Building positive relationships with parents from day 1
With Angela Lockwood
Building positive relationships with parents from day 1
With Angela Lockwood
In this episode, podcast host and Occupational Therapist Angela Lockwood discusses how teachers can communicate their concerns about a student in their class without ruining a relationship with a parent. After years of seeing these conversations go badly, Angela shares simple but important considerations when a teacher communicated their concerns about a student in their class in the first couple of weeks of the school year.
child parent teachers concerns settling classroom conversation school kids behaviorally year life strategies people observing specific withdrawn support
Angela: Welcome to A Kid's Life podcast. I'm Angela Lockwood. And for the last 20 years, I have been working in schools, supporting teachers to build inclusive classrooms. Through A Kid's Life podcast, my goal is to help us, adults, better understand the complexities of life as a kid. My guests and I share stories, reflections, and simple strategies to support kids of all needs as they walk through life. So whether you're looking for inspiration, direction, guidance, tips, or just a laugh, A Kid's Life podcast is the place for you. Enjoy.
Angela: Welcome to A Kid's Life podcast. I'm Angela Lockwood and in this episode, I'm going to be talking about something that comes up every single year around this time. The first couple of weeks of school for children can be really overwhelming. And just like teachers, they can feel the pressure from day one. In fact, some kids really start to feel the pressure a couple of weeks prior to starting school. So when they get to school, things can unravel a little bit behaviorally. Now, I've already had in the last couple of weeks, as schools are all going back, parents and teachers contacting me about concerns that they have for children in their class. Now from the teachers, they're asking for my ideas and thoughts as an occupational therapist around how they should address these issues with the parents. But then I also equally have contact from the parents concerned about the way that a teacher has addressed their concerns to them about their child. So sometimes I can feel a little bit like I'm sort of the piggy in the middle trying to, you know, make each side feel like they're listened to, and that their opinions are valued and making sure always that the child and their needs are at the center of everything that we do.
Now, you know what I'm talking about. A teacher comes to a parent, and they might say, you know, so welcome to the school. Welcome to the school, I'm your child's teacher. And can I just have a quick chat with you for a minute? And as a parent, you know, straightaway that that is a red flag. You know, even when you're with a partner, your partner comes up and says, Can I just talk to you for a minute, straight away, you know that what's going to follow is not good news. Your chest automatically tightens, your head starts to think about all the things that the conversation is going to hold. And, you know, pretty much straight away, you're on the defensive. So as a parent, when you hear a teacher say, can I talk to you for a moment, very rarely is the flow on from that, and the aftermath a positive conversation. And parents know this, parents know if their child might be number one already struggling, it might have doesn't matter what year they've gone into this transition point. Usually, if a child is having difficulties, it's usually not the first time that they've heard about it for their child. But for some parents, it is. The transition to a new year might just be getting a little bit too much for the child. But also for teachers, teachers come with their own backstory, they come with their own experiences and their own opinions around the needs of children for their year.
Now basically, this new transition time for moving into school, it's an overwhelming space for everybody, the child, the teacher, and the parent. Everybody's just finding their way. That is why the first couple of weeks of school, the first one to three weeks of school is a settling in time for the teachers, the students, and the parents. So number one is, it's not a great time if you're a teacher to bring up your concerns about a student in the first one to three weeks of a school year. And the reason for this is that the child just might be settling in, they're trying to find their groove. They're trying to work out you. They're trying to work out who their new friendship groups are. Everything is new for them. So for some children, when things are new, it can exhibit through them behaviorally. So they might act out, they might roll around on the floor, particularly those children in primary school in the early years. They may not know that, particularly for children that are going into their first year of school, they're just trying to work out the new demands of what school looks like. They may have come from daycare, they may have come from preschool, they may have even come from a homeschooling environment. So you can imagine coming to school is a really overwhelming experience for the children.
