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Go to the Principal’s Office

 

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18 September, 2012

go to the principal officeThis time of year, parents are always chatting about “how to talk to teachers” and “what to do” about communication between the home, the school and the child.

Having been in the trenches myself with five kids, I understand that moms and dads alike worry about how to make the school year a success for everyone – and that means sometimes focusing on keeping things neat and tidy and ensuring the kids don’t draw too far outside the lines, so to speak. Other times, however, it doesn’t really matter if they stay in the lines or go waaaay off the paper. This is their time to let the colors fly. So…

When parents ask for my advice on this topic, I say:

Here’s what I did…take it or leave it, but it’s not about getting through safe, clean and unruffled.

Are you ready for this?

I told each of the kids that if they didn’t get sent to the principal’s office at least once each year, they weren’t living dangerously enough. I said, go ahead-it’s your life and I trust you’ll figure it out. I gave them the green light to try something that rocked the boat just a little. And then I stepped back. (Yes! I said that.)

Why Would I Do This?

Here is why. I wanted them to take a chance, voice their opinion, stick up for a kid being embarrassed by a teacher, skip a class to help a friend, stay at play practice late in lieu of of completing the science project perfectly. In other words, I wanted them to do something outside the lines and rock the boat just a bit. So my kids weren’t afraid of making mistakes, getting in trouble and they were familiar with the folks in the office and had empathy for the tikes who were sent there on a regular basis.

What Happened?

Big surprise that as we entered the last month of school, not a one (well maybe one) hadn’t seen the inside of the principals office and were feeling a bit panicked about it. Good problem to have, right?

So, What Do YOU Do with This Information?

Whatever you want. You can say, gee…I’m so glad you said this- if Vicki can do it, so can I. Or, if it’s too extreme, you can say well, gee no thanks BUT I’d be willing to tell the teachers a few basic bits to help foster independence, choice and mistakes without encouraging a trip to the principal! *Gasp* …

And the Point?

The point is, it doesn’t matter what you decide, as long as you have a plan that works for your child and the only way you can make a plan is to know who you are as a parent (print the Duct Tape Parent Pledge- hand it to the teacher if it helps!) and what it will take for your child to learn (and by learn, not just “submitting work on time, doing homework and sitting quietly). The truth is, when you set out on school adventures, you don’t really know what it will take for your child to develop a true sense of self so why not let the messes fly (if you keep it too tidy, they’ll miss out on their own problem solving!).

Big Picture Thinking, AKA The 10,000 Foot View

With all the fuss over hover parents and school safety (yes, safety is important but I’m talking excess precaution, like no more cartwheels!? too dangerous?– sheesh) – anyway- with this “panic button” thinking permeating our schools, teachers are up against no discomfort for my kid mentality but if they know where you stand on these issues, and that you are likely to support them (and that in fact, you are encouraging your kids to take a few reasonable risks) you will have created an alliance with the teacher. And, it’s likely that the teacher will begin to see your child with new eyes. Eyes that reflect your goals for your child – independence, curiosity, engagement, social justice, etc.

If you’re clear up front in the first meeting with the teacher, you will all be able to relax a bit more.  It’s a win/win.

8 Thoughts, “Nuggets” or Un-Advice

1. Keep in mind, you are both in this together.

2. Define what you both want for your child at the end of the school year.

3. Pick / encourage things other than academic success as measurement for learning.

4. Talk specifically about some other participation angle like citizenship, or an area your child struggles in like organization. Stay on SOLUTIONS vs. problems.

5. Tell the teacher what your goals are for your child – to raise a thinking, engaged, curious, empathetic, courageous child. Don’t get crazy. Keep it simple.

6. Design a plan for talking with the teacher about the progress and improvement you would want to see during the year and how you will support the child.

7. Get clear about how each of you will deal with the child’s mistakes, forgotten homework etc., so there are no misunderstanding and expectations are clear.

8. Send notes of appreciation to the teacher at least once a month or at the end of a specific “unit”.

Let us know what you think or keep us updated on YOUR teacher-parent communications!

2 Comments
  1. Nate Goldman says:

    Vicki,
    You hit on a great word to describe where our family stands on priorities in school: Citizenship! I have several times told teachers who we are becoming acquainted with how we are not necessarily focused on academic achievement, but found it hard to come up with a brief way to describe what we ARE focused on. It really is citizenship–being engaged, participating, speaking your mind and getting along with others, setting and reaching goals alone or with others, but in a community setting. Good for you for promoting this approach with the freedom to maybe push the envelope sometimes. What better way for our kids to learn the limits within which they can respectfully influence their own communities as they grow into adults. Thanks, Vicki

    1. Vicki Hoefle says:

      Thanks Nate. Citizenship is a value for both Iain and myself. Having our kids see themselves as part of a global community and understanding that every decision they made/make impacts the world they live in was a primary goal for us. I can say with all honesty, that each of our kids knows, beyond any doubt, how central they are to maintaining to a healthy community.

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How to Quit your Job as the Maid

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