"The moment a child is born, the mother is also born" - Rajneesh
Stacey Crowe hosts this week's episode alongside her guest Melanie Lynchuk. Join them as they chat about their experience of becoming new moms while taking their master's program and the life-changing impact it had on them as people and teachers.
The two discuss the feelings and worries of being new moms and the life decisions they now face when putting their children into someone else's care. Further, they explore their fresh perspective on what their classroom families go through with their children.
Melanie shares a bit about how she seamlessly blended her teacher and parent identities with the unique opportunity she had to have her daughter in her class. She also offers concrete suggestions on how to engage families in schools, encouraging other educators to do the same.
Lynchuk, M. (2015). From educator to mother: My personal journey. In D. Pushor and the Parent Engagement Collaborative II, Living as mapmakers: Charting a course with children guided by parent knowledge (pp. 43-49). Sense Publishers.
Lynchuk, M. (2015). Connections with all families. In D. Pushor and the Parent Engagement Collaborative II, Living as mapmakers: Charting a course with children guided by parent knowledge (pp. 105-114). Sense Publishers.
Huber, J., Graham, D., Murray Orr, A. & Reid, N. (2010). Literature conversations for inquiring into the influence of family stories on teacher identities. In M. Miller Marsh & T. Turner-Vorbeck (Eds.), (Mis)Understanding families in schools: Learning from real families in our schools (pp, 79-94). Teachers College Press.
This podcast 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 Stacy Crowe and I will be hosting this episode of the school interrupted podcast. I grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan before making my way up to Saskatoon to complete my bachelors of education degree at the University of Saskatchewan. I've been a teacher with Saskatoon public school division for eight years now, and grade four is my absolute favorite grade to teach. I have a wonderful husband named Mike who is also a teacher we met during our time in education together. We both recently completed our Masters of Education Degree in curriculum studies, also through the U of S. And this is where we reconnected with Debbie pusher. We were lucky enough to take an undergrad class with Debbie and never forgot how much that class impacted us as people and educators. Debbie has a way of delivering content and facilitating activities that create really strong bonds between her students, we can probably credit her to having a hand in some of the relationships, we still hold strong today from our time in education. When we heard about the parent engagement courses she offers as part of the master's program, we knew we had to take them. We had heard how intense they were from friends, but also about how important and life changing they would be. We signed up under estimating just how much they would affect us, especially because at the time, we would be juggling a four month old baby. We welcomed our first child a little boy named Oakland in the midst of our master's program, and I believe he only enriched our learning. He also took part in most of our classes as everything was online due to COVID, which ended up working out pretty well for us. Having Oakland during this time really made us both think about being on the other side of the teacher parent relationship. This parenting thing was relatively new to us. And many of the topics discussed in our classes with Debbie made us question some of our practices as educators but reaffirm our belief in this work of parent engagement. We want to be involved and welcomed into Oakland School life, share knowledge of Him and have a relationship with the teachers and mentors in his life. This podcast aims to provide discussion about how valuable and transformative parent engagement can be in schools and hopefully inspire schools to be more family centric places where learning can be co constructed. My guest on the podcast today is a perfect fit for this discussion. Melanie Lin Chuck is a pre K teacher also with Saskatoon public, her and I met while teaching together at the same school in Saskatoon about five years ago. She is a loving mom to her two children Jude and Lulu and her husband Ryan is also a teacher. She is an incredible educator and advocate for parent engagement. You can hear the passion in her voice as she discusses her experiences and teaching practices and how they are truly woven into her life. Melanie and I bond over the overwhelming feelings that come with new motherhood and how incredibly impactful Debbie's classes were for us at such a vulnerable time in our lives. She discusses her unique experience of having Lulu in her pre K class and how that change but enrich her relationships with her families. Melanie share stories and advice from her experiences doing home visits, and how unique the learning is that comes from these visits. Finally, she offers concrete strategies for teachers and how to engage parents both on and off the school landscape. Alright, let's get into it. Hi, Melanie. Hello. Hi. I'm so happy to be chatting with you today. So maybe to start, you could just share a bit about yourself and give us a little introduction to you.
Sure. So my name is Melanie lintec. I am a pre kindergarten teacher at Saskatoon public school division. And I'm also a mom, I have two kids Jude who is eight and Lulu who is six. They've kind of been the basis of my learning of parent engagement. I've taken my masters in early childhood and parent engagement? Yeah. been teaching early childhood for most of my career?
Awesome. Well, that's yeah, kind of what I was going to go into is first talking about parent engagement. So I was greatly impacted by taking Debbie pushers parent engagement courses. Like I don't know if it's cheesy to say, but it was kind of a life changing experience for myself, my husband, but I truly feel like it was. I also found it to be a very emotional experience and came at quite a vulnerable time in my life.
And I was like lying because I feel the same way.
Because my husband and I had just had our first child only four months prior, I know you had a very similar experiences, even similar experiences of kind of what was going on in your personal life. When taking these courses? Did you want to share a little bit about that?
Sure. So when I signed up to take my master's in parent engagement, I did not know I was pregnant. And when I found out I was like, I think a week into the first class. I felt like, at first I was like, Oh, my gosh, how am I ever gonna do my master's was like a brand new baby. But then, as things started to unroll in the class, I was like, getting hit so hard with these, like big major life decisions. I didn't really even think about until that time, like, what am I going to do with my baby? How's he going to school? How am I ever gonna let him go? Like, I was pregnant. And I thought, oh, my gosh, like, I love him so much. And he's so precious in me. And I didn't know how I was going to put him into someone else's care. And I was kind of hit with this realization of like, my families that I've taught for the past, like five years have done this. And I've never really, truly knew how that felt.
