Navigating Between the Professional Rock and the Personal Hard Place (Meet the Teacher Night with LaVonna Roth)

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Navigating Between the Professional Rock and the Personal Hard Place is a scenario-based blog series aimed at helping educators effectively navigate how to address instructional, cultural, and procedural concerns with colleagues to help achieve a positive outcome.(The Professional Rock) in a productive and collaborative manner, all while keeping in mind the ever-present concerns of resentment, fractured relationships, or even retribution that impacts us or, more importantly, our children and students (The Personal Hard Place).

Welcome back to Navigating Between the Professional Rock and the Personal Hard Place. In our third installment in the series, LaVonna Roth shines her light on a scenario that unfortunately too many students and parents experience each Fall.

As a reminder, names and some personal information have been changed to protect individuals who submitted scenarios. If you are an educator/parent and have ever found yourself to be or currently are Navigating the Professional Rock and the Personal Hard Place, please provide your scenario to our blog series by contacting Brandon Macrafic at brandon@firsteducation-us.com.

Series Entry #3: March 15, 2019 Featuring LaVonna Roth

CRichard and Nancy are both long-time educators who have three children of their own, who all attend the school in which Nancy works. Richard is a school administrator in a neighboring district. Richard, Nancy, and their daughter Haley are excited to be attending meet the teacher night for the start of the school year. Haley is entering upper elementary in what is commonly known amongst parents and students in the community as a very challenging academic grade level. Expecting this to be a time for Haley to get to know her teacher and vice versa, Richard and Nancy enter open-minded and hopeful for Haley, who has always enjoyed school. Haley, like a lot of students is a bit reserved and nervous for the difficult academic challenge ahead of her.

As expected, there is some beginning-of-the-year paperwork to be completed by Richard and Nancy while Haley is shown her desk. Once the paperwork is completed, the teacher sits down with Richard, Nancy, and Haley and proceeds to spend the next twenty minutes describing the many expectations that Haley and her classmates will have this year including, but not limited to: homework completion and behaviors. Included in this one-sided lecture is a list of the consequences that await Haley should she fail to comply with any of these expectations: no recess, after school detention, academic failure, etc. This goes on for the entirety of the meet-the-teacher time, ending with a simple inquiry…”Any questions?”

Haley, having entered the room already uncertain is silent. Richard and Nancy are both stunned and, like Haley, at a loss for words. This was supposed to be a positive experience and start to the school year and it ended up being anything but that.

Once home and away from Haley, Richard and Nancy can’t help but wonder what Haley is thinking about in relationship to her teacher, the upcoming school year, what the culture in the classroom will be like, and what, if anything, Haley’s teacher knows about her following this meeting. They are very disappointed in the educational approach and are wondering what, if anything, they should do to address their concerns.

Key Questions for Richard and Nancy

1. Should they address their concerns now or give the school year a chance to start and see how things progress? If they choose to address their concerns, with whom should they do so…the classroom teacher or building administrator?

“This is not the ideal situation we would want for any student since building relationships is key. If we want Haley to do her best and be her best, we need her (and all students) to be in a learning state, not a “threatened with consequences” state. I would recommend that Richard and Nancy wait for a bit before addressing their concerns. Since this is upper elementary school, it is a great time to begin teaching Haley how to handle different situations and people. They could use this as an opportunity to share with Haley how every person is different and has their expectations. This situation provides them with a chance to talk about how to reframe situations to find the positive, how to be resilient when things are not how you wanted them to be, and that each year brings new learning opportunities to learn about you as a student and learner. I believe it is important for Richard and Nancy to share more about the needs of their child with the new teacher, however, this should be done with care since Nancy and the teacher are in the same school. By no means should a conversation be avoided, but it should be taken into consideration. I would also encourage Haley’s parents to ask her what she is thinking and how she is feeling so they can address those concerns head on. In my experience, once teachers like Haley’s learn more about their students, they often gain insight into how each student is and what motivates or un-motivates him or her. It is rarely my recommendation for a parent to go over the head of the teacher to the administrator without addressing the concern with the teacher first. Each person should have an opportunity to share their insights and to correct the issue. Keep in mind that Haley’s teacher may not be aware of how she comes across; she may not recognize how her classroom is authoritative; or she may not be aware of what she doesn’t know when it comes to students social-emotional well-being and states of learning. What a great opportunity for all to learn.”

How can Richard and Nancy address their concerns professionally and effectively without jeopardizing the existing relationship between Nancy and her colleague?

“In order to handle the situation with care, I would recommend that Richard and Nancy look at a couple of options. One, schedule a meeting with the teacher and have Haley present. I would request that the meeting be for Haley to share more about who she is as a student in and out of school so the teacher can gain more insight. Second, Richard and Nancy could suggest that Haley write a letter to each of her teachers about her excitement for the new year and sharing a few things about herself in the letter. Third, Richard and Nancy could request a meeting with the teacher sharing how they want to make sure their daughter has the most successful year while also being sure to support the teacher. Asking the teacher how they may support her is a great conversation starter and can open the parent’s eyes to some reasons for her expectations and classroom rules. Once that part has been established, transition into a conversation that shares more about Haley and what works for her to be the best student she can be. Tone and word choice matter in conversations such as these. They can fuel a fire that spirals downhill quickly or be of mutual respect and ignites a flame of learning for the student and success for the teacher.”

What are the key points that Richard and Nancy should address?

“Some key points that Richard and Nancy should address are:

  1. Establish that everyone wants to be successful here- the teacher, the parent and the student.
  2. As Haley’s parents, they will want to make sure that the teacher understands they are there to support her while making sure that Haley is being supported so she is successful. Making statements such as, “We are here to support you however we can. We know that as a teacher, you have a drive for seeing your students be successful. We want that for Haley, too. Would you mind if we shared some things we know about Haley that has helped her be successful in school in the past?”
  3. If the situation is not rectified, they need to make a parental decision based on what they know about their daughter. Every student is different and their needs are different. They can choose to help Haley through the situation and teach her the opportunities that come from that kind of teacher or they can choose to address the situation with the administrator, which may not rectify the situation and may make matters worse. For the year, let us hope that Haley’s teacher gains insight into what Haley needs while maintaining a connection to what she wants her students to achieve while in her classroom.“

About the Authors:

Brandon Macrafic is a Principal on Special Assignment for Career and College Readiness for the Rochester Public Schools in southeast Minnesota. He also serves as the FIRST Educational Resources Regional Director for the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Brandon started his career as a middle and high school German teacher before serving as a secondary building administrator in both Hayfield and Rochester, MN. His educational passions include school and leadership reform, proficiency based assessment, grading, and reporting, and career pathways. Brandon lives in Kasson, MN with his wife, Katie, who is a kindergarten teacher, and their two children, Henry and Ellie.
Twitter: @BKM31

Thousands of educators are exiting the field of education every year, exhausted and burnt out. Frustrated by this crisis that hurts our students, LaVonna Roth set out on a worldwide mission to serve educators, authoring 8 books on brain research and engaging instruction, creating the Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® framework, and providing professional development for educators internationally. Her life’s passion is to empower educators like YOU to find the greatness within your students and the greatness within yourself so we can radically change the traditional approach on how to educate in order to best serve our students. As an elementary and secondary educator, keynote speaker, author, consultant and mom, she is here to serve you so you can effectively serve your students through the lens of brain research, social-emotional needs and the whole child!
Twitter: @LaVonnaRoth

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