Over the course of raising three active children, I’ve had many opportunities to visit doctor’s offices and emergency wards in every town we lived in. There were broken limbs, bleeding wounds, and the time my son decided to see if what mom said about never, ever putting something metal into an electric socket was true. The short answer: Yes! So, I’m inured to the whole ritual of bundling a screaming, bleeding child into a mini van and driving him or her (usually with crying siblings or friends in tow) to immediate treatment. It’s different, however, with the family pet. Last Friday morning, I found myself driving a whimpering Sophie to the good Dr. Fariello’s office (her story is here) and hoping for the best.
Driving back, I couldn’t help my teacher self from intruding; I began thinking about what I learned from the way Dr. Fariello and her amazing staff handled their new patient, and how that experience compares to parent teacher conferences. I kid you not. And here’s how:
It’s a team effort:
Everyone greeted us, made us feel welcome, and let us know that we were in good hands. Even though it would be the doctor who would be in charge of Sophie’s treatment, her care was a team effort. I wonder if we can do a better job of projecting the same spirit when it comes to our students? No teacher works in isolation, after all, and do we allow our parents to see that their child has a team of experts all working together to ensure the best possible learning experience. I felt reassured by Sophie’s team and their collective effort, I think our parents would feel the same way, too.
Listen to the story – let the parent talk
Dr. Fariello wanted to hear Sophie’s story: where she had come from (she’s a rescue dog), her life with us, her attitudes and general temperament. In my anxiety, I rambled a bit, also telling her about other dogs we’ve had, and their stories. Upon reflection, I thought I talked too much. Did I really need to waste her time with all that information? But, then I realized that she must have learned a lot about how Sophie would be cared for once she had been released back to our care: could we be counted on to be reliable in making sure each step was carried out so that Sophie could make a good recovery? would we be gentle in administering medication and the hot compresses? would we be vigilant about infections setting in? By letting me talk, she had gathered insight. Do we give our parents enough of a chance to do the same? We can learn so much through learning about the backstory – who our kids are, how their parents view them, the environment they live in outside our classrooms. What we learn can so influence how we teach that child.
Be specific and clear about what you are going to do…take the parent seriously
At each step of the process, from evaluation through diagnosis and treatment, Dr.Fariello was specific and clear about what she had come to learn and how she was going to treat Sophie’s wound. She didn’t need to explain, she could have sent me out into the waiting room with a: “We’ll take of it from here on!”, but she didn’t. She took me seriously, she knew that I would want to know, and she was crystal clear in the way she explained each step along the way. As worried as I was about Sophie’s prognosis, I knew that she was getting thoughtful and smart care. This made me wonder about how clear I was when I communicated with my students’ parents. Do I break down their child’s learning issues so that they can have a coherent idea of what I see and how I envision a teaching plan for their child?
Be positive about the patient
I, of course, love my dog, and think the world of Sophie. The entire team “got” that. No one was impatient with me for rambling on, asking millions of stupid questions, or needing to be reassured that all would be well. There were other patients waiting to be treated, but while the doctor and her staff was with me, they gave us all their attention. Most importantly, they showed me that they liked Sophie, too, and so I felt immediately at ease – I could trust them to take good care of her. That’s what our parents want, too. Deep down, they most often know about the issues we may raise in conferences, but they want to know that their kid is liked and will be taken good care of. They need this so they can place their trust in us, and work with us.
So there it is…my teaching connection at the vet’s office. The teaching life, it seems, can be found in the most unexpected places.