I totally agree. I was also pregnant when I started my masters, newly pregnant and then yeah, when we when the timing came to take the take the parent engagement courses, he was so young. So you're just yeah, you're kind of in that mindset where first time mom, and you just love them so much. And then the I agree totally all this content is coming at you that you've never thought of before. So how do you think taking these courses impacted your teaching?
Like I feel very similar to what you said before, like it was life changing for me. And I've said that to a lot of people who've asked me about the courses and if they should take them and what I thought and all of these things. I've always said it was life changing. And emotional. It was emotional. So yeah, I think for me, I had always tried to connect with families, because I'm a really social person. I'm like, kind of I've Well, I'm an extrovert, like I like being around people. I've always loved having like families and kids and siblings in my classroom. And I always thought that was really fun. Like, the more the merrier, kind of, but I never really connected with families in a purposeful and authentic way. I think it was more like, Oh, this is so great, or what did you guys do this weekend, you know, and like those kinds of small chats, but nothing that was like really getting down to like, who they were, what they wanted for their child. What they thought about school, maybe their own experiences. And just like how they felt about that moment, because I taught kindergarten for quite a while. And so a lot of times, like I was the first experience for families and kids, you know, when sent their kids to preschool and you know, not everyone sent their kids to daycare and, and even, I mean, like I even did as a mom send my child to daycare, and then to school. But every year I've had a hard time with it. And I didn't realize that every year is hard
for parents. Yeah, I totally agree. It's so funny. I also thought I did the same things, the door conversations that I felt like you you're still building a relationship with the family, but different. And I thought as a teacher, before I became a parent, I knew what it meant to be a parent or kind of had an idea. I think, I think what it would look like or how I would feel because I honestly felt like I treated my students like they were my own. That was me too. Yeah, until you have your own and you just don't know what it's like to be a parent until you are a parent, I guess. So you also continued on to Eaker 805 With your cohort and Debbie and you wrote a chapter in a book, Living with or living as mapmakers was the title of the book. But I remember reading your chapter from educator to Mother, your personal journey and just connecting on Almost every sentence, which thank you because I'm sure I would I'm not the only again, new parent or mom, or who's reading that I just found it so relatable to what I was going through and how my thinking was changing in the process. So I feel like becoming a mother really does change and shift your identity as a person, but also as a teacher,
too. And I think like when I was after I had dude, like, I was still taking my classes, but I was trying to connect with other moms. And like, kind of formed this little bit of like, a community that I could like, raise my child up into, because I was learning about how important that is. But also, I needed it for my own sanity, too. And so I did things like mom and baby yoga, I went to mom and baby bar. I like met with other moms and had coffee at coffee shops and at homes and things like that. And there was a group of us that got quite close, I think because I was a teacher, that moms were kind of starting to talk to me about what do I do? Like, how do I how do I send them to daycare like, and that was always a big conversation when your kids are babies, right? Because you kind of have to get on these daycare lists so early. And so it seems to be in people's minds sooner than later. And I never thought about it either. Until I had Jude and I was like, Oh my gosh, I have eight months. Like I need to find a daycare, I need to find someone I like I know, oh, my goodness, what am I going to do
even has a teacher my husband and I are both teachers, you and your husband are both teachers. I guess we never thought we would have those fears about school because we are going to schools every day. Oh, it's so well. And we're looking after other people's kids every day. And then I think that just holds more weight now especially like, I know, even in your chapter, you talked about your reservations or your worries about sending you to school, I have the exact same worries, I
think what was really scary about school that I realized was that you don't get to pick and choose. Yeah, you know, like, you get to pick and choose in a way like your school that you send your child to. Right. Yeah. And I mean, I've said to families now as like I have parents and families that come into my pre K classroom. Sometimes there's a little bit more of an option with early learning that way, right? So I will say to them, like, you know, when you walk through this door, and we speak, if, if this feels good to you, you know, like, if this feels good to you as a mom, then it's going to be okay. But if it doesn't feel good to you, I'm not going to be offended. Right, like I will do what's right for your family. And now I've kind of taken that in to consent. So good for you. Yeah. But at the same time, I think what was huge for me was that I thought about like dude going to kindergarten or preschool or whatever. And I thought like, well, I have, there's two schools in my community, I'm not going to drive them across the city to like, a certain kindergarten teacher or whatever, you know, yeah, he's gonna go to this school. And like, what if it's not a good fit? So you don't love my baby? Like I do? What if they don't want to connect with me? Or ask questions? Or, you know, and our kids all have these little quirks and things. And I think even as a teacher, I didn't pay attention to how important those are to families. You know, things that make your child who they are, yeah,
I saw them in my classroom. And I loved each kid because of these little differences. Yeah, but I didn't realize that parents worried about their kids. It's all that parent knowledge you have. And is it going to be tapped into or not by their educator? So yeah, like, this is a couple of years ago for you now, but it's definitely my reality. Do you have any advice?
