It was the eve of September 6, 1999, and I lay restless in bed. The next day would mark the official beginning of my teaching career. Unfortunately, a proverbial tug-o-war was taking place between body and mind. My body was ready for sleep, but my mind wouldn’t allow it. In an effort to quiet the noise, I closed my eyes and walked through the visual check-list of first day preparations.
My lesson plans are meticulous and thorough. Check.
The classroom is carefully designed with student engagement and safety in mind. Check.
My first day teacher outfit is placed neatly on my couch. Check.
My hope of a quiet mind quickly transitioned into a sudden onset of the what ifs. In a moment of panic, I realized there was one element of teaching I hadn’t prepared for. Parents.
What if parents don’t like the way I teach?
What if parents disagree with the way I discipline their child?
What if parents ask for a meeting and I don’t know what to say?
Needless to say, the what ifs kept me up most of the night. Thankfully, I made it through the first day unscathed, but my fear of parents still had me in its grips. So, I did what any first-year teacher would do. I asked to meet with my mentor. Within minutes, she shared a piece of profound wisdom that would forever change my interactions with parents.
“Starting this afternoon, I want you to call five parents each night. When they answer, introduce yourself and express your gratitude for having their child in your class. Ask them if they have any burning questions and reassure them that you’re available to talk should future situations arise. By doing so, you’re proactively establishing a foundation of communication. At some point during the school year, you may need to have a difficult conversation with them. Parents can sometimes be reactive, responding to situations in a knee-jerk fashion, so your initial phone call will indirectly encourage them to be proactive and to reach out to you before major catastrophes occur.”
Over the next several days, I made those phone calls. Some were more difficult than others, but the fact that I planted those seeds early on paid huge dividends throughout the school year. When situations did arise, I found comfort in knowing that a foundation of trust and mutual respect was already established.
Fast forward to today and I now find myself in the role I once feared. Not surprisingly, because of the wisdom I learned almost 20 year ago, I make every effort to be proactive with my daughters’ teachers and coaches.
In my consulting work with both schools and sports programs, I embrace the opportunity to empower parents to be proactive. Rather than waiting for a phone call from their child’s teacher or coach, I encourage them to initiate a healthy line of communication on their own.
Below are brief summaries of both proactive and reactive approaches to parent communication.
A proactive parent plays an active role in their child’s maturation (or growth) as a student and/or athlete. When problems arise, they seek to understand the coach/teacher perspective first, then collaboratively work to find a solution that’s in the best interest of the child. Proactive communication is based on mutual respect, authenticity, and empathy.
A reactive parent plays a passive role in their child’s maturation. They don’t see the need to create a personal connection with the adults in their child’s life. They figure that if a problem arises, they’ll deal with it at that time. Therefore, in the absence of any real line of communication, problems are met with urgent emails or phone calls saying, “There’s a problem and we need to talk.” These conversations are often confrontational, one-sided, and accusatory. Instead of a solution that leaves the child feeling empowered, the problem will often linger and the child ultimately feels powerless.
If you’re interested in a FREE .pdf copy of my book, Seriously, Dad? An empowering conversation that will change your lens on life, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s a great tool for parents and teens alike.