So this overwhelm can either exhibit in two ways. Often what will happen is children will act out, they might cry, they might back into the teacher, they might mock around with some of the other children. They might want to just do things their own way, that's usually the signs that we see in children. And they're often the behaviors that, you know, we get our attention. But there's also another side of students who, you know, might be finding it as equally overwhelming, or they might be finding the transition really challenging for them. And some of these children can withdraw, they can be the ones that sit really quietly. Sometimes, particularly for the little kids, they'll even be sitting under a table, or they might be sitting off to the side of the class or at the back of the class on their own. And they're really quiet. And these kids can often be mistaken as they're really good kids in the classroom, you know, they're really compliant, they do what they're told. But for a lot of these children who are withdrawn, that is also their way of coping with the overwhelm, and they can often fly under the radar.
Now, for parents who have concerns about their children coming into the school, then that conversation should have already been had with the teachers. But don't worry, it's not too late for you to have that conversation with the teachers. But what I'm talking about today, in today's episode, it's about flagging with teachers the way that you're communicating your concerns to parents about a child in your class. And like I've already said, the first one to three weeks of school is probably not the best time to do it. But if you do have really strong concerns, you're saying that the child's not settling in or that their behaviors there could be acting out or they're completely withdrawn, what I encourage teachers to do always when I'm working in schools, or through my holistic classroom programs, is I advise teachers on allowing the child some time just to settle in to find their way and to find their groove. I've had so many conversations with teachers who will say to me, Oh, I'm really worried about this child from day one, or their child has come to school already with labels and tags against them, as you know, and I don't want to mention those what those labels and tags are because sometimes they're really quite awful or descriptive about a child and really unfair about the way that a child behaves or interacts with his peers, or her peers.
But when a child gets into a new classroom, just think about it, just actually, let's turn the spotlight on us adults. You know what it's like when you go into either a new workplace or you go into a new team environment, or just a new situation? You're trying to find your way as well. Now you're trying to find out who are the people I can trust in the room? Who are my people, who are the ones that I know, have my back, but you're also trying to work out where does all my stuff go? Where am I in this environment? And sometimes, you know, when we're in that environment, it can feel so overwhelming when you don't know what your space is, where you don't know where you belong. And we all have ways, you know it right now, if you're somebody who might act out, or if you're somebody who withdraws and goes to their bedroom when they get home from work in a state of overwhelm. We all have our triggers and our behavioral responses.
But I just want to talk to you teachers who are listening at the moment. Whether you have concerns about a student in your classroom already, they might be concerned about their academics, their behavior, even their motivation, it could be participation, how they're settling in. What you can do with a parent and how you approach a parent right now can make or break a relationship, not just for this year, but through their child's whole schooling. It is particularly for those children that are just transitioning into a new school. So it might be in kindergarten or prep, or even you want to be near to. The way that you can communicate with parents right now is so vital in how you're setting up the success of that child's schooling, but also the relationship between you and that child's parent, and the school's relationship with that child's parent.
So I just want to give you some strategies on what you can do and just things to trigger. So if you're having these concerns with a child's behavior, or how this settling in and these first couple of weeks, that's all we're talking about. I want me to be sitting on your shoulder, this podcast to be ringing in your ears, and just go, okay, these are the things I need to be aware of so that we can set up a really positive experience in relationship for this parent and the child and also for you as a teacher.