I mean, I think what I, one thing that I learned from the parent engagement courses, was that teachers aren't always going to come to me, you know, like, I might be a teacher now that seeks out that parent knowledge invites families to my home, which I've done invites myself like really nicely to their home. Yeah. encourages them to talk to me about those things so that I know their child better. And I might be that teacher now. But not all teachers are like that. And they just might not know, right? It's, it's not a fault. It's just they just don't know. Yeah. And so what I learned is that I have to take that into my own hands. So as a parent, I need to have that kind of power to say to myself, that teacher is not the knower, my child I am Yeah, and I need to Build a relationship with him or her so that they know my child in a way that he will have or she now Lulu two will have a successful education for those 10 months that they're with them. And because we know as teachers, those 10 months, they aren't like our babies. Oh, yeah, there are kids as soon as they will spend so much time with so much time with them. And I think there's like a bit of a disconnect, too, because I even think that families don't realize how much of an impact their child has on us. Yes, you know, so like, sharing those stories between teachers and parents, and opening up that conversation with my child children's teachers is like, what's really important. So like, at the beginning of the school year before school, even starts every year, I've, I have wrote a letter to my child's teacher telling them about who they are. And I've always gotten like, a really nice response back and like, oh, my gosh, I had no idea. I'm so glad you wrote me this, I would never have known, you know, those kinds of things. And I always end it with like inviting them to something. So I know, the work that I've done in Howard code, whenever I go to a parent's home, I always try to invite them back onto the school landscape. It's a way for them to connect back to the school. So like, I'll go to a home visit and then say like, oh, you know, we're having like a Family Library on Sunday, or we're having this potluck or whatever. Like, maybe you want to come back. Yeah. So to kind of create that.
Click reciprocating Yeah, relationship. Yeah, yeah.
So I try and do that in my letter to is like, I invite them to come to our house, they
something that struck me when I was talking to Debbie once was how she was saying, like, it's amazing. And if parents initiate that, but really, it should be our job as teachers, because she was saying we almost in a lot of cases hold that power, more power than parents on the school landscape. So she's saying, How are parents going to say, oh, like, Stacy, I know, I can trust her. She's the one I can trust out of all my kids, teachers to tell her all these things. I don't think they are going to know that until our relationships there. So how do you think we get more teachers reaching out to their families?
You know, it's hard because I think that there is this. There's like this power struggle, right? It's always been this hierarchy that teachers know, curriculum, we know what we're doing. You don't need to tell us how to do our job, right. Yeah. But it's not that I think what people get confused about is that like, taking that parent knowledge isn't about them telling us how to do our job, it actually makes it easier. I think
I know. Yeah, I agree. I agree. And I
know the kids better. And I also have these like little tidbits of information that I can take and kind of like weave into what we're doing. And like, how do those funds of knowledge that I hold now? Yeah, inform my teaching practice. And it makes it so much richer. And so for sure, I think like, it's, I don't know how else to do it beyond just like, showing and telling people. So I think like one thing that I try and do as a teacher is like, I take part in all of those like PDS that I can. And when I'm invited to speak about parent engagement, and I do, and it's become part of my classroom environment. It's not just like this one token moment I do with families, it's really interwoven into how I teach all year long. And so I think when I can show other educators how valuable it is, and they see it,
if you're the only teacher doing that, and kind of stepping up to being the only one at your school doing parent engagement or making it a priority that can be kind of challenging, in ways probably going to
being on on an island sometime. Yeah. I feel like where I am now. With pre kindergarten, it's part of our curriculum. And I've said since the moment I started teaching pre K, like, this is what school is supposed to be.
Yeah. So do you think it's more challenging for teachers who teach older students than
I do? Like actually, like my husband and I have had this conversation if that continued through the grades? Can you imagine the relationships and the information and the learning that could happen in grade eight?
Well, and I would argue it's almost more needed in grade eight. I absolutely agree. Yes, just with developmentally where kids are at. Yeah,
I agree with you and I That's one thing that like my husband has really struggled with, is being like a grade seven grade eight teacher, his whole career. He's had a really hard time being disconnected from families. And that same thing, that kids are kind of at this age that they want a little bit of distance from their parents. They don't want them in the school. They don't come on field trips, they don't want them to school anymore. So even those little doorway conversations we would normally have in the earlier setting, that's not even happening. Yes. There's times where they don't see them all year. Yeah, you know,
you will also had a very interesting experience because you had the chance to have your daughter Lulu, in your pre K class. Yeah. So you had both perspectives. I wanted to you were a parent and a teacher. Can you talk a little bit about that? And, yeah,
so about now, two years ago, Lulu was in pre K. And I brought her to pre K with me, we had a few extra spots open. And so I thought like, Okay, well, I'll bring Lulu Lulu is not anything like Jude, she is much more fiery, I guess. I'm sure it will serve her well at her. For sure. She's a powerhouse. So it was interesting. I wasn't sure what she would be like with me. You know, like, I thought she's either going to do her own thing and be really independent how she usually is at home. Or she's going to try and like suck the life out of me and pre k, right? Yes.
She's just your mom. Yes, I'm her teacher and her mom.
