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09/19/2018 15:23 EDT | Updated 09/19/2018 15:51 EDT

Consider The Big Picture At Your Next Parent-Teacher Interview

Your child is one in a diverse group of people that spend the day together.

Parent teacher interviews generally have one main focus. Both parent and teacher are there to discuss one child. But often overlooked are the effects of the big picture, the landscape of the classroom. Your child is one in a diverse group of people that spend the day together.

What the stats tell us about a classroom

Within your child's class are any number of children dealing with stressful life events. We know one in five children live in poverty in many cities in Canada. Children affected by food insecurity number about one in six of the population and three in 10 are affected by domestic violence, mental health and drug problems. There is no classroom or societal class that escapes the impact of these misfortunes.

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ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) is used to describe children that fall within the boundaries of these hardships. The ACE effect on a child's education is quite compelling. ACE children have an attainment gap and can perform more poorly both academically and socially at school. They have difficulty staying focused and learning to the same standard as other children. We know the body remembers adverse childhood incidents and it affects brain development.

All these issues impact the climate of every classroom.

Why does this matter to you and your child?

This is the world of your child and is in turn the world of the teacher who sits across the table from you during an interview.

The ACE students in a classroom are trying to function and learn against fairly long odds stacked against them. These are the students your child interacts with on a daily basis.

How do ACE students influence your interview?

As a parent the first step is to understand that a teacher's job becomes more stressful with each passing year. The statistics for these ACE children rarely go down and are more likely to expand to new categories of adversity.

Be collaborative. Approach your child's teacher as a partner in their education. Remember that a teacher's attention is cut many ways every day as they try to make some time for every student. Understand that generally teachers are doing their very best. Show compassion for the demands. Be realistic with what you expect from the teacher for your child.

Suggested interview strategies

When you sit in your teacher interview consider the whole picture in the classroom. You have your child's best interests foremost but your child is not functioning in isolation. Every day they are interacting in some way with every student in the class. How adept is your child with the diversity? Have your questions ready and ask about both their social and academic progress.

If your child complains about another student then take a moment to explore the possible reasons for the behaviour.

Although we think we know our own children best, remember to ask the teacher for their personal observations about your child.

What else can you do for your child?

Developing resiliency, empathy and compassion are essential emotional building blocks of life. These skills help your child see beyond the immediate in the behaviour of others. They remind them to look past the obvious when complaining about unusual behaviour or the inability of others in a class.

We all need to be mindful of the fact that students can't focus if they are hungry, anxious, and lonely or tired. If your child complains about another student then take a moment to explore the possible reasons for the behaviour. This is a firsthand empathy lesson.

As well, encourage them to move beyond the bystander stance if they see others being bullied. It might be someone being cruel over another's adverse situation. Or it might be that ACE student trying to assert themselves and lash out over life's inequities. Developing the skill to see beyond the immediate will help your child respond appropriately.

Perhaps the 'inequity' of life for many children is the bigger lesson for your child. Life isn't fair. Many families face difficult issues on a daily basis and many of those issues are debilitating. Help your child to accept that life lesson - deal with it when they can and develop coping strategies.

There are two main coping strategies - emotion focused and solution focused. As a parent you can help your child with determining which one is the most effective for different circumstances. Is the situation something they can change or help or is it something they have to accept?

Turn the class experience into a life lesson

Classrooms will only become more complex and diverse. Our world is complex and diverse. Developing those essential social and emotional learning skills to live and work within such a dynamic is essential for today's child.

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