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The Many Angles of Perspective

Who are the different shoulders on which each student is standing and the perspective each stakeholder brings to the table?

Traci Browder | @tracibrowder
January 7,  2020
Perspectives

How is a student to know she is successful? How is a student to know he has people who love and care for him when he makes mistakes? Big mistakes? At what point does a student believe she can take risks even if it means failure?

If someone were to walk by your classroom, stand in your door, and look at the students in your classroom… they would see just that – students. What they wouldn’t see is the team standing behind each student, the many shoulders on which each student is standing and the perspective each stakeholder brings to the table.

The Parents

The most precious gift parents have is their children. Parents are responsible for nurturing, loving, protecting, teaching, training, molding, advocating, fighting, and caring for their children. We have to understand, respect, and appreciate the narrow tunnel of lenses through which each child’s parents look.

Fostering a family environment: Family picnic in the classroom.

That’s the narrow tunnel. That’s the space in which parents reside. We must value, respect, and embrace this space.

You have likely experienced this as a parent yourself or when you were a child. The child doesn’t make a good choice and mentions another child did it, too. You’ve either heard or said, “I don’t care about what Johnny did. He is not my responsibility. I only care about what you did.”

When we receive a phone call from a parent who is upset or a fiery email, we must remember their perspective and realize they are passionate about their most precious gift. In these moments, how we as educators address and acknowledge their concern molds the remainder of the partnership.

Walk with the parent through the storm. Hold the umbrella shielding the rain as the two of you walk through the storm together. Parents will always remember how you were there for them in the most difficult of times. Let’s take a look at a letter from one of my parents, Selena Ware, for example:

There is already so much anxiety with your child going into Kindergarten and how they’re going to adapt. Every parent has a different pathway and story for how they became a parent. It’s like watching your heart walking around. Literally, my child is my heart. So it’s a very delicate experience for me, it was scary. So trusting your heart with someone you’ve never met surpasses anxiety for me. It’s not about pride or ego, or nobody can do it better than me. Meeting somebody like Traci Browder, I never knew what I needed, and you provided me support and things I didn’t know I had to have for this relationship to be successful. No one expects their child’s teacher to truly love them, I mean really love them as if they are her own and excel children past the classroom. No one expects their child to be excited about  getting to class early each and every day. My son was excited, happy, and inspired. He looked forward to things you had for him to learn at home. It even became, ‘That’s not how Mrs. Browder does it.’ You make people better, not just the child, but the parent as well. Some teachers teach. Some teachers have a heart for teaching. This is your ministry.

The Principal

The principal is more than an administrator. The principal is the conduit, the critical connecting piece.  The community, district administration, parents, teachers, and students all have expectations of the principal. The principal, therefore, must be keenly intuitive and:

  • Have an individual relationship with each teacher
  • Develop a sense of family and community that fosters approachability with parents and stakeholders
  • Create a safe and nurturing environment for students and teachers
  • Build a relationship of trust
Parents will always appreciate when educators express genuine concern and support their children through difficult situations.

We all know the list could go on, but let’s park at building a trust-filled relationship. Remember that narrow tunnel? The trust-filled relationship is crucial to that narrow tunnel.

The parent needs to believe his child is the priority, particularly in the midst of a difficult situation. That means the administrator must put aside all other obligations to be present and in the moment to listen to the parent advocate for his most precious gift.

At the same time, the principal must have another valve of her conduit actively in play. The principal has to be understanding, professional, and empathetic to the concerns of the parent while supporting and standing by the teacher’s side. This can be a delicate and challenging situation, especially if the teacher has erred in any way. The effective administrator will hear and validate the concerns of the parent, own the error, but still uphold the teacher as a respected and valued part of the partnership. The principal then commits to making it right, facilitates repair of the relationship between teacher and parent, and makes plans to move forward.

On the lighter side, the administrator drives the climate in the school environment. Children and teachers perform best in a pleasant, warm, supportive, spirit-of-the-team environment. The good times should far outweigh the difficult times. If that’s not the case, it’s time for some reflection and rebuilding.

The Teacher

It is an impossible task to determine which role carries the most responsibility and I don’t believe anyone would ever want to engage in that debate. What we do know, however, is that teachers have an insurmountable list of responsibilities that gets longer as each year passes.

  • IEPs
  • Developing literate, lifelong learners
  • Common Core
  • Trauma
  • Balanced Literacy
  • Grades
  • Inclusion
  • Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills
  • Individualized instruction
  • Differentiated instruction

This is not even close to being an exhaustive list of what the teacher has to consider daily. The teacher is the first one to get called into the office of the principal to account for scores lower than expected on curriculum-based assessments and screeners. The teacher is the recipient of pressure from the principal who gets pressure from the associate superintendent, who gets pressure from board members and the superintendent.

