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Certified PreK-6. Masters in Child Development. Advocate for play, teacher & children choice, & the family's voice. Believe in volunteering as social justice.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Parent Contact is Not a Punishment

I take issue with behavior charts. At best, I find them ridiculous and completely out of context (I'm looking at you any behavior chart that tries to disguise itself as some cutesy theme item). At their worst, I find them controlling and manipulative (you heard me behavior chart that tells me I must conform or I miss out on something exciting).

I'm not going to get into all the reasons why behavior charts are not the way to go, my friend Amy at Miss Night Mutters does a beautiful job writing about that particular issue. I'm not even going to dive into the strikingly important difference between punishment and logical consequences (another day, another post).

This reflection is in response to a particular behavior chart that I recently came across on the internet. This was your run of the mill color coded, move the clips up and down behavior chart with "Outstanding" at the very top-presumably meant to instill pride (no, scratch that, a reward), "ready to learn" in the middle-the desired green card, and at the very bottom "parent contact"-that dreaded bright red stop sign card.

Whatever your thoughts about behavior charts and your rational for including them in your day, placing parent contact in a negative context is a dangerous and disrespectful thing to do. Think about what message is sent to a child when having their parent contacted is treated as a punishment? In it's simplest form, this sends the message that tattling is okay; that if you do not behave in the manner I dictate I'm going to call your mother. Is that what we want our students to think? That they are going to get ratted out for everything they do, possibly losing privileges at home too? Using parent contact as a form of punishment, whether you intended it to or not, tells the students that you so not have any influence in their day. Threatening to call parents when students are not doing as you wish tells the students that you are out of balance in your own classroom. Why would anyone listen or respect anyone who is seen as out of balance?

Past sending these messages about yourself to students, using parent contact as a form of punishment sets a negative climate for the classroom community. It's important to remember that the classroom community consists of much more than the children and the teachers. Parents and families are an integral part of this community. Families are the child's world, as a teacher you are just a visitor (often a loved visitor for sure, but a visitor nonetheless). This means that part of our job is to support the relationships that the families and children have with each other. Using parent contact as a form of punishment does nothing expect break those relationship ties. When parents receive call after call and note after note about "how bad their child is being" they begin to lose hope. They start to believe that their child is to blame and needs to be fixed or they believe that they did something wrong that is causing this contact and this wears down the family-child bond. Even if the parents are strong and understand that the teachers notes and calls often have much more to do with the teacher than the child, this breaks down the parent-teacher relationship. And that is as detrimental to the child's learning and social-emotional well being.

Parent contact is not a punishment. Parent contact should be one of the most important and joyful parts of everyone's days. Parent contact involves greeting the families in the morning and wishing them well in the afternoon. Parent contact is sending home notes and newsletters and emails celebrating a child's or a class' learning. Parent contact is the families and teachers working side-by-side, vested in the interest of the student. Parent contact is the teacher lending or finding support for families who need extra love.

When was the last time you stopped a parent in the hall just to tell them something positive about their child? If we can't quickly answer that, we need to re-imagine how we approach parent contact.

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