The first one is around, just be aware of your timing. I see it so many times. Teachers walk out of a class. And so like I said at the beginning of our conversation today, they'll go I have some concerns about your child, can I talk to you for a minute? And that parent is either racing off or you're just stepped out of the classroom to talk to them, or worse, the parent is standing amongst other parents. Now that is so embarrassing for a parent because everybody knows what that comment means, that you have a concern about something that's happening with that child. And it might be behaviorally, it might be something big, it might be something little, but let's face it, I need to have a chat with you usually isn't a positive chat, right at the beginning of school. So just be aware of your timing. And it might be something where you request to meet a parent after school one day. And can I also say, don't have the child present yet, particularly for the little kids. So for the children who are in early primary years, it's really important not to have the child present when you have this initial discussion, because you might think that the child's not listening, but I can guarantee you, they're listening to everything. And what we don't want is for these young kids, to be hearing these conversations about your concerns about how they're settling in, because they will then frame up an opinion of themselves. And the last thing we need is for kids to label themselves a certain way, in their early years. So just be aware of your timing, it might be a private message through a school communication app, or even, it might even be just a separate phone call. And by doing this, it really shows the parent that you value their time, but really important you value their privacy as well. And so that's the first thing if you can do is just if you have a concern about how a child's settling in, and you want to talk to a parent, value their privacy, and also value the parents time and just set up a meeting aside, where you can have an informal chat about what you're observing.
And that brings me to a second point when you have a concern about a child and it might be over the first couple of weeks and moving in towards the first term. When you are speaking to a parent, be really super specific about concerns. I hear many times teachers will say to a parent, I'm really worried about Billy, he's just being so naughty. Oh my God, my heart breaks when I hear that. Because no child's being naughty, deliberately. No child is naughty. And it's such a global comment. And you can imagine how the parent receives that comment. So be really specific about your concern. So it might be something like rather than saying he doesn't concentrate, or I'm concerned about him, okay. And particularly when you do that, Okay, I just need to bring something out with you. I'm really concerned about Billy, he's just not concentrating straightaway, the parent will receive a really big barrage of negativity with that. So be really specific. If you have noticed something, it might be a comment, like, I've noticed that when we're doing group work, and the other students are talking, your child will put his head on the desk with his hands over his ears. Have you ever noticed that before? And what that's doing is it's showing the parent that you are seeing specific behavior that might be affecting that child's learning, or the way that they're settling in. And, you know, if you're coming from a place of care for that child, and really observing specific things, the parent might then go and it opens up a conversation, the parent might go, yeah, actually, he's done that since he was little. Every time we're at a party, I noticed he takes himself away and puts his hands over his ears. I've never realized that that could be a problem. Or it might be something where the parent might go actually didn't like No, I've never noticed that. But now that you say it, you know, I've done that myself. I don't like loud noises either. And what that does is it allows for a really open, transparent, and very caring conversation, rather than an attacking conversation with a parent can get defensive.
So the first one is around being aware of your timing. The second was being specific about your concerns. And the third point is around avoiding overloading the parent. Okay, I call this fire hose moments where you are speaking to a parent. And let's just say you've done the first two things really well, you have considered their privacy and timing and set up a private conversation with them. You've also been really specific about your concerns that you've noticed with a child, their child, but then you give them the 15 things that you've observed about the child in that very first meeting. And from a parent's point of view, what the parents hear is, Oh, my goodness, what is happening to my child. And when they hear it's almost like a shopping list of things that are wrong with their child. And we all know there is nothing wrong with children. There is absolutely nothing wrong with them. But if you were to overload and bombard a parent about all the things you're noticing about that child and that first meeting, the parent becomes overloaded. And then boom, their brains really explode with all of you know, the things that are going for that child and a parent becomes, again, really defensive, but the parent themselves become really overloaded. And it's really not a great place to start. So be really specific about the things that you're observing, but also choose the one that's having the most impact on that child. So it might be that they're rolling around on the carpet at the back of the room, every time we have group work. And that's the biggest thing that you would like to see as a teacher focused on first. So it's really important that the long list is not delivered, that it's the one thing or it might be two, but one is a great place to start, that's having the biggest effect for that child.
