Sunday, August 9, 2009

How to Communicate with your Child's Teacher

I'm on vacation, so here's an earlier entry about communicating with your child's teacher.

Inevitably, something goes wrong that causes ruffled feathers among a parent or teacher, or in the worst case, both. If left alone, this miscommunication can fester and grow, and affect the relationship between the parent and teacher. There is no reason that this has to happen. Communication, quickly, and honestly, is the key to getting back on a positive track.

Here's a true story that happened to one of my colleagues:

During the summer camp program, tots come to play games, sing songs, cook, and wade in shallow pools. One summer, during the third day of camp in the two year old program, one of my colleagues gathered together her students’ things to go out to the pool. When she pulled one child’s towel out of her backpack, she discovered that it had been written on in indelible red magic marker. To her surprise and dismay, she read a note that said, “Dear teachers, I do not like to leave camp all muddy and wet. Signed, Rachel’s towel.”

Not believing her eyes, the teacher showed the towel to her teaching partner. Was this for real? As they watched their charges paddling around in shallow pools, they discussed how to handle the situation. They noticed the muddy areas that surrounded the wading pools but acknowledged that there really wasn’t an easy solution. The way it worked was that each morning the maintenance staff would fill a couple of kiddie pools with just enough water that the kids could cool off, have some fun splashing, and get used to “swimming.” After about 15 minutes of this wet fun, the kids would leave the pools and sit on the towels they had laid out under a tent. There, they could dry off while singing songs, playing games and socializing with their peers.

For health reasons, the pools had to be dumped after every class and refilled, which happened probably a half dozen times each day. The way the ground was graded, eventually the water formed puddles because the ground could only drain so much. The kids were corralled under a tented area and oftentimes the water found its way to that spot. Hence, Rachel’s muddy, wet towel.

Rachel’s mother didn’t pick her up from camp that day, so the teachers decided to wait until the next day to address the note. When the little girl arrived, there was another note in her backpack, this time on paper. It read, “How can you women who are mothers put up with this mess? Rachel’s towel comes home dirty every day. As teachers, don’t you feel you have the obligation to prevent it from coming home in that condition?”

The teachers did not share this mother’s view about the situation. They responded in a return note which explained that the area does get muddy at times, though they try to avoid those particular spots. Some kids may drop their towels in the mud or flop down in a wet area - they are only two years old! But it’s important for the children to have a chance to dry outdoors in an area safely protected from the sun, even if that area occasionally gets muddy. It’s equally important for them to be able to wrap their towels around their wet bodies when they walk back into the air conditioned building so they don’t freeze.

The teachers reminded this mother that from the beginning they had urged the parents to send in thrift store towels or old ones ready for the rag bag, knowing that they’d get dirty. They pointed out that it was more important that the children get to enjoy swimming and playing outside than have to stay in because their towels may get messy.

Rachel never seemed to mind if her towel got muddy or wet. She was a happy child who loved the water. Ultimately, the teachers suggested that her mother send in a terry cloth robe that they could put on Rachel while she walked back into the building. That would certainly keep her towel drier. As for the mud, they did the best they could. The irony is that mud washes out, permanent marker does not!

In the end, there were bad feelings on both sides, but that didn’t need to happen. The mother could have found a far better way to communicate her feelings. She immediately put the teachers on the defensive by using the towel as her means for communication. She also personally insulted them by suggesting that as mothers they should know better and that the situation was their fault.

The teachers might have nipped the situation in the bud if they had called the mother as soon as they read her note. Though they recognized her concerns and ultimately addressed them to her satisfaction, the experience would have been more positive had it been handled differently. What if Rachel’s mother had called or stopped by at the beginning or end of the day to rationally discuss the problem? She might have asked the teachers what the pool procedure was to understand why the situation was happening. She even could have come into camp to actually see the pool process in action. That would allow her to tell them that she recognized the problem but had a suggestion for how to handle it.

It is essential that parents and teachers form a partnership in order to most effectively meet the children’s needs. The key to that partnership is communication and that is most effective from the person’s mouth. Remember, teachers are people too, and most of us are also parents. We will listen to your concerns and find a satisfactory solution. The bottom line is that we all only want what is best for your child.

Please share with me a communication problem you experienced and how you resolved it.

1 comment:

  1. Play changes considerably as the toddler's motor skills develop; he uses his physical skills to push and pull objects; to climb up, down, in, and out; and to run or ride on toys.

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