“Mrs. Johnson, would you read us ‘The Book with No Pictures?’” Avery asks me as we settle down for pick-up time.
“No. I want her to read ‘Knuffle Bunny!’” Hazel counters.
“Can I read the matching book?” Scott asks.
Before I can respond to any of these requests, in walks a parent ready to pick up their child at the end of the day. On my mind are the children’s requests mixed in with some of the events of the day, including the fact that Johnny hit Eric and Avery and Marissa decided that they no longer wanted to be friends with each other because Avery didn’t share the dolls with Marissa. I know I need to talk to parents, but what concerns do I address during pick-up time?
As mentioned in a previous post, I try not to give negative news to parents at pick-up and drop-off unless there is something serious and timely, like an injury or a serious behavioral or emotional concern. Instead, I prefer to use this time to build rapport with parents and to check in on the children and their life outside of school.
Everyone deserves a private personal life, including children. However, knowing a bit about children’s home lives, including major life events, their health and their family’s health, can be instrumental to understanding their behavior at school. I have had a student who had two aunts die within a year of each other. One of my students was adopted from Africa and met his exclusively white extended family for the first time this year when his parents returned to the States for their furlough. I have had students who were sexually abused and students who were dealing with divorced parents. None of this information is my business, but all of it helps me to understand my students’ behavior and allows me to help my students understand and cope with their ever-changing worlds.
I get most of this information during informal chats at drop-off and pick-up times, which is why it is important to save these times to check-in with parents after an extended illness or other major event and to receive and give daily updates on a child’s routine. I never know what small event, such as an extended nap, could signal a larger problem to parents.
Anytime I have a child out for more than one day, I like to check-in as to the reason. Usually, I try emailing or calling, but if I’m unable to get an answer, I will do it first thing the morning they are[n1] back in school. In addition to talking to the parent, I also like to ask the student why they were gone to see if they can verbalize how they are feeling and what happened.
If a child has been sick, I know to expect a longer nap from them, and I try to give them extra rest time. I also ask the other children who wake early to be extra respectful and quiet. Children recovering from illness may be a little more emotional or clingy, necessitating a little extra TLC and patience from teachers. I also like to report back to the parents on how their child’s return was so that they can adjust bedtime and the evening routine as needed.
Major Life Events
A major life event could be surgery, the loss of a loved one, adoption, a new baby sibling, abuse or any other big change. Life events can be confusing to adults, and to children they can seem catastrophic. Their world is changing, and they don’t always know why or how. It is scary and overwhelming. Reactions can include introversion, aggression, heightened emotions or general absent mindedness. Each child’s personality and circumstance will influence their response, but if I know that a change has occurred, I can more closely observe their behavior and adjust how I will respond to the child in class.
It can also be helpful to know what is going on in the parents’ lives. If I know a parent has lost a job or lost a loved one, I want to make sure to check in on them personally. Not only does it let parents know that I remember and care for them, it also provides them with a safe space to talk. This trust helps build my relationship with the parents which, in turn helps us address their children’s needs as a team. It is also very important to me and to my parents that all private conversations should be held away from other incoming parents and children.
I prefer to end my day by giving positive updates to each parent about their child’s day. Updates can be a general report as in this example about Avery. “Avery had a great day today. She was really starting to stand up for herself more” to a more specific positive incident such as “I saw Avery stand up for herself today when a friend knocked over her blocks. I am so excited to see her confidence growing.” Updates can also include anything out of the ordinary, such as an unusually long nap or odd behavior without an obvious or known cause.
It can be difficult to talk with each parent at pick-up and drop-off. And, yes, it can make a teacher seem torn between working with the children wanting their attention and meeting with parents during this time. However, it is probably one of the most important ways to build relationships with parents. My personal goal is to talk, if only briefly, with each parent at least three times a week. The stronger my relationships with parents are, the better I am able to work with the children in my care, and setting time aside to build and strengthen relationships is key.