Now, the last point I want to talk about is the importance of coming up with a solution together. Now, we all love to be able to tell people and I'm an occupational therapist, so my whole career has been about giving prescriptions or saying to people, right, these are the things you need to do. But nothing is more empowering and nothing is better at building relationships than when you come up with a strategy and a plan together. So if one person gives the prescription and says this is what I want to see happen, the other person's not heard and validated. And we know how important it is to feel included. Because the parent is really the expert of their child, the parent is the one who will deal with the ripple effect, or they will implement strategies themselves at home, and they will be there through the ups and downs with that child. So it's important to come up with a plan together that both go, okay, my commitment to this in helping your child as a teacher is this. And the parent can say, okay, my responsibility is this. And my commitment to helping you and helping my child is this. And when you can come up with a plan together, it becomes a really lovely respectful and team approach to helping support the child. So I know that felt like, you know, I was talking is from a teacher's perspective and a parent's perspective. But there's a real reason for that, when we're talking about children, and particularly concerned that teachers may be saying, in a school environment, it's not just the teacher's responsibility. It's not just the parent's responsibility, and it's certainly not the student's responsibility. What happens with the child is their success at school is based on a team approach. It's the teacher, it's the parent, and particularly in these initial discussions, they're the two people that need to come together to go, Okay, how are we going to help support our child, this child so that they can have the best start to the school year. Now, there might already be an existing team that is supporting a child. And there's a whole lot of ways that you know, you can discuss it with the team to get strategies as well. But what I'm talking about today is that initial conversation that you're having as a teacher with a parent, and just some of the things to really think about, to make sure that you have a really valuable relationship building conversation right from the beginning, I'll go over those again. So if you've got a pen and piece of paper, the first one's around being aware of your timing. The second is about being specific around your concerns with a child. avoid overloading the parent in that first meeting, and the most important is coming up with a solution together.
Now when I say solution, it's not about fixing a child, it's about saying, okay, it might just be like, Okay, let's just see how they settle in over the next few weeks. And we'll revisit this conversation in another couple of weeks done, okay. And that might be the plan of attack, and that might be the solution that comes up. But just remember this time of the year, when children are transitioning, whether it be into a new school into a new year, it could be to a different school for the older kids. These first couple of weeks, the more positive they can be for a child, the more valued and included a child can feel in a classroom, the more successful the rest of the year will be. And for you teachers, you know, you don't have to do this alone, either. You've got a whole classroom of children who you're trying to understand and learn and develop good relationships with them, try to bring out their best as little people and little learners in your classroom. You don't have to do this alone.
Now coming up in March, I will have the round of The Holistic Classroom open for teachers. So if you are interested in being a part of that program, where we go deeper on how you can better support the whole needs of your students in your class, then you can jump on the waitlist. Just head over to www.angelalockwood.com.au. You just sign up to the waitlist and we'll let you know when you can register and sign up for that program.
For parents, we have this year which I'm really excited about our whole range of Parent Masterclasses that will help you better support your child through all of the ups and downs that come with school life but also in raising children. So there's a whole range of opportunities for you to get the support that you need. But I know right now, the number one thing is just to be there for your little person as they start this school year. And keep things simple. Keep the child at the center of everything that we do. And the more relationships that we can build at a positive right from the beginning, the easier the school year will be for everybody. If you want to know anything more, please jump over to my website at www.angelalockwood.com.au and there's a whole range of information there that you can access, including how to communicate concerns to a parent. There's a whole blog on there that you can read as well. Thank you so much for joining me. I wish all of you a super successful you start to the year. And until next time, I'm Angela Lockwood. Thanks for joining me on a kid's life podcast.
Thank you for listening to A Kid's Life podcast. To stay up to date on all the new episodes, please subscribe to all the places where podcasts are found. If you want to learn more about my teacher and parent programs, please go to www.angelalockwood.com.au. Until next time, slow down, have fun and take care of our kids.
Angela: Thank you for listening to A Kid's Life podcast. To stay up to date with all new episodes, please subscribe or any of Spotify, Apple podcasts and Google podcasts. If you want to know more about the other programs I provide, please go to angelalockwood.com.au. And until next time, slow down, have fun and enjoy.