Yeah. And I wasn't sure if she would kind of understand that relationship either. Like, and I was, I do have to say, like, I was very conscious to make sure that, you know, like, I, if I was going to have Lulu in my class, I was also going to treat her, like the rest of my kids. You know, like the rest of my students and like, I, like love them and hug them and tell them I love them. Yeah. And she was actually handled that really well. And I wasn't sure if she would be okay with me saying to you know, like so and so like, Oh, it's okay, my baby, you know, like that kind of thing. Yeah. But she was great. But what was the best thing that came from that was that my family said I had that year, we were like now on a level playing field. Yeah, you know, they didn't see me just as their child's teacher, but I was also Lulus mom. So we would talk at the end of the day, or when they were in the classroom and stuff, we would talk about similar things our children are going through at home, like sleeping, or not eating this or fighting with the sibling, or, you know, like, what we were going to put them in for sports, or, you know, all of those kinds of conversations you would have with other moms, we had those. But then we also had conversations about how our children were interacting with each other. And there were there were times where, like, other kids weren't nice to Lulu. Yeah. Like such an interesting dynamic. And then there were times where like, Lulu would fight with someone else. Yeah, you know, so we had to have these conversations as parents together about our kids, how they were playing, and how they were interacting in the classroom. And then I also had conversations with parents about their own child, and how they were doing in pre K, what kind of things that they love to do and play with and who were their friends, and what they wanted for their children while they were with me. So it was kind of it was a really, really neat experience. It was I feel like it was a really humbling experience. I was concerned at first sat, I didn't really say anything to parents, the first few weeks of school that Leila was mine. Because I wasn't sure how it would be received. And I didn't want anyone to think that I was going to like favor her or anything like that. Yeah. And so I didn't know how to go about it. But then when we started going to home visits and stuff like that, I would say to parents, like, we'll lose actually mine. And, and they would be like, what really? Like, oh my gosh, and like then of course they like well, she looks just like you so I guess Of course she's she does. Yeah. But nobody was upset. Which was really relieving to me, like as a mom. You know, too.
Yeah. Well, it was kind of a cool opportunity for you. Yeah,
it was cool. And even still, Lulu loves to see some of the kids she went to pre K with and I'm still really close with a lot of those moms that our children played, you know, like they would stay after school and take Lulu to the park and then I'd meet them out there as soon as I was done things or whatever and we'd chat about mum stuff.
Yeah, so that's, well, that's so almost blending your parent and teacher identity, but like in a seamless way because losing your class, but I think, like, we need to reimagine kind of what it means to be an educator in general, we talked about this lots in our classes. So can we blend those parent and teacher identities more often? Or have those real kind of conversations with our parents? Because we have experience in that area too, not just right teaching?
Well, I think like, I've always thought of myself, like once I became a mom, I was always a mum first. And before that I was always a teacher first. huge part of my identity, that I didn't know who I was, if I wasn't a teacher, I don't know who I am. It's still the biggest thing. It's still such a big part of who I am. But I'm always a mum first.
Well, I think becoming a parent, we kind of like it totally changes everything about your life, but also changes the way we teach or relate to our families. And even the students like you can just see them in a different way. Or you're like, This is someone else's baby and the urine you're looking after. Yeah,
yeah. And I think like one of the things that was really powerful when I was in my Master's class that like, whole, it, like took my breath away was Maria and Walter Linklater, were talking to us one day, and Maria and I was pregnant with Jude, and she said, our children are on loan to us. And I, that has always been etched in my mind, since those that she spoke those words, like our children are on loan to us, like, as a mom, my kids are on loan to me, or not mine forever. And that's like, who like I don't like takes my breath away. And oh, yeah. You know, like, it makes me like, emotional even thinking about it. Like, those are not my babies forever. Yeah. And how precious they are to you. And then to just take this precious little being that you've worked, you know, so hard with up all night. Yeah. Seeing them learn how to walk and talk and their first words and all of those, like monumental things, and then taking them and giving them to someone else and and saying like, Okay, thanks, please. I felt like when I took you to school, for the first time, I felt like yelling like, please look after my baby. Yes. I just was like,
Oh, he's Yeah. So as teachers, we take that a lot more serious now, and we just hope others do as well. Right? Yes, absolutely. Kate, well, you brought it up. But I in my writing, and it's not published, like, I we didn't get a chance to talk to Maria Linklater. But Debbie relayed that same quote to us that are that same idea that children are on loan from us, and I wrote about that, but I had a very emotional response to it too, but in a way, like, I have a hard time with it. So I talked about how I do feel possessive over my son. Like, I feel very possessive. So that's why it's hard for me, I think to trust others, which is something I need to work on. But when she said they're alone, translators just kind of my immediate response was like, and we need to share them, I was just, I just fit well, I had to sit with it for a bit because I was like, come to the realization I feel possessive. But I also so much believe when we probably my educator background, that in the other quote, like it takes a village to raise a child like so I like battled with those two ideas, because I do think they need the influence of other people in their lives, other kids. And that I think like even aunts, uncles, any type of family, can be involved in raising them, and it's going to contribute to their growth and upbringing. It's just maybe harder to think about as like, maybe he's just too little yet and I'll get there. But I had a hard time thinking about that. It's funny
you say that because I feel so similar. Like, both my kids, like even my husband has told me like, yeah, let anyone hold him. Yeah. Really demand and like, I know, I didn't, yeah, he was just so precious to me and Lulu to like, I just like they, you know, yeah, they slept in my bed. I snuggled them to sleep. I nursed them to sleep whenever they wanted, ya know, like, they were my everything.
Again, it gives you that other perspective of the parents in your classroom. So they're proud wobbly feeling that way?
Oh, absolutely. And I think, like I've shared with families, and I think that's my home visits are so beautiful too, is that it kind of gives you a more comfortable setting to be able to open up about things. And I've shared with families, like a lot of my experiences of letting my kids go to school, and how that felt. And I've had tons and tons of parents say like, I felt that way, too. And I was really worried when they came to pre K with you. Yeah, you know. And it's kind of like taking that first leap. You know, and I think there's like so many of those moments for us, as parents were like their first day of daycare, their first day of school, their first day, in high school, like, there's like those monumental moments that are like big leaps that we have to take that our kids have to take two. Yeah. And it's like, giving them that little bit of independence. So hard to watch, I find hard, like,
yeah, everyone I know. Yeah. I know, you do home visits, you say religiously? Yeah, I do. Yeah. Can you give like you said, it's a comfortable environment, and you can share things. But do you have any more examples of like the learning that doing those has provided you?
