A client emailed me in a bit of a panic. She asked if I could offer any words of wisdom, or a 'mantra' for her to run through her mind – something to help her keep her from getting defensive. She was dreading a school meeting with teachers about her 8th grader, expecting them to tell her a variety of things that her son is not doing well. Why else would they call her in for a meeting?
We emailed back and forth about how she could approach the meeting in order to get the best results. She tends to get triggered and defensive, and she just wasn't ready to hear "a lot of negative things" about him.
We talked about how she could "design" the meeting with the teachers rather than dread it, a strategy to clarify communication. We are always designing our relationships in life. This technique allows us to do it consciously. Wedding vows are an example of "designing" the relationship of a marriage. "Class rules" in a school environment is another familiar example.
So we talked about how to "design" the meeting with the school, and here's what we came up with:
8 Steps to Design a Meeting with Teachers
1. Acknowledgment: Start with thanks and a little team-building. Acknowledge the teachers for how much they’ve been doing to support your child; thank them for being on her team; show your gratitude for having a school that is really working with you; indicate that it's clear that everyone wants what’s best for your child. Teachers do not get enough acknowledgement – this is your chance to connect.
2. Transparency: Tell them that they can count on you to be as open as you can in this conversation, and that you will work with them and with your child to get the best outcomes. Let them know that you find these meetings difficult because you are a little out of your element, so ask them if they'd be willing to help you stay open by starting with something simple.
3. Play to Strengths: Ask if they’ll start with the positives – what’s going well, or at least better. It's okay to say that you know there’s going to be challenging feedback. But explain that you find it really helps to point out what’s going well, first. This is especially true because the best solutions are found in the successes!
4. Self-Talk: Then, remind yourself, "We are all on the same team, working together to help my child."
5. Keep Breathing: When they point out a problem, just take a deep breath and let it out before you respond.
6. Use the improv trick, "Yes, and..": Acknowledge them, and then move the conversation in a constructive direction. "Yes, I bet he’s tired sometimes – poor kid has such a hard time falling asleep. Would it be okay for him to keep a bottle of water with him, or use a fidget to help himself stay alert?" Or, perhaps, "Yes – he doesn’t test well at all – with his memory challenges, even when he knows the material it’s like he draws a blank in a test. Is there another way that he might be evaluated so that you can assess that he knows the material?"
7. Take Aim: As you take notes, create a separate list of the specific behaviors they point out as problems. Near the end of the meeting, re-cap the list and ask if there's anything else they are concerned about. Then, ask them which ONE they think is most important to start with? Explain that if we ask your child to work on too many things at once, it can cause overwhelm, and it's really important to target something very specifically so that your child can have a success and build on that going forward. Trying to change too many things at once is a recipe for failure, but focusing on one thing at a time is a recipe for success.
8. Remember: You're on the same team!
Isn't it time to stop dreading school meetings with teachers? The next time you get "called in" to school, take a few minutes to design your approach, so that you can stay out of defense mode, and open to possibilities!