The simple act of a parent-teacher relationship can have a profound effect on the student. Join Michael Crowe on this week's episode, where he talks about changing mindsets and building relationships between teachers and parents. Michael will be interviewing Linda about working closely with parents, how it benefits the students she works with, and her experiences as a parent. Linda runs a behaviour support program at Michael's school. Her input is hugely impactful.
Global Family Research Project. The Family Engagement Playbook.
Global Family Research Project
This episode is sponsored by Debbie Pushor Engagement Group Inc.
Welcome to school interrupted. Join us in rewriting narratives surrounding parents engagement in schooling and education. Let's talk about making a shift to family centric schools.
Hello, my name is Michael Crow and I will be your host for this episode of school interrupted. Today I'll be discussing shifting teacher mindsets about parent engagement and how do we change the mindsets of parents and teachers and build relationships with each other. Later in the show, I will be talking with Linda who is a colleague of mine who runs a behavior support program at our school and communicates with parents daily. I will also be debriefing a conversation with Nicole, a parent from my current school who I have taught to have her three children. That conversation was supposed to be in this podcast, but we had some audio troubles when recording. But first let me introduce myself. Like I said, my name is Michael Crow. And I'm from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, born and raised. I've been teaching elementary school for eight years, and I've taught every grade from grades three to eight as well as phys ed. And the last four years, I've had the fortunate opportunity to settle into grade five, six. But because I always enjoy challenge next year, I'll be transferring up to the grade seven eight. Personally, I'm married to Stacy, who you'll also hear from on this podcast series. We're married in February 2019 In our favorite place while Tuco Mexico, and a year and a bit after our wedding, we welcomed our first child Oakland into our lives. Having a child of our own has brought a whole new perspective on life and teaching for us as we now don the parent cap. Though I've always had an interest in parent engagement in schools, having a child is amped up that interest because one day we'll be sending our little guy to school. And it made us pretty nervous and anxious when we were thinking about that experience. Over my career as a teacher, I've had many encounters with parents, as in life, some counters are positive and others are negative. But one things I've found is that parents and teachers are not always on the same page when it comes to the student or child. Depending on which side of this you're looking at it from. Either way, there seems to be this divide. Because my child's not in school yet I can't quite put myself in the parent of a student rule. But like I said, I'm a teacher. So I'll be focusing on the teachers rules of the parent teacher relationship. As a teacher, I am definitely guilty of thinking I know what a family is all about. Maybe their child struggles in school causes problems at recess. And it seems the parents don't do anything about it. Or worse yet, they don't care. Or that's what I think as a teacher. And like I said, I've been guilty of this. I'm not here to tell you, I'm the perfect teacher, because I'm far from it. I'm here telling you how I plan to get better, and how I think we can all be a little bit better when it comes to working with these types of families, and really all families that we work with. When beginning this journey, my attention was drawn to a website called the Global Family Research Project, I won't lie. The reason I was drawn to this is because it had a simple idea to improve family engagement in schools. It's just three simple steps. Number one, change mindsets. Number two, build relationships. And number three transform organizations. And they have activities for each of the changing mindsets, building relationships, and transforming organization sections. I'll post a link in the bio for this podcast so you can check them out for yourself. First, change mindsets. Both teachers and parents need to shift their individual mindsets of each other. I know I just said I can't quite speak from the parent perspective yet. But relationships are built on a two way street. So we both need to work at it. However, I think as teachers, we need to pave the first part of that street to show parents Hey, we're coming. I also think teachers need to pave a little bit more of that street as well. You know, like that scene in which we're Will Smith is teaching Kevin James how to guess you gotta lean in 90% and let them come the other 10 I know I might be aging myself here. But that's the best metaphor I can think of. Schools have been historically a teacher space, which we still will do. But if we don't allow parents to be involved, we're cutting out a wealth of knowledge about the students that we teach, and in turn are creating our own knowledge about them, which unfortunately will involve some of our biases we have about that student and their family instead Taking a family's perspective, or hearing their story will give us a better understanding of the family and the student that we teach. And as an added bonus, we're starting to build a relationship. More on that in a minute. The more this relationship develops, the more confidence families will have to engage with you on a more equitable level.