It's like, I don't know if I can totally, like put into words. how impactful and important those moments have been for me, like for myself, and I think for the families to like, I have seen these relationships with families be created, that I really value. Like, I truly value these relationships I have now. And some of them like, I don't teach their kids anymore. Yeah, but I still see them. And it's funny, because I still like, there's quite a few families that I still go to their homes, you know, and I haven't taught their children for a couple of years. Yeah, three, four years, and I still see them, we still go for coffee, then
you might even get a sibling. So do Yeah. And I love that. Yeah.
And then that is a really amazing thing. Right. But I guess like so. I mean, there's a few things with home visits, you know, I think one of the most important things that I learned about home visits, was that like, no clipboard, no agenda, you know, you have to go in with this open mind. I think for some teachers they want to go and, you know, like, remember what was said and like, in a very positive way. But it's intimidating. You know, it's intimidating for us to walk into
when you want someone coming into your home with a clipboard?
Gosh, no, absolutely no idea. At least, yeah, that they were judging me, you know, as a parent. And I think parents feel judged by teachers a lot anyways, so we have to kind of break down those borders, right? Yeah. And establish that, like, Oh, I'm just gonna come over and we'll chat and you know, those kinds of things. And, but it's taking that first step again, you know, that when we go to a parent's home, and they see that we are not judging them, and we're not writing things down. And we're laughing and having coffee and chatting about like things that they love about their kids. And tell me about what school was like for you. And a lot of my family's come from other countries at Howard code. And so one of my like, favorite questions to ask is like, what was school? Like for you at home? Yeah. And that opens up such a vast array of conversations. And I always tell teachers to when they asked me like, What What should I ask at a home visit? Like, what do I do when I go there? And I always say, like, ask questions you want to know the answer to, you know, like, parents love to talk about their kids? I mean, like, I do, most parents do. Yeah. And so like, ask about their kids, you know, like, ask them about, like things that they love to do. And, and I always think kids are such a good icebreaker at home visits to because they want to show you their little bedroom, and they want to show you their favorite toy and all of those things. Conversation, just kind of roll off of that. And one thing I try and do is like, I feel like I'm a really laid back person in general. But I try to be even more laid back when I walk into someone's house, so that I kind of emit this calmness, that I'm not judging. I'm not coming with an agenda. I'm coming just to be, you know, just to be with you. Yeah. making them comfortable. Yeah. And to follow family protocol. Right. So I think that's one thing that we forget a lot is like we'll go to a family's house. You know, like sit on the couch or whatever. Maybe that's not where the family gathers.
So true. It's what we do. Yeah, we do in our like, and we probably do think like, my family probably does things that your family doesn't. So it's kind of Yeah, you taking their cues? Yeah.
Yeah. Anyone. One thing Debbie talked about, it was like, there's like a culture in a family, right? Like, my culture, my family is different than yours. Yeah. And the culture of a family that just immigrated from Bangladesh is different than a Canadian family, you know, and all of those kinds of things are very different. So one of the things that I learned from being in a very multicultural school is like those family protocols are really different than mine. Want to not assume? Yeah. Right. And to not assume, and that there's some things that are very culturally appropriate in some places that are seen as like different in Canadian culture, right? Yeah. Yeah. So I think just going there with like, a clear mind, and just the expectation that you're going to create a relationship, not like, oh, I need to know about this, or I want to make sure that they ask them about their report card. No. Like, to me, it's like, I almost say like school is off limits, unless we're talking about what they want me to know about their child because I'm their teacher.
Yeah. Are they here? Like relationship building literally assists? Yeah, yes. And sharing. Yeah, knowledge about the kid. Yeah, that's, yeah. Awesome. And then I'm sure it does inform your teaching as well, like you bring that knowledge not just to the student, but to the classroom and how you're planning your lessons, like you were saying, yeah.
Yeah. So I mean, like, since I've been teaching pre K, always at the beginning of the year, I set up invitations that are based around families, so animal families, human families, babies, all of those things, right? Like, kitchens, everything, like in my classroom is just based on stories that could come from families. Yeah. And the kids are playing there. And then when I go to the home visits, we can kind of like change things based on like what we see. Yeah, so one of the things that I noticed with some of my family as well, I noticed in their homes when I would go there, but then we had cooking for cohesion at Howard code. And it was like this night that we came together. And we would have a family or a cultural group that would cook for whoever showed up to the school. And it was like, so fun. I loved it. But one of the things that I saw when I was would come to these nights was that the women would be cooking, and they would cook on the floor. So they would take take the pot down to the floor and stir. And then when we eat, we sat on the floor. And when I would go to family's homes, we would sit on the floor. Yeah. We didn't sit at a table, like in my house, sit on the floor. And so in my classroom, I had like, you know, like the little typical little kitchen in play center, and a little table for them to sit at. And I always thought Why did they always trash it? It drives me crazy, you know, like, they would just dump the puppets on a little table. And it would be like this total mass. Oh, that's like, oh my gosh, this place drives me crazy. Like, I don't understand why they don't like sit down, like make your little thing, whatever. Then when my EA and I were doing these home visits, we came back and my yeas name was Jody and I said, Jody, we have a table in her kitchen. Like not her kids have tables. Yeah, are we thinking? So we took the table out, just to see what would happen. And they started to get like little cloth and fabric and they put it on the floor. And they started to play and set up food on the floor.
