Parent / Teacher Night as an Opportunity for Professional Development

I’ve been attending Parent / Teacher Nights for a great many years both as a teacher and as a parent and have never seen it as an opportunity for professional development.

That is, until now.

Perhaps my time in “blogosphere” has opened my eyes.

I had the opportunity to witness an amazing example of how a teacher communicated with a 10th grader and her mother.  The student was full of complaints. She didn’t think it was a big deal that she used her cell-phone in class once or twice  and sometimes talked during the lessons. Also she claimed that she knew English at a much higher level than the grades she got indicated. You could tell that the mother was indecisive regarding whether she should be berating her daughter or justifying her behavior.


P1051203Photo by Iddo Epstein

I expected such a beginning to lead to either one of two outcomes, both exemplified by the photo above:

1)  The teacher (penguin) scolds the parent for turning a  blind eye to her offspring’s behavior while she, the teacher, is the one who is really trying to look after the student’s best interests.

2) The parent (penguin) scolds the teacher for being mean and vindictive towards her offspring. The teacher just wishes she could disappear and be somewhere else…

This meeting did not go in any of these directions. It lasted for twenty minutes (!!!) and it is difficult to describe in words exactly what went on. I wish I had been able to videotape that conversation! It would have been great to see it again and to discuss it with others.

What I can say is that the teacher kept her voice relaxed and pleasant the whole time. No scolding tone. She stressed how delighted she was to hear that the student knew more English than her grades reflected but the only way the teacher can know such a thing is if this knowledge is shown. If the student doesn’t participate and talks to her friends during the lesson then she is forcing the teacher to rely only on her grades. The teacher also repeatedly explained how important it is to maintain a good “learning atmosphere”  in the class and that she cannot allow disruptive behaviors that interfere with everyone’s ability to focus. The teacher repeated how delighted she would be to take note of any new manifestation of her knowledge of English but not once did she back down from anything that she had said to the student during class or any behavioral comments that had been reported.

The meeting ended with the student promising to participate more in class so the teacher could see her skills in English in action.

All the indicators of tension-leading-to-attack mode were diffused.

Both sides left the table optimistic and satisfied.


* NOTE: This photo was taken in Antarctica by Iddo. That’s a Southern Elephant Seal and a female, which is why you don’t really see much of a trunk.

Iddo said that the penguins there scold the Elephant Seals a lot. In one instance, in response to such a scolding, a seal rolled over and hit the seal beside it with its flipper. The second seal did not hit the first one back, but rolled over and hit a third one instead! This was passed down through three more seals until there was no one left within “hitting” range!

Scolding doesn’t seem to do anyone any good!

8 thoughts on “Parent / Teacher Night as an Opportunity for Professional Development”

  1. Great post, again Naomi. Thanks. I absolutely agree. One of my pet peeves in being at a public school is the little real communication taking place between teachers and parents. There are mostly only formal 2-3 hours a semester opportunities for teachers and parents to talk to each other, which are spent most of the time trying to avoid talking about anything that matters (in some cases – identifying the child you are talking about….) I think there should be more and better opportunities for teachers/parents/students to talk and learn from and about each other with the single aim of making the child’s learning a pleasant and successful experience. I idealistic? Of course? Sounds good? For sure. Talking is good. Let’s keep doing it with posts like this. Cheers, Naomi.

  2. And it’s my turn today. Our session goes from 2pm (right after teaching) until 8 pm. This is a heavy for a full-time teacher (more than full-time due to circumstances) recovering from the flu, but the show must go on.
    Here’s to greater understanding and a good dose of good will!

  3. Tamas and Judih!
    That’s just the things – i have never encountered a situation where we discuss how to talk to parents, involve them (or not). We are just sent a certain amount of hours every year to sit in the teachers room (I’m not a homeroom teacher) and deal with it if a parent decides to come and speak to us. It could be more of an opportunity – like the conversation I witnessed!
    Judih – oh, I hear you! our high-school is soo big we have two such afternoons in a row. on Thursday I’m going as a parent. My son’s homeroom teacher already sent an email saying that he has five minutes per parent (36 pupils). Sigh…

  4. It is always important to diffuse tensions such as these in or outside of the classroom. Teachers need this skill, but it often comes down to a personality issue. In my ‘younger teaching years’, I had a harder time being diplomatic and had been known to storm out of a meeting once or twice.

    This even comes to play in collegial conversation. I definitely have had to work on this side and still fail at holding in my emotions around certain triggers. Another colleague of mine (not the trigger), has a remarkable ability to say what she means but in a constantly calm manner. It’s unreal.

  5. Interesting – I was thinking about what you wrote before I read your comment, Tyson!
    We can’t ignore personality, but are there skills we can teach here? My gut feeling was that if had that meeting on video and could see it again it would be helpful. I did adopt one phrase of hers already: “I can’t see inside your head. I can see what you show me”.

  6. That’s a good phrase. My colleague tends to have words at her fingertips as well. When in extended conflict, I either become tongue-tied or I blurt out things very bluntly. Having some stock phrases in these situations help.

    I definitely think there are skills to help despite personality–management skills: diplomacy, exemplification, listening and responding. When I moved into a management role, I identified these characteristics and make a concerted effort to address them when I am in that role. Back in instructor role, they can go out with the baby and the bathwater.

  7. So you do think working on these skills can help despite personality. I found it very interesting that you wrote that it is easier for you when “wearing your managment hat” to keep these skills in mind. I think there’s something about kids that can really touch a teacher’s sore spots, especially when we are trying hard to do the best for them in the first place!

  8. Sure. People can develop skills no matter their personalities. Of course, it takes effort. One needs to think of context, of course. Still, you may be more cut out for it than others.

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