When the Golden Rule Isn’t Enough

Posted: April 18, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about parent-teacher conferences lately. I’ve been doing this for a while so I’ve given my fair share of both good and not-so-good ones.

en union y libertad?
In reflecting on what I do well and not so well, I have been thinking that I give the kind of conference that I want to get as a parent. I feel like I am following the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Often that works, but sometimes it doesn’t. The problem is it assumes both parties would want the same thing. (I’ve written about the dangers of assuming before.) What if I’m giving the type conference I would like to get, but not the type of conference that the parent in front of me wants? Now the golden rule starts to lose its golden glow.

We had a speaker at school several years ago who talked about just this idea. (I cannot remember his name or I would give credit. I will ask around.) He referred to the need for the platinum rule: Do unto others, as they would have you do unto them. I think this really applies to my situation.

I like to think that I fall in the happy middle between an “everything is rosy” and an “all your faults in your face” sort of person when it comes to conferences. I have two young kids myself and I have to say I question the teacher’s knowledge of my kids if it’s all hearts and rainbows. Don’t get me wrong—I have nice kids. They are also human, and I like to hear about them as such. It reassures me that the teacher knows them and, honestly, knows kids. My personal kids are so far very different as learners and we are already noticing how different their conferences are. However, they are still pretty young and there just isn’t a lot of academic pressure happening yet.

In my classroom, I work hard to develop a class climate that allows for us as a group to be relatively open about our minor struggles and the fact that there are things some of us have to work more on depending on who we are. It’s just the luck of the draw. By the time kids are 10, they know enough to know that I would be lying to suggest otherwise. I have found that students really respond well to this message. I often see the relief on their faces when I say out loud that it doesn’t seem fair that you sometimes or a lot of times have to work harder than someone else, but that it might be true. Finally someone is saying what they have been noticing. It’s very validating for many. This means that before we start a writing assignment I remind everyone about run-on sentences and I very obviously make eye contact and smile at the prime offenders. It means that as we are working on math I might call across the room and ask someone if he or she is being neat since we all are aware that this is an issue for this person. I keep it to that level of “issues” but I just find it so much better for everyone than being secretive about it.

All this is to say that I am giving a conference that comes out of that context—me as a parent and teacher. However, when the parents come into the room for the conference, I have to remember that they are foreigners, no matter their place of birth. They haven’t been with us developing this common culture; they haven’t witnessed their child being part of this open learning community. And, they may not want the same things out of a conference that I do.  The vast majority of the time, I think it’s been a pretty good fit, but not always.

Time to upgrade to platinum.

(Photo by Paula Rey used under Creative Commons share-alike license)

  1. JudyArzt says:

    Have you asked parents in advance of the conference what they want to know? If so, what kinds of responses do you receive? Also, do you maintain a blog for parents to read information about the general content and skills the children are learning and developing? Just wondering more about the mindset of parents before the conferences and how much you know in advance to prepare….

    • mseiteljorg says:

      Thanks for commenting. My students each have a digital portfolio where they keep work and updates on skills progress. Parents viewed these, with students, in advance of conferences and I began by asking about this.

      I think I probably need to ask more what folks want to hear about. I have such a mix of “wants” from parents. It is clear that some know they have to come, and do, but are neither worried nor too interested in the details. Others want to pour over examples of work. I always have prepared notes in a set format (across academic and social areas) that I use more or less, depending in the situation.

      Not surprisingly, those conferences that become conversations I think are the most helpful for all involved. Perhaps the bigger question is how to engage those parents who are too quiet in the conference.

      • JudyArzt says:

        Some parents are intimidated. You might need to spark their interest by complimenting their child and perhaps asking if they work with the child at home on school work or they know how to access the digital portfolios. Some might not have the access to the technology. I have heard from some parents that they are afraid to ask teachers questions. I guess you need to try some kind of ice breaker with some such parents. Others I suppose would just as soon be quiet and listen. I heard from one parent she did not understand the note sent home with her child and was too afraid to ask the teacher. This came from a well-educated parent, and she did not want to seem uninformed, so preferred to remain silent. In some cases, perhaps silence is okay if the parent chooses so, but at least the parent has shown up for the conference, and that means something. Seems like you are doing a good job all around.

  2. beryllium10 says:

    Children sometimes come to these parent teacher meetings, don’t they? Do you still just talk to the parent or do you try to include the child in the conversation and tell THEM what they could improve on, etc?
    How long do you usually keep these conferences to? 5 minutes or so?
    Hmm… For parents who are too quiet… I guess you could always just try asking them straight up what they want to know about their child education-wise… there’s really no point if they’re just there for the sake of it…

    • mseiteljorg says:

      Thanks for your comment.
      The conferences I am talking about are 30 minutes and usually do not include the students (5th graders). I of course talk with them frequently in class and give feedback there, but they are not usually at the formal conference.

      Sometimes I do have an additional meeting with both the parents and the student to make sure we are all on the same page.

  3. mseiteljorg says:

    Thanks for your continued thoughts. There are so many variables. I have been focusing in 1 area and now need to add some others. For the most part the format works, but there are always those times when it just doesn’t. I tried to get around the tech part by having the students (I know they all have access at home) show the portfolios to parents. I think you are correct that there are more parent questions that don’t get asked. Something to remember for sure!

    Next year, I’ll tweak some more.

  4. Maggie says:

    Was it Rob Evans who spoke of the Platinum Rule? While he didn’t coin it, it may have come up in one of his talks. The idea of the Platinum Rule has always been pleasing to me — I think it encourages greater empathy – we have to ask ourselves what do the people across from us want to do or hear or believe or whatever – and then make a conscious, intentional decision as to whether or not we can/will meet that need or (better) fuse our need to theirs in order to happily co-exist and move to a different place where growth can happen for everyone. While you are considering its application to the adults in your school universe, I have spent a lot of time considering how we can help children practice the platinum rule in their lives at school and beyond. It is tough to relinquish being a total people pleaser or completely centered on one’s own agenda!!

    • mseiteljorg says:

      I thought it might have been Andy Mozenter, but I couldn’t be sure.

      I appreciate your thoughts about making an intentional decision whether or not we can/will meet the need, and that the best option would be for those needs to be fused in some way. So many things to be thinking about in one moment!

      These ideas are just as important for the students in school. I think it might be time to post it in the room. I have other similar ideas, but as spring springs, it might be a good reminder.

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