Second, build relationships. Like I just said, changing our mindset, and opening that door to parents will automatically begin a relationship. As I also just said, We want families to feel confident about their roles as advocates for their children. To fully achieve this having relationships built on trust, mutual respect, and open communication are essential. But even as I'm saying this, I know it's hard. It takes time. It takes effort. And as teachers, we are tired, rundown, and sometimes when the students leave, we don't want to talk to anybody. Well, from my experience as a parent, so far, it is this. I'm tired. I'm rundown. And I'm when my wife takes my little guy to visit grandma, and I have a free night. I don't want to talk to anyone. So what did we learn here? We're all tired. We're all rundown. So let's bond over that sometimes and build a relationship. Now I'm kind of just kidding. But it's a conversation piece. And once a conversation is started, a relationship is being formed. My first conversation with my wife, we bonded over our love of Will Smith. And here we are today, happily married with almost two children. And just a little edit this was in 2012. So pre slap Will Smith and still trying to work out my feelings for my favorite actor growing up a parallel, here's to think about your relationship with your co workers. Don't lie to me and tell me you absolutely like everybody you work with, because you probably don't. But I bet you don't show that because you respect what they do for your company, or wherever it is you work, you trust that they will do their job, just as they trust, you will do your job. And if you're in a meeting together, you talk about work, honestly, because this will get the job done most efficiently. Look at all this work we did with someone we might not get along with. We were respectful, trusting and spoke with open communication. We can do the same thing with the parents of the students that we teach. Here's me being brutally honest, I have had students who parents, I do not really like, Yeah, I'll let that shock value sink in. And here's some more candor for you. I would talk to those parents less than the ones I liked. But here's the problem, though. At some point in the year, you will need to talk to pretty much every parent. And when I would have to talk to the parents I didn't like generally about something negative, we immediately started off on the wrong foot. Now this relationship needs to be repaired and built even stronger, which is going to take more time and effort on both of our parts. And since we're both run down and tired, chances are we're not going to want to do it. And we'll just chalk it up as a loss. So here's what I did very recently. And I challenge you to do the same respect and trust and talk openly to your families. You do not have to like them, but you need to respect them. Because they have been working with that student for years, and they know them best. So trust them when they tell you that their child gets upset when this or that happens. Parents you are off the hook. You're either we need to trust you. So you need to be truthful with us. Tell us how it really is be honest, even if it makes you or your family vulnerable. Teachers are vulnerable and we deal with vulnerability every day. And we welcome it with open arms. It helps us to build relationships with our students, and it will help us to build relationships with you. Even if you don't like us, we want the best for your child and we know that you want the same. That being said, let's go to my conversation with Linda and hear about her experiences working closely with parents and her own thoughts about being a parent. Hello, Linda, how are you?
I'm great. How are you?
I'm not too bad. Before we get started in our interview and conversation here, do you want to just share with us who you are, what you do, what your role is at school, and stuff like that.
You bet. My name is Linda Coghlan. This is my first year at Lester B Pearson school. Previously, I was a high school math and science teacher. And then this year I have transitioned to become the behavior support teacher for our it's called balance and it you know it takes kids that have trouble in the classroom based on behavioral issues and it puts them in In my classroom, and then we try to support them as best as we can to have successful academic, you know, outcomes. So the idea is, is that when kids come to us, they get what they need. And we have the resources to be able to provide them with a, you know, whatever supports that they need in order to find success.