In spite of these challenges, the effective and committed teacher creates an environment of risk-takers. This classroom will be an environment where creativity and provocative thinking flow like oxygen. Children know they are safe. They know the teacher cares for them. Most importantly, they know their teacher believes in them. When students know this, they believe in themselves.

The teacher is responsible for her classroom, yes, but she is also responsible for building a relationship with each student individually. This includes teachers in rotation who see anywhere from five classes to every class in the school. Can it be done? It is done. Every single day, with excellence, around the world.

  • The dynamic teacher builds strong relationships with his parents.
  • He sends home a child who has been nurtured and challenged each day.
  • She informs parents about what students are learning.
  • He lets parents know how they can support their children at home.
  • She provides opportunities for parents to partner with her in the classroom.
  • He extends learning beyond the classroom.
  • She connects via an educational social media platform.
  • He is proactive in relationship building with the parents.

The Student

Students are our future. As cliché as the phrase is, it is also the most powerful phrase for each stakeholder.

Students come to us not knowing what to expect, yet they expect to be cared for and taught. I think that’s the simplest level of their expectations. I believe they:

  • Expect to enjoy learning
  • Desire to be inspired
  • Come ready to be challenged
  • Thirst for an innovative, high energy, challenging learning environment
  • Want teachers to believe they can
Students had an art encounter. This student chose to make a friend a birthday card.

Students often come with layers. Some students come with baggage and the key is locked away.  Some students have experienced trauma, loss, foster care, and even homelessness. Other students may have never had a hard day in their lives to date and don’t understand the journey of others.  Students thrive in environments where teachers respect every student’s journey and foster a culture of acceptance, learning, and appreciation of each other’s backgrounds, lives, and experiences.

For many students, their trust door is locked.  What we do together, as a team, begins to unlock that door because…

“Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands that they become the best that they can possibly be.”

Rita Pierson

It’s incumbent upon us to comprehend, appreciate, and value the role of each stakeholder. These are necessary elements for a healthy, strong partnership.

I mentioned the narrow tunnel of the parent lens earlier. Would you agree with me that we all often look through our own considerably narrow and limited lenses? There are many angles of perspective when it comes to educating children, some of which we didn’t even touch on in this article. When we widen our lenses, expand our thinking, open our minds, unlock our hearts, and lock arms to be the foundation for our students, they are able to stand strong on the shoulders of the many angles of perspective.

We teach a classroom. Parents raise a child. Administrators lead and support. Together we raise a powerful generation of leaders.

What do we do to protect, cultivate, and fertilize these relationships that are vital to the success of the student?

Work Together

The parent, principal, and teacher must work together. The most powerful relationships I have had with my students have been those in which the relationships with stakeholders were evident to the students. When the students know that there are so many people in their cheering section, they are going to do everything in their power to hit a home run.

Communicate

Communication is quickly becoming a lost art. In education, however, we have a commitment to keep a thriving line of communication open and active. A call before the school year starts to let parents know you are looking forward to a great year can go a long way in opening the trust door. Notes, videos, emails, newsletters, social media interaction, and phone calls help parents believe you care about the partnership and want them to be a part of the journey.

Engage and Invite

The teacher has the gift of sharing her classroom with students, parents, and administration. Invite the principal and assistant principal to your classroom to participate – not observe – in an activity, lesson, or an experiment. Give parents opportunities to read to the class. I have had parents and grandparents read in my classroom. These are experiences the students will always remember.

Welcoming family into the classroom. Grandma reads!

Not only is this impactful to the students, but also helps with building trust and bonds with parents that will last long after students leave our classrooms.

I received this letter from a parent, Natalie S., based on the intentionality of my communication with parents:

I would like to start off by telling you I LOVE the new links!!! I enjoy seeing everything David does during the day. He tells me, but it’s not the same when I can see it in the photos. As a parent you wish you could be with your children all the time, but we can’t. Shutterfly is helping me create a keepsake book for his kindergarten memories.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my child’s day from afar and I can only hope we can continue to grow with the changes of the world. Technology is taking over and we must jump on board or be left behind. I wish this technology was available when my girls were younger, their dad went overseas a lot and he could have seen them growing up as I did. This helps all military families keep in touch about what their children are doing while in school and while they are away.

Act from the heart and you will find that you are filling buckets you had no idea were empty.

Howdy, Edufriends! I am a lover of people and relationships. I’ve been teaching for more than 16 years. My happy places have been reading specialist, instructional coach, mentor, and a 3rd grade and Kindergarten teacher. My classroom is a live learning lab hosting student teachers, teachers who want to learn how to have more engagement in their classrooms, and administrators for other schools often pop in. I am most passionate about igniting the spark in adults and helping children believe in themselves. Perhaps oddly interesting, I have a unique love for animals that includes previously having owned a boa constrictor and having shown pure-bred wolves at wolf shows. I should have said unique love for exotic animals!

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