That's amazing. Yeah, we were like,
holy Dinah. Yeah. Did we never
do this? Well, that's something you wouldn't have known without doing home visits. Exactly.
And I think that's one of the biggest things, right? Like there's that parent knowledge that a parent's not going to say, Oh, just so you know, we don't eat at a table. That's not a conversation that's really going to come out. Oh,
it wouldn't be especially if it was at school. Like I just can't see it coming home. Yeah. Yeah. So
it's like, because I did those home visits. And I went and learned about families on another level, where I got to see things and hear family stories, not stories about families, from teachers or educators. But stories that family was would tell me themselves. Yeah. And I saw what was happening in the home and I saw that culture, then I could change the things that I was doing in my classroom, too. Meet what was happening at home
and focus only learning you could get from doing that, I guess, during the home visit, so for some families, I'm sure it's totally welcomed, or other families ever apprehensive, and how do you get past that? I guess?
Yeah. So I mean, I always have families that would probably be, like, more like me, like really outgoing and eager to have someone in our house and that kind of stuff. But I do. I, you know, like, I don't see every single one of my families, because there's some that just aren't comfortable with it. And that's okay. Yeah. And I always let that be known. Like, it's okay. You know, I'm not upset if you don't want me there. That's all right. One family that really stands out to me was a single mom. And she had her little girl in my class last year. And she's in my class again this year. But last year, I would kind of like, ask if I could come by and like, Hey, we're going to, we have Friday free, like, can I stop by and I'll bring you coffee, you know, all of those things. And she was always like, um, I don't know. Like, I think I'm busy. You know, like, that kind of stuff. That's okay. No problem. Like, maybe we'll do it another time. It took probably like, I would say about seven months.
Well, sometimes that's the easy answer right now. Like even I feel like with COVID, and just being a tired Mom, it's easy to just say no. Yeah. Yeah. So she wanted to say, I just don't want nothing even against
you. Absolutely. Yeah, exactly. And so it took about seven months. And then I had said, like we were going to do like, because in pre K, we get days that we can do home visits, which is so nice. So we had kind of like these days set aside that we could do home visits again. And I brought it up to her and said, you know, like, Don't feel pressured. But like we do have this time, I would love to see you guys. I would love to see your little girl at her house at your house and all of that kind of stuff, you know? And she was like reluctantly said yes. And so we went, and she was really uncomfortable. Like I could tell she was so uncomfortable. And she was a lot younger than me. Like she was a young man, like probably about 19. She was on her own in an apartment. And she was really uncomfortable. She like asked us, she asked if we wanted to sit down and we'd brought coffee. And we said like, I could tell she was just so uncomfortable. But her little girl is like one of the most bubbly little things in the whole world. So she was good about breaking the ice. You know, she wanted me see her the typical things her bedroom, her Princess house, her this, whatever. Yeah. And then we did sit down. And her mom stood like just at the table. And Jody and I were sitting, and her little girl was coloring beside us. And so we Jody was coloring with her. And I said, Do you have any pictures of her as a baby? And she immediately went like, yeah, you know, like, lit up like, yeah. And I was like, Oh my gosh, can I see them? I bet she she was like the cutest baby in the world, you know, like to try and break that ice. And so she ran, of course, and got her photo album. And we started flipping through all of these pictures. And she was telling us all of these stories about her baby, and pictures of like her baby's father and their family and extended family. And we were making all these connections with other kids in our school and like these other families that we knew. And we started this conversation, we ended up being there for probably like two or three hours. Yeah, in the end. And when we were leaving, we like, this is pre COVID. So we're like, you know, we gave her a hug. And like, she was so nice. And we got to be like, thank
you. Yeah, like we love this
so much. Like, can we please come back? We want to be able to chat again. Like, this was so amazing. And she she was like really happy. And she said, I have to tell you something. And I was like, okay, and she was like I was really scared about you coming today. Yeah. And like Jodi and I were both like, oh, my gosh. And you don't want to cause that stress. No, yeah. Oh my gosh, I never want you to be worried. Yeah. And she was like, I'm so glad you came because now I feel like I know you in a different way. And Jodi and I just started crying. Because we're like, oh my gosh, like we love you so much. Yeah, she was started crying and she was like, I just feel so happy that you have my daughter. Yeah, I made her work. Holy moly. You know, like for us that was huge. Because here was this mom, who didn't have the best school experience herself with teachers. Yeah, you know, dropped out of school at a young age had a baby at a young age was on her own and She was worried we were gonna judge her, you know, and, and now like, I have her daughter again this year, and we're so close, you know, and she's so happy. And even through COVID, she was really concerned about sending her daughter to school with all this. But she's she said, I feel more comfortable knowing that you're there.
My whole Master's experience, I think a really good thing that came out of it is it like, strengthened and reaffirmed some of my beliefs and values and made me more confident and like, even if I need to explain it to someone, or stand up for myself if I was in that situation, and it also made me question or challenge my thinking with things, or aspects of education that we do take for granted, like, does this align with how I live my life or how I want to run my classroom? So I think that's a good thing out of this master's experience, but also maybe for teachers is really look at what are your values? And what are your beliefs?
