Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or both, parent-teacher conferences (and meetings throughout the year) do not have to be stressful.
Instead, they can be an opportunity for everyone to get on the same page on how to best support our children.
This is because, underneath all the facts, figures, and rubrics, we care about the same fundamental things.
We want to support kids in values such as:
We want to have adults in the kids’ live who will:
The other thing we share as a “team” of adults are underlying feelings – such as WORRY, FEAR, CONCERN, HOPE, CONFUSION, and GRATITUDE.
These fundamental SHARED VALUES and SHARED FEELINGS can create a connecting language for us during parent-teacher meetings.
When YOU speak, tell the other adult how their actions (or the child’s) are affecting shared values such as learning, belonging, care, dignity, team-work, and support.
This is more powerful than focusing on what rules are not being followed or how someone’s actions are “right” or “wrong.”
This is because human beings are more motivated by values and care more about how actions help build community. Rules and negative judgments are poor motivators for many people – and can create defensiveness and resentment.
If you have feelings to share about the situation, be clear and crisp about it – without expressing contempt or sarcasm. Connect the feelings to the values to make it clear that you are focusing on what’s most important.
Ex: “I feel worried because Kayla is spending so much time doing X instead of Y. I want her to be able to learn with everyone else. And I want her to feel included in the classroom.”
BONUS: Begin with a gratitude for something specific you appreciate about the other adult (their hard work, their patience, their care).
When others speak, seek to understand before sharing what’s important to you. Listen for the SHARED VALUES and FEELINGS – even if they are speaking in judgments. If you are willing, say back to them what you believe is important to them as a guess – not as an open ended question. This gives them the sense of being heard at a deeper, connecting level – and also gives them a chance to correct things if an mis-understanding is developing.
“Ex: Ok, so let me see if I understand you. You are saying that you want the kids to be able to work better together – like a team?”
That gives the person an opportunity to say that yes- they are focused on team work – or no – they are focused on the child being able to handle frustration without exploding.
TEACHER SPEAKING IN JUDGMENTS AND RULES:
The main issue is that John is talking too much (right vs wrong focus). He is a bright kid but he needs to stop (not inviting problem-solving together). I have talked to him several times and he’s continuing. It’s actually disrespectful to me and the whole class (labeling behavior instead of talking about the impact or how it gets in the way of learning, collaboration, etc).
TEACHER SPEAKING IN FEELINGS AND VALUES:
I’m worried about John because he is a bright young man and his talking is getting in the way of his learning and other people’s learning. I want him to be able to express himself but I also want him to know when it is time to settle down and work. I would like to put our heads together to figure out a way to support him (inviting parent as ally or partner instead of always having all the answers).
PARENT SPEAKING IN JUDGMENTS AND RULES:
Jeremy told me that you embarrassed him in front of the whole class (passing judgment instead of inviting teacher to collaborate). He doesn’t even want to go to school any more. I don’t know what’s going on in there but you people need to get your act together (judgment without curiosity). If you have something to say (aggressive), you can call me or you can talk to him privately. That kind of behavior is not acceptable from a teacher (right and wrong focus instead of how it impacts the child or family).
PARENT SPEAKING IN FEELINGS AND VALUES:
I am pretty frustrated (honest feelings without contempt or aggression) because Jeremy says that you talked to him about his behavior in front of the whole class (opening up possibility that there was a misunderstanding; not saying the teacher “embarrassed him” but just the facts). I know he can be impulsive sometimes (taking some responsibility) and that can get in the way of learning (focusing on shared value of learning in school). I don’t know what actually happened (humility, openness to dialogue) but he feels embarrassed about it (sharing feelings without saying teacher caused the feelings)and doesn’t want to go to school any more (fact). I’d like to hear your side of it (curiosity, openness) – and more importantly – I want to problem solve together (inviting collaboration) how we can support Jeremy in being his best self in the future (shared values).
Many people tell me this sounds intriguing but they could use a little help with getting in touch with their feelings and values. This way of communicating is based on Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication (NVC).
This handout lists common feelings and values (called Needs there) on one page.
If you want to do a bit of prep before the meeting, this Self-Reflection sheet can help you get ready. You can even be brave and ask the other person to fill one out at the meeting.
Good luck and I’d like to hear how it goes.
How helpful was this 2-step guide to better Parent Teacher meetings?
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