Yeah. Okay. Well, I like that you say, like, they get what they need. Because we're kind of talking about, you know, like family engagement within the classroom and stuff. So, in that regards, do you work with families to kind of find out what they need? I guess,
we absolutely do. So I would argue that family engagements is one of if not maybe the most critical aspect to success in our program. I would say that without family engagement, without family support, you are at best on a hamster wheel. Without it, it sort of feels like work and work and work. And but we're not really getting anywhere at and we've only ever really seen much success in the program when we have engagement from families. And so that we are all working in the same direction. So just some examples of things that I do. So when families come in, we have an intake process. So when students are transitioned into our program, and the questions are, think of them kind of like setting up a, a bullseye. So what are we aiming for? What's the target? So we talked to the families about, you know, what do you see, for this student? What do you what are our goals? What are what is it that we're aiming for, and for our students, Senate families, lot, they're much more varied than I had originally anticipated. There are some families who, you know, the goal is, I want my kid back into a regular, for lack of a better term, like a mainstream classroom. Other families, it's like, no, this is this is where we want our students to be. But really what we are concerned with is, you know, can't he be successful in high school where we don't have the same amount of support? So we're looking further into the future. So that's the very first thing that we do with any of our families is allow them to tell us, what's the goal? What are we? What are we aiming for. And then after we set, you know, the goals and what what we're aiming for, then we sort of step back into, well, what are the problems that we're seeing now? How and how can we address them? So the families really are what dictate the end goals for the program?
How often would you say that you're in contact with families? Like is it? And I guess, is it the same for every student? Or is there some students, it's more than others,
in contact much more at the beginning, when they are at first entering programs, part of the buy in for parents is that they have to believe that what we are doing is in the best interest of their students, and that we really are sort of working towards the goals that are set out. And, you know, often parents and students have come into the program with a less than ideal school history, shall we call it, you know, they're often called an awful lot for behavioral problems. And for this and for that. And so, the very first thing that we do is when when I contact parents, when they first come in, we try to make sure that it's, you know, this is what went really well. And this is sort of working for and you know, we made these, these, these progress steps or whatever it happens to be. So at the beginning of the year, there is lots of contact, arguably daily, I would say if, if not daily than every other day, keep in mind that I, you know, really only have on any given day, because of attendance issues, you know, maybe five or six students. So, huge amounts of contact at the beginning. And then as families tend to sort of buy in a little bit more, or at least seem to buy in a little bit more than it, you know, it goes back down, I would say that there's no less than at least once a week contact with parents, but it really varies based on how the student is doing. And, you know, again, if I feel like we are making progress with that student, one of the things that I'll mention about that is because of the history that a lot of these families have with consistently getting called about behavioral problems, and this is going poorly and yada yada yada. I try really hard to make sure that I've got a ratio of sort of four positive comments to every sort of corrective response that I need from those parents. So what I want from them is so when they see a text man That's from me, which is how I generally contact them. I don't want them to sort of get that like pit in there that dreaded little pit in your stomach where we're like, Oh, what did you do this time? Yeah, you know, I want them to feel like, you know, most of the time, I'm texting them a picture of, you know, something that they've created something that they've done, well, something that they're working on, you know, whatever it happens to be, to try to just sort of break that idea that whenever the school contacts me if something bad,
yes, so and then so so this kind of program that I'm looking at, for this is like the, it's kind of broken down into three steps. So the first step is to change mindsets, between parents and teachers, and teachers and parents. The second is to build relationships. And then the third is to transform organizations. So that first one about changing mindsets. That's what I was going to ask you, because I know, with with your handful of students that there can be a lot of times where you're having those tough conversations or like, No, you're you know, you're bringing up negative things that have happened. So when you send out the positive stuff as well, like, you know, because I assume maybe when, when a student gets brought here, the parents are probably, you know, a little not weary, but like they've, like you said, heard of all the negative things that have happened at that other school. So do you feel like by you doing that as kind of helped with their, their mindset towards their relationship with you, but also towards their students as well?
I hope so that's the goal. Yeah. You know, the idea is, is that it's, I have a kid with special needs as well. So I sort of know what it's like to be on the other end, maybe not to this extent. But it's really horrible to think that you are sending your child to a place where they are not worthy. People don't enjoy them, where they're not valued, where they're sort of seen as a burden. And it's, it's a really hard thing to do to send your kid to an environment like that. And I think for a lot of these parents, that's what it has been these these kids have often been seen, or at least it feels like they are seen as a burden. And that's the number one thing that I would say that I want these parents to know is that in our class, you know, your kids not a burden, your kid has things to work on, as we all do. But we enjoy having your kid in class, and we enjoy the time that we spend with him or her and that he or she is valued within the context of the school environment.