Yes. And I think like, some of those assumptions that we have about families, too, needs to change, you know, like, we have our own beliefs and understandings about our own classroom and who we are as people. But then we hold these assumptions about families, too, right? Yeah. And it kind of goes back to that notion of like, stories about families, you know, and how, as teachers, there's stories about families that are held in the school, like, yeah, you know, that's been passed down to, so and so can be a bit disruptive. Like, even those little stories, yeah. But then when you hear the stories from families, that they tell about their little disruptive, being, you know, like, someone might say, like, I remember, like, for Jude, for example, Jude went to grade one. And she, dude is nervous, he's quiet. He has like, a lot of anxiety about new situations. He questions a lot of things, but he does it in his head. You know, like, I can see this wheel spinning of him thinking about what someone said, and he'll ask me later about things that happened, like a week before, you know, like, he's very in tune to things. And I've always said, like, I feel like he can walk into a room. And if someone's in a bad mood, dude is like, I don't want to be here. You know, like, he's just so in tune with feeds off and energy. Yeah, very much. So. Yeah. And so I remember having a conversation with his teacher at the time. And she said, like, that Jude was disruptive. And that he was to kind of got silly with his friends. And I know that Jude does this when he's uncomfortable. You know, and I was trying to explain that to her. Like, as a mom, like, this is an you know, when dudes really uncomfortable or unsure. He, he doesn't know how to handle his emotions. Yeah, so he giggles or he is like, uncomfortable. And it's in this moment. So he's like, disruptive as like, as what maybe a teacher would see as disruptive like talks to his friend or wants to avoid what's happening by distracting himself with something else. And so I was trying to explain this. And I remember his teacher saying, like, like, I know, you tell me these things about how great Jude is, but I don't see it. And I was like, crushed. That's because I'm so sorry. Yeah, no, that's my baby. Who is my everything? Yeah. And I think we
when you know him the best. You're the expert on him. Right?
Yeah. Then you think about how teachers hold the stories about your kids. And I remember coming home for that meeting and saying to my husband, like, I don't want this to be the story of Jude. I don't want this to be the story that passes from grade to grade, that he's this disruptive little boy. Like, I want them to know Him and who he is. And if they did, they would know he's like this empathetic, extremely sweet, like, caring little guy. And he doesn't like attention. He doesn't like being silly. Yeah, getting into trouble is like, terrible for him. Yeah. But he doesn't know how to manage those emotions in a way. And so I didn't want that to be a story. And so I think like for me as as a teacher, I took that as like, holy moly. I hear stories about things that other teachers tell me or other families tell me. And I don't want that to be the story I hold on to
them. Pass it on. Yeah, be responsible for like, so I want
to hold on to the stories that I hear from families. And I think once I hear those stories, too, there's also this. You also built this relationship that now you have to honor. Right? So like, once you go into a family's home, and they tell you these really intimate things about their kids, it's not my story
to tell. Yes, yeah, you need to remember that. Right?
So I don't want to be that person that passes on these stories of kids. Because it's not my story to tell it's their parents. And when teachers asked me when they go to kindergarten, like, Oh, tell me about so and so I always say, I think you should make a time to talk to their parents. Because it's not my story to tell.
Yeah. And it's also I've heard some of those stories, and then had a totally different experience, right, me too, with those kids, or that family? Because you're just like, again, you have a different personality, you're like, it's just Yes, sometimes. Even if that story is passed down, it's not going to play out in your classroom. Yeah, absolutely. Maybe to end like, we could talk about, like, some of the strategies that would, I guess, maybe you could offer for teachers. So like, you have gone off the school landscape to build relationships. But also, do you have any ways you've brought parents on to the school landscape in meaningful ways? Because I think a lot of times we think we're engaging families. But it's more as like, still supporting, you are still a bit, I guess, like superficial or it's benefiting us in some way. Like, oh, they bring cupcakes or oh, they like they're coming by the classroom, but not, I guess, in a meaningful way. So have you done anything where you've kind of found where you can bring families on to the school landscape?
I guess, what some of the things that I've done is, like taking that knowledge that I have from home visits or things that I've learned about families and trying to inter weave it into our curriculum. Yeah. But then also sharing that learning with families in a way. Yeah, so like, sending photos and videos. I mean, like, seesaw is like one of my favorite things on the planet, because I can take a picture of the kids doing something, and then I'll record their little voice telling her mommy or their grandma or whoever, about what they're doing at school. And parents love that. And I would
like, I feel like communication is key. That's one of my huge things. Like, I communicate, like probably over communicate with some of my parents, like use apps, email, call all these things. And then I told my husband is like, if we get to teachers, or I don't know what's going on at school, I that's one thing that's just gonna, like, eat me. Yeah, yeah.
It does for me, too. I would love to see
them throughout the day, like pictures. And yeah.
