Davidson Institute for Talent Development
This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Dr. Nancy Robinson. She addresses ways parents can take the lead to improve their relationship with a child's teacher.
Sadly, too often potential partnerships between parents and teachers deteriorate into conflicts. This guide addresses ways parents can take the lead in improving matters, recognizing that teachers – even if not ideally suited to their jobs – are trying their best, dealing with multiple priorities, and unlikely to have had any training in teaching gifted children, much less highly gifted. Some reasons for poor parent-teacher relationships lie in their divergent roles and settings, the child’s behavior and characteristics, and differing assumptions about giftedness or what constitutes fairness.
Teachers and Parents See Different Children!
- The setting: Compared with the home, classrooms provide much less space per child and no place to escape; resound with too much energy and too many children who range widely in ability and maturity, all competing for finite adult attention; and require the teacher to keep too many balls in the air at once.
- Child’s (perceived and real) characteristics:
- What seems special at home seems simply different at school.
- Self-reliance at home may look like isolation at school.
- Teachers are satisfied with grade-level performance; parents are not.
- Sensitivity at home looks like vulnerability at school.
- Creativity at home looks like nonconformity at school.
- What teacher sees as friendships may disappoint students looking for soul mates.
- Asynchronies in development often mask advanced abilities.
- High standards at home look like “neurotic perfectionism” at school.
- Child’s behavior:
- Many bright kids try to hide at school, trying to seem “like everyone else.”
- Constant boredom breeds constant irritability.
- Bored kids do misbehave to liven things up.
- Students used to getting everything right without trying hard may not handle challenges well, and may have few ways to handle teasing or bullying.
- Teachers and parents see giftedness and fairness differently.
- Educators tend to believe that “age is everything.”
- Educators are taught that early giftedness doesn’t last.
- Educators expect gifted students to do everything well.
- There is a basic disbelief that profoundly gifted students can really be as advanced as they are, because it is hard to believe (!), because teachers often know too little about gifted students, and sometimes because teachers and schools have had experience only with mildly and moderately gifted students and think they really do know what all gifted children are like.
- Inclusive classes are seen as ideal; the two ends of the normal curve are seen as mirror images, although they are not.
- Priorities belong to struggling students; gifted students already have “more than their share.” NCLB leaves out gifted students.
- Middle-school philosophy, de-emphasizing achievement and focusing on social skills, denies gifted students the chance to find self-acceptance or true friends.
Parenting Strong Students
- Authoritative (not authoritarian or laissez-faire) parenting, with its warm engagement and high expectations, tends to produce warm, confident, optimistic students who do their best and do so independently.
- Carol Dweck’s discoveries about the power of beliefs that one’s ability is malleable and that hard work pays off, favor students who persevere and look for opportunities to learn.
- Parents need to teach their students both self-advocacy skills and personal responsibility for avoiding boredom.
- Homework should be completed, but parents may need to help students negotiate full or partial adaptations in the assignments. Routines help, as does doing work at a time when parents are also engaged in serious pursuits (not TV).
- Schools cannot be depended on to meet all needs for education and talent development.
- It is almost never appropriate to criticize teachers in the presence of students (though it is appropriate to portray them as human beings).
- Being different is quite OK, and parents can teach this.
- Parents needn’t worry too much about rough patches; learning to handle stress well is a valuable life skill for their students and may encourage creativity.
The Process of Negotiating
Good negotiations are based on a shared goal: a thriving student; avoid being hung up on one possibility only; are neither “hard” nor “soft” but almost always involve compromise. Good negotiations are also efficient, produce a continuing process (are never over and done with), and improve relationships.
- Preparing. Before talking with teachers (counselors, principals, whoever), prepare thoughtfully. This involves:
- Reviewing negotiating skills so you can be purposeful.
- Brainstorming ideas/outcomes that would be acceptable as part of the picture.
- Discovering options available in the school system, and the chain of command.
- Preparing a portfolio of things your child does at home so that you will be able to share a picture of the child you know – recognizing that there are many reasons why you and the teacher(s) could be seeing quite different youngsters (see above). Include pictures of complex projects (preferably accompanied by photos of the child at that age), child’s drawings, list of books currently reading, etc.
- Gathering as much objective evidence as you can, including test scores. Remember that current grade-equivalent numbers are more meaningful in this context than percentiles alone. If asking for a grade skip, bring a copy of the Iowa Acceleration Scale, 2nd edition, if you can.
- Sympathetically sharing what you are hearing from your child about school – what does like, what makes unhappy, etc. Be sure to include what is going well!
- Being sure parents are on the same page.
- Establishing and maintaining a presence at the school, if you can, as a generous and trusted volunteer.
- Trying to get plans in place for the following year (do this before the May-June rush) rather than waiting for the next year to start badly.
- Whether or not adjustments have been made beforehand, after the year starts, ask for a conference – not too early, but don’t let things go long enough to turn your child off.
- Make it when both parents can be present. (Dads carry a lot of influence.)
- Take notes.
- Remember that your child has a right to appropriate instruction, not better instruction.
- Describe your observations; make as positive as possible.
- Advance several possibilities and ask for theirs.
- Ask for an experiment (the absolutely magic word!) with one or two of these and set a time to check how things are going.
- Summarize your understanding of the agreement/next steps.
- Keep your sense of humor about being a pushy parent.
- Say “Thank You,” loud and clear.
- Share a memo that reflects your understanding; e-mail or hard copy to all participants.
- Include a thank-you.
- Keep private notes about degree to which plans followed and how they go.
- Check back with teacher.
- If things aren’t working out, either repeat meeting with counselor or principal present, or, if necessary, meet separately with them.
- Be prepared to renegotiate during the year and in years to come.
- Remember that no perfect world exists for the child who is atypical!
DITD Database has a number of helpful articles, e.g.:
- Russell, LaBonte, & Russell (1999), Preparing for and Holding an Effective School Meeting.
- Neville-Garrison (1997) on preparing portfolios, Portfolio: An effective way to present your child to the school.
- Lloyd (1999) on parent advocacy at the district level, The tea and terrorist society: Parent advocacy at the district level.
- Fisher, R., & Ury, W. (1981 or later editions, but first one has all you need): Getting to Yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Gilman, B. J. (2008). Academic advocacy for gifted children: A parent’s complete guide. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press. See especially Chapter 8.
- Rogers, K. B. (2002). Re-forming gifted education: How parents and teachers can match the program to the child. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press. See also her planning supplement.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.