I know for me, it's the first time I talked to parents most the time is yeah, it was something goes wrong. Because at the start of the year, we don't do those, like we don't talk to families. And I mean, part of its we don't know who's in our class, but part of it is we don't make time for it. And I think that's kind of an issue, in my personal opinion, because, you know, you have new families, new students, but even old students that maybe had a tough year last year. You know, yeah, maybe their parents are sending them day one being like, oh, here we go again, like, you know, I don't know.
You know, I think I was a regular classroom teacher for 15 years. And I certainly never had this amount of contact with parents before this year. So I think there's a couple of advantages that I have, number one is my class size. I think that with the class size that I have, it allows for not only the development of the relationship with the students, but also with the families. I'm not sure how effective that would be, you know, with a class of 30 Plus, you know, how can you? How can you make time to contact parents about all the great things that their kids are doing when you've got that many kids in your class? So? Absolutely. Should it be a priority? Yeah. But the reality of it is, is that we only have so much time as teachers, and, you know, something's got to give at some point.
Yeah. Well, and I, in relation to something's got to give, do you think that there's stuff that we could give up to make more time, like, you know, I always look at the start of the year, we have five days. And it's just kind of like, sometimes I feel like we're sitting there when maybe we could be out visiting families or, and I know with 30 kids, it's a lot different, but maybe like one or two three families,
you know, you triaging them, right, who needs it? Yeah, exactly.
And then, you know, getting out into the community, maybe doing like a home visit or something like that.
Well, Mike, who's listening to this, like, give me my, give me my answer to that? Well, I would argue that there is a huge amount of time of our day that could be much better spent in terms of effectiveness in changing mindsets and developing relationships with kids and families. Okay, so here it goes. Hopefully it'll get fired for this one out Number one is our Thursday staff meetings. I think that that time, right there could be much better used in terms of the effectiveness that we have in our classrooms. So even if you took that amount of time, you know, that is, what is it for us an hour, an hour week, you could arguably have good conversations with four families in that time. So that would be one thing that I would say, those first days at the beginning, that is absolutely bang on. And that one is what sets the tone for the year. Or if you can develop those relationships right off the bat, and have that family sort of trust you and the kids trust you, and have an idea of what the goals are for those kids. And as I said, you know, maybe doing all 30 is unrealistic, but to decide that these are the ones that need it, and to give them what they need, I think would be an incredible use of the of that time that we're given beginning of the year.
Yeah, no, I 100% agree. And I think too, when we have certain things going on in it's a, you know, we spend a lot of time on professional development and stuff, which some of it is definitely beneficial. But, but sometimes, you know, we're trying to help these kids. And I think, if we just get to know them, you're gonna help them way more than trying to implement a new program for them. Because you have no idea if that program is going to work, or if this teaching style is going to work, because you don't know anything about the family or the kids. But if you know them, well, then yeah, like you said, with your kids, you can really focus in on what do they need to know. And yes, it's it's harder with 30 kids, but I mean, when we're when we're doing these programs, it's not for 30 kids, it's for how do we bring up those low readers or math people? Or, you know, so? Yes, I think if we, if we got to try something new, you know,
and we sort of know that the PD that we're doing doesn't change a lot of our practice, right? What is it the stat something like when you go to those big conferences, 2% of teachers will actually change something in the practice. So I agree that I think that, you know, being able to be responsive to students by getting to know them, is arguably your, your best practice in terms of being effective. And having kids learn effectively,
I think it's a good time to start something fresh started something new. After being in kind of a closed door for two years, then maybe we've kind of mentioned this already. But what are what are your ideas that we could do? Come end of August next year?