So I mean, like, I, I'd use that seesaw app all the time. I obviously, like do home visits. But then one of the other things that I've done is like, if you only did it once, it would be like this token moment, dude. I mean, like, so I've had like scrapbooking days at school where I've had photos of the kids at school, and then I've invited families to bring their own artifacts of learning from home. So like, I love things that they do done at home, or like, I've had parents bring, like swimming report cards, or like pictures of them at their baseball game, or whatever it is that kind of stuff. And we scrapbook them as like a portfolio of their learning that year. It's not school is the hierarchy to that. It's all of the learning that they
can just come use the materials socialize? Yes. And that's
the other thing is that, like, when I did those scrapbooking days, I put them at round tables, so that they had to sit with another family. Yeah, they created relationships amongst each other to,
but like you're saying some of those families come by themselves so that we are providing an opportunity for the
community to Yeah, so I mean, I think there's a lot of things that we can do as teachers and I think, like some of the things that we learn at home visits is like, what are the needs of our families? So I know at Howard code, we learned that like a lot of our families were in need of some English classes, and they really wanted that. And they said they wanted it. You know, it wasn't us saying like, Oh, you're you know, I think we're gonna put some English classes in. It was something that parents were asking. Yeah, so we started doing that, that there was English classes that were held for families every day at 930. And there was babysitting that was offered that they their younger children, like infants could go and get babysat while they went to their English classes, if they felt comfortable doing that, if not their baby stayed with them. So when that happened when that was going on, one thing that I did is like I would take my pre K down to the ESL classes, and we would welcome the families every day. And we would welcome them because a lot of our families are Muslim. And they would say have a saying that is a Salam aleikum. And then they say back like a Muslim and it means like, Peace be with you. And, and peace be with you is how it goes. And so my kids learned, I taught my pre kids how to say this. And then we would go down and greet them. Like a solemn, so nice. Yeah. And they would say like, I'm a Salaam and they were so happy because sometimes that was, well, it was their home language. Yes, yeah. They didn't know a lot of English. So they felt like, okay, I can say this. And they know what it means, you know. So we had like these moments that we held with families, like scrapbooking days, we had the ESL classes, we did cooking for cohesion when we invited families in to cook and share their family stories with whoever wanted to come. And, and then I had like potluck nights and all of those things. So we had things at school that connected families together with school, but then we also went to their homes, too. And if we had only if I had only done that scrapbooking day, and then like, there's my parent engagement, like, check that box. Yeah, like that's a token moment, that's pretty much meaningless after Yeah, right. It's like, how do you take those moments? And now what do you do with all that knowledge you hold? So even from that, we started doing family journals. So the kids would, I would print off a photo from the week, they would put in their little family journal, and they would write about something that they did. And other times they like, wanted to like glue a picture in there that they drew, or they would say, like to write, tell my Mommy, what that I found that Ladybug today, right, like, you know, how Ladybug under a leaf and he was so excited, blah, blah, blah. And then they sent it, we'd send it home on Thursdays. And parents would send them back. And they would write in them back. Yeah, so and I mean, and I did show parents like how they could do this if they were unsure or whatever. And I shared it on seesaw, and all of those things. And parents would write back their own stories of like things that they were doing, or they would detach their own pictures of things doing. And then I got this little glimpse of what was happening at home. And their kids could share stories. But it also created a literacy experience for their children that they could write about at school and engage with their parents with at home.
Yeah, I do something similar. On Fridays, they write about their week, and then the families responding you do that's cool, get to hear about their weekends. But I love your idea of adding pictures like I definitely I'll try and incorporate that. But they do they write about their weekend and what they did. And then again, it gives you things to talk to the kids about so you might want to like relationship with the kids, like all I was gonna say that earlier with you is when you learn those things about the kids or the parents right to in the beginning of the year, you've talked to them, and then you're out at recess, you can just have this kind of informal, and they're like, Oh, how did you know that? Or you can talk to them about topics that you know, and it just, it makes that relationship so much faster. And it's just
taking that information that we learned and integrating it into our own knowledge of our kids in our classroom. Yeah. And looking, like reflecting on that too, though. You know what I mean? Like looking at your space, looking at what you're teaching, looking like you said, even like, Oh, I do that, but I didn't think about adding pictures. Right? Like, what are some things that you could just switch a little bit? Yeah, to engage families.
Thank you so much, Melanie, for doing this and talking with me.
Yeah, this is really fun.
I hope you enjoyed listening to my conversation with Melanie. A huge focus of our discussion was about our experience of becoming parents and all the worries and new life decisions we felt faced with when putting our babies into someone else's care. As educators, we need to be aware that our families go through this and do it year after year. We need to be there for them to support these transitions and build trusting relationships that parents can feel good about. Knowing our families only enriches the learning that can take place in classrooms. Melanie brought up a good point about how parent engagement seems to happen more naturally in a child's early learning school years, but questions what could happen if they were continued into the older grades? I really enjoyed hearing her share about the special Opportunity had to have Lulu in her pre K class, she was able to blend her teacher and parent identities. And it makes me hopeful that maybe this could become more of a shared thing that we do with our families. Sometimes walls can go up on both sides of the parent teacher relationship with both of us worrying about crossing a boundary or being judged. But can we let some of these barriers down and worked together sharing knowledge about our own backgrounds and about the students? That trust needs to be established early. As many times we only have a student for 10 short months. Melanie discusses how important it is that once these relationships have been formed, that we honor them and do not share the information we have learned with future educators, but encourage them to build their own relationships with the families. We need to be aware and listen to the stories families tell us versus the stories that can be passed down about families and schools, and do our best to stop this from happening even if the intention is good. It was heartbreaking to hear the story that was being passed down of Jude, and how that affected her as a mom. I love how Melanie ends with concrete examples of how educators can bring engagement into their classroom. But makes note of how if it is only happening once or twice, it is more of a token moment. We encourage educators to make this philosophy, a part of them and their everyday approach to teaching and learning. Reflection is a large part of the teaching profession and making the smallest change in the way we do things can sometimes have a large impact. I truly appreciate you taking the time to listen and a huge thank you again to Melanie for being such a wonderful and knowledgeable guest. I hope you enjoyed our conversation and will continue to support this podcast. We have some fantastic episodes coming up with passionate educators behind them. I've so enjoyed working on this collaborative parent engagement project with them and Debbie. I will be tuning in to hear their important discussions. Hope you will as well