with about reading skills and this one could be tough.This child may even need special assistance.Take a breath. Relax.Think about how well this boy, Jason, is doing in class.Think of the things he’s learned in the last few months. Know that this is going to be a good conference session. Remind yourself to relax. Relax. Now meet with the parent. It will go a lot better when you’re at ease.
Stay Present Be aware of where you are and what’s happening right now. It’s hard not to bring up the fight on the playground yesterday or the play production next week, yet this time is the only moment for this discussion about the topic at hand. Stay focused on the moment and the topic. You’re talking about reading and the conversation is about Jason. It’s not about Susie or the last parent session. It’s about Jason and what he is doing now.Yes, he was struggling the last time you met, but now he’s gotten most of
Southeast Education Network issue 15.2