One of the so first of all, I think we need to make it clear that families are welcome again. Because, you know, for the last couple of years, we've made it very clear that, you know, you can't be in here. And for good reason, right, we you know, health and safety above, above all, but that's coming to an end, hopefully. And now. We need a community in order to effectively educate our kids. So some of the things that I've done in the past in some of my previous schools that I thought were incredibly effective in terms of engagement of the school community was I was working an inner city high school, it's called City Park, it was primarily for kids with mental health and addictions issues. So for instead of parent teacher interviews, we had a family night. So we have family night. And we had these little session these little stations. So I think one was like beating one was we had some sort of a meal put together. And then the last thing that we did was bingo. So as opposed to coming in to the school, and you know, sitting in front of the teacher, and then having this like sort of awkward conversation of Oh, yeah, like Jimmy is doing so well. Yeah, yada yada. You know, the teachers were just in these sessions, and you came by and you just had a conversation just casually. I think it did a number of things. Number one, I think that's an you know, I can't talk for all programs. But for the program that I'm currently in. Often these parents themselves had pretty tough school experiences. And school is not a comfortable place for them to go. And it's especially uncomfortable to come in and talk to a teacher in the format of something like a parent teacher interview. So having a more casual welcoming environment, allowed these families to engage allowed them to for us to get to know them for them to get to know us. And we were just able to sit down and basically have like a relaxed, enjoyable evening together. Unlike most of sorry, again, Mike. Hopefully I don't get fired for this. Unlike most of the parent teacher interviews that I've had, which are long and dry drawn out and often quite painful for both sides.
Yes. Well, and, and and maybe I should have touched on it earlier too. But I totally agree with like, how you're saying the parents probably had a negative school experience. So it's like, before they even meet you, they're there. mindset towards you as not friendly or, or you know, it's a negative mindset. And it's going to be hard to build a relationship with you. And yeah, when you're kind of having that formal, I'm the teacher, you're the parent, listen to me. Conversation, like that doesn't do anybody any favors, but but I love the casual conversation, because you're going to talk about the same things. But it's the tone, it's the setup, it's the environment that make it completely different,
right? And it's the fact that they will actually come, yes, Alright, I'm gonna feed you, and I'm gonna let you play bingo, and it's gonna be fun. And we're gonna have a good time, and you can bring your kids so you don't have to find babysitting. And you don't have to sit there and listen to me tell you all the ways that your child was a bad child this week. So the casual conversations I have found to be more effective than the the formalized stuff that I've done.
Well, it's good. Just to kind of switch gears a bit. So I just was curious about your experience as being a parent, you talked about your kids in school, do you feel like because you're a teacher, that you're more comfortable, you know, sending your kids to school and not worrying about as much you kind of know the ropes a little bit. And you try to like build relationships with your kids, teachers, or you talk to them lots? Or how does that kind of work?
I do. So my kids are very different kids, I've got three kids, two, my two older boys are in school, and my little one will be in kindergarten in the fall. So their little, oldest one is special needs. He's got autism, and my middle guy is neurotypical. So I would say that the way that I interact with our teachers is different. But it's because they're different kids. So the easy answer to your question is yes, I think that it is incredibly important to develop relationships with my, my, the teachers of my children. With James, I would say it's actually more important that I develop a relationship with the EAA, who is supporting him. And, you know, that's one of the things that COVID has really, really affected in my family is the ease in which we communicate, because you know, teachers aren't going to talk to you in general about the day to day, right, they're not going to send you an email about, you know, just generally, how did today go? You get the email about how so and so was made a bad choice today. Yeah. So, Bri COVID. You know, I was able to go into the school. And James, James was my oldest, my guy with autism, James's EA would come out and sort of give me the rundown of today, like, Oh, yep, good day did this, or Oh, yeah, he was cranky today, he was kind of a jerk, or whatever it happens to be. And so I really felt like I had a good handle on where James was in terms of his score, you know, we're doing well in these areas, these areas still need work. And then, you know, we could work on my end at home to support the areas that still need to work. Now, with both of my boys, I sort of feel like they go into this black box of schooling and then like eMERGE later on, and I just hope that the teachers will let me know if something's going wrong. And I would say that that is probably a more typical, you know, schooling experience for parents, is that we just sort of hope that things are going okay, and hope that our teachers, the teachers will let us know if it's not. So in terms of being a teacher, and having that relationship, I think I have a more trusting relation that that teacher that they're working with, will tell me that, that what's going what's going on in there if I need to know, you know, I have great faith in my colleagues professionalism. I've also been very, very fortunate with the teachers that have been assigned to my kids, they have been outstanding teachers. So that also gives me much more faith in what they're doing. And to be confident that, you know, I'll I'll probably have a good idea if something needs to change for either one of the boys. I don't know that at least in my schooling that many other many other parents would be able to say that they you know, most of them don't know us. Most of them don't know that. You know, Mrs. Silber Nagel is outstandingly well organized and She Well, she runs a tight ship. And she you know, she'll make sure that James gets what he needs. You know, most parents just send their kids and hope that they're good a good teacher and really don't know otherwise unless there's problems.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I think that's the million dollar question is how do we change that? Because I agree. I think it's Yeah, I like the blackbox analogy.
