When I was in my early twenties, I taught two and three-year olds. As I mentioned in the previous post, I was terrified of parents. I was convinced they all knew more than I did, that they were all out to get me, and that there were clear right and wrong answers and I would, inevitably, fail the test. It took me a long time to understand that most parents are just trying to figure this stuff out with their kids the same as teachers are, and sometimes (usually) much more so. The reality is that some parents did know more than I did, but a lot didn't. Some parents definitely were on the defensive, but most weren't. And in the end, there was no test...at least none that we could definitively measure.
Eventually--and sooner rather than later--I was presented with a situation in which I had to discuss something less than positive with a parent. Being young and untrained (and uneducated in this field!) I had no idea how to go about doing this successfully. Lucky for me, I quickly figured out that if I could communicate how much I cared about the child to her or his parent, the information would be accepted much more easily. Because I was so young and so afraid to have face-to-face conversations, I relied heavily on my ability to write. And guess what? It worked! The parent was able to take the information I gave her and see that I really did care about her child, and work with me to create a better situation for all involved.
As time went on, I stumbled upon a formula that worked wonders for me, both on paper and in person: the compliment sandwich. Now, I've mentioned in former posts that it's critical that teachers build a positive rapport with parents, and I truly believe that. You should have had at least five positive interactions with a child before you ever THINK about breathing a word about a negative situation or habit a child has. That means teachers have to be observant and TALK to parents. Every. Single. Day.
When there is a problem, the compliment sandwich is a great strategy to use that reinforces your respect for the family and the child as well as give important information to the parent regarding any problem the child may be struggling with. Here's how it works: You begin the conversation as usual with a friendly greeting, then pay the child a compliment. The compliment should be genuine and true to the child, and it can be something as simple as how s/he read a story with you today and you noticed s/he really enjoyed it. Deliver the compliment with genuine, kind emotion. Following the compliment, you "sandwich" in the problem. After you've talked about the problem in a factual manner with the parent and listened to any information they may want to give you, then finish it up with another compliment. Here's an example of how the conversation might sound.
Jeremy's mother has arrived to pick him up from preschool. His teacher, Monica, has noticed that he has hit one of the other children the last two days in a row. She knows that it is typical for children who are three, like Jeremy, to sometimes hit when they are frustrated or want something, and Jeremy seems to hit the same child when the two are playing together during center time. She has decided to speak to Jeremy's mother to try to find out if anything has changed at home or if Mom has any ideas of what might be helpful for Jeremy.
Monica: Hi! Jeremy's busy in the blocks today. Have you noticed how much he seems to be building these days?
Mom: I've seen him over there most afternoons. Does he do that a lot?
Monica: Yes, he does. I've noticed he's really been building symmetrically--his buildings are the same on each side. That's a great geometric skill he's learned!
Mom: (laughing a bit) Maybe he'll be better in math than his father and I were!
Monica: (laughs too) Well, he definitely is showing a talent for it. The one thing I have noticed lately is he seems to be having a little bit of trouble working together with another child in the class. I've noticed the last couple of days he's hit the other child if the other child gets too close to his building. I just thought I would mention it to you in case there was something different at home or if you'd noticed something.
Mom: (looks puzzled for a moment) No, I can't think of anything...you know, sometimes he does get a bit possessive of his space when he's working. You know, his little brother is at the age where he always seems to want to pull Jeremy's blocks down. We seem to deal with that a lot.
Monica: Well, that makes a lot of sense! We'll watch carefully to make sure Jeremy understands that everyone will respect his building. He really does seem to love doing it, and we want to encourage him to continue. I can't wait to see where he goes from here with it!
Mom: (smiling again) Thanks, Monica. (heads over to pick up Jeremy)
The most important part of a compliment sandwich occurs before the conversation--it's the respect and relationship that teachers and parents have developed. Not every parent would react as this mom did, but even quieter or more defensive parents can often be reassured that the teacher isn't looking to punish the child; she's merely seeking information to help her work with the child in the classroom.
That, in and of itself, brings up another important point. The purpose of these conversations is NOT to get the child into trouble with the parent. Consequences for school behaviors should stay at school nearly all of the time. That means that teachers also must consider the parents' potential reactions. If the parents WILL punish the child, the teacher may need to consider if the child's behavior is extreme enough to warrant a discussion with the parent. When teachers and parents are able to work together, however, the entire classroom benefits.
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