Have you heard about a phenomenon called the The Sensitive Period For Language? No, it’s not a new-age band. This term, discussed by Dr. Montessori in her study of early childhood, refers to an aspect of universal human experience during the first developmental stage (birth to approximately six years) and is reflected in a child’s unique ability to absorb language and reproduce it If you have even an inkling of my interest in the Montessori philosophy you will understand my profound respect for that woman’s enlightening research in the area of child development. I hope, therefore, you will excuse my borrowing the term to refer to another important period of time in a human’s life.
I refer to the annual experience of the end-of-year parent-teacher conferences, that time when many adults seem to cave under the pressure of holding in their questions, innermost fears or family secrets and begin to blurt out whatever is on their minds. In the heat of a late May evening, this phenomenon can be experienced by any adult on either side of the conference table, although I guess this evens out the playing field. Views on politics, health, religion, vacation destinations and cultural trends can become interwoven with anecdotes from the classroom and comments on a child’s overall school experience.
However, let’s remember that parents at any time are especially sensitive to language that pertains to their child, particularly if it comes from an educator. I have often imagined how advantageous it would be to any aspiring teacher to engage in practice conferencing as much as practice teaching.
After all, learning how to communicate effectively with others is prioritized in the sales industry, the media industry, politics and (possibly) the international space program. (You never know). Working within a school community encompasses all of these perspectives. We can sometimes feel that we are selling an educational philosophy to someone who may be skeptical. We are expected to relate dates, times, dress codes, menus or bus timetables on request. We must don the mantle of the UN when trouble brews on the playground and we must always ponder the impossible, looking beyond the sliced bananas and out into the cosmos. Curiously, time devoted to effective adult communication is frequently rather limited although the presentation of factual information with diplomacy, respect and clarity is a delicate matter. Can you present your pitch in fifteen minutes?
As with conducting a sales meeting, delivering a religious sermon, competing in a talent show or eating a batch of high calorie doughnuts, the first thirty seconds of a parent conference can make a lasting impact on how the rest of the discussion, not to mention the rest of the year goes.
A late night of preparation may be inevitable, but this should take place well in advance of the day intended. It will not bode well if you have to gaze across a table with suitcases under your eyes. People will assume you cannot function as a human let alone guide their progeny along life’s path. Type up all the paperwork, schedule a conversation with any specialists that could contribute worthwhile updates and write up some key notes on every child, using a separate sheet for each one in respect of privacy issues. It is reassuring to a parent when they notice that you have some comments prepared. A sheet of paper is familiar to them; it becomes an old friend in the midst of oddly sized jugs and frighteningly sharp kitchen implements. You should arrive on the day wearing your favorite outfit, the one that makes you feel you can still command attention even though you are puttering along on the inside. The one that mixes zen with elegance.
Keep a balanced perspective on your human limits. As the old saying implies, it really is impossible to please everyone, all of the time. Sometimes a message needs to be communicated which is sensitive and potentially awkward. Embrace the challenge and deliver it anyway. You do the student no favors by putting it off until another time.
Yes, the classroom must be beautiful, too. I once worked with someone who liked to share that she felt the room should evoke the movement, the energy and the hum of the children. Movement. Energy. Hum. Meh. This could have been an excuse for not dusting the shelves. If you are a Montessori professional and are not responsible for cleaning your shelves, you need never complain about anything, ever again. If you are not following what I’m talking about, go and google Montessori plus humility plus environment; you will soon find out.
If you have a classroom pet and do not have the extra time to fumigate its home then simply position it on the other side of the room. But be careful. Parents can be distracted by a bunny rabbit :)
Good luck with those meetings, and rejoice in the opportunity to get to know your parents a little better. If you are a parent, make sure you avail of the chance to attend and learn more about your child. Only by working together can you help every student to blossom!