Yeah. Right. Like, I
got no idea. And they come out. And yeah, if you need to hear something, you'll hopefully hear something. So I guess I think that's kind of the the big thing. And I think that's part of the changing institutions, kind of part of this program that I'm looking at, which is a huge thing. Anyways, I would just like to Well, thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I appreciate your words. I appreciate your wisdom. And yes, it was a good conversation. It was fun.
Thanks for inviting me, it's my pleasure.
I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Linda, I always enjoy talking to her at work because she tells it like it is and she didn't disappoint when we were having this conversation. I wanted to touch on some of the key concepts that Linda and I discussed and fused them together with some of the key takeaways I had with my conversation with Nicole. Because shockingly enough, there seems to be a pattern emerging. The first is that we need to be starting conversations with parents right at the beginning of the year, whether they are in depth, quick introductions, contact needs to be made, our first encounters with parents shouldn't be negative. And this is a great way to avoid this and begin to change the parents mindset of you that teacher. And by doing this, you are starting to build that relationship with each family member that you talk to. Ideally, I think it would be great to be able to do a home visit with each family. But that's not feasible when you have 30 kids in your classroom. However, maybe visiting a few families who would benefit from this could be done. When I was talking with Nicole, she said when her pre K teacher came in visited one of her children, it really opened up her eyes to their family life, and how she could best teach that student in the classroom. The other main takeaway I got from my conversations was that our parent teacher conferences need to be rethought. Moving away from the traditional, this is my side of the table. And that is your side of the table mentality. And creating maybe a more relaxed and harmonious environment can lead to just as rich of a conversation, but in a way less intimidating manner. As Linda said, have an event, make it fun, people will show up. And my conversation with Nicole, we talked about how sometimes, especially in the second round of conference conferences, most parents just don't bother with them. Because they've already done this once and don't really want to go again. We need to get the parents into the building. We need to make them feel welcome and comfortable in the building. And once they're in there, it's the teacher's responsibility to go over and talk to them. However, this all leads to step three in the global Family Research Project, transforming organizations. How do we do this? Where do we start? As Linda said, she thinks our time could be spent in better ways. But what a division feel that having more frequent conversations with families be more important than implementing new academic programs or collecting and analyzing data? Is academic achievement more important than making personal connections or feeling respected and supported by your teachers and families? We got to ask who are the stakeholders that are making these choices? Do they have kids in school? Do they have relationships with their child's teacher? Do they think it's important? Because if they do, then maybe it's time to play some importance on this at an organizational level. I want to thank you for joining me on my episode of this podcast. I truly hope you're enjoying this series. There are so many great ideas coming from so many great educators. It has been a pleasure working with everyone. I want to thank Linda and Nicole again for taking time out of their day to talk with me. And to all you listeners out there taking the time to listen to me ramble on. Thank you and take care