As a mother, an educator and as someone weeks away for turning 40 I am happy to say that I am an optimist. I genuinely go into each situation, relationship and opportunity believing that everyone wants to do what is best for those involved. Over the years this optimism has both been praised and mocked. I have had as many people tell me that I am naive as tell me that I am wise. I have heard as much that I do not understand the “real” world as that I bring an enlightened joy to otherwise dark scenarios. The list of stories I could share goes on and on. But many of them are private and might hurt the feelings of others if I were to share.
Please don’t misinterpret. I am cautious and aware that there are evils and dangers in the world. Yet in my daily life, I authentically approach each day with the faith that with common goals come common successes. And also that every colleague, student and parent or guardian wants to reach the same end – confident, capable and independent learners who will eventually contribute to the greater good. So this brings me to my latest question – do we really value parents and families in our current education system?
The obvious answer and the one I think most of us would give is “Yes! Of course we do.” Yet day after day I wonder… if we were truly honest…
- Do we blame parents/guardians when children struggle?
- Do we view a culture/family that may be different than our own as a deficit or a gift?
- Is it easier to see what the parents or family do not provide for their child than to adapt our own practice?
- Are we working with parents or against them when we are concerned about their child’s progress?
- Are we valuing our pedagogical expertise over the intimate knowledge that a parent/guardian has of their child?
- Do we empower the parent and child to feel in control of their educational journey and choices?
- Are we using conversational language, scheduling, body language etc that de-privatizes education or keeps it as an elite, almost secret club?
- Do we treat parents and their children they way we want our own child, nephew, niece, brother, sister etc to be treated?
- At my core I am asking do we really, deep down want a partnership with parents and guardians?
- Are we prepared to take on the effort that a real relationship takes to make it meaningful and authentic?
Right now, with my four daughters we have amazing educators who embrace and welcome us as true partners in the lives and education of our children. I firmly believe that these exceptional staff members would do the same for any student and family. Yet I do recognize that my husband and I have a distinct advantage. We have the power and privilege of speaking “educational jargon” with ease. (Even then – not every parent teacher relationship has been successful for us in the past – trust me!) I do believe that our children’s educational team right now is exceptional! (Please recall I am talking SK to grade 9 – spanning 3 different schools in 3 different communities) I could list for hours the above and beyond communication, respect and caring that our family receives each day.
Sadly though, I have been getting more and more calls for help from parents, outside of the school I teach in or that my children attend, seeking advice on their crumbling partnerships with the educators and administrators. Some stories are horrific. But even if I take them all with a grain of salt, and consider anger, fear and bias as clouding the version of the story I am hearing, I still identify a common theme.
Parents and guardians who feel like “others” in their own child’s educational journey.
Imagine, then, how the children must feel?
This week I had a parent meeting with a mom we have been building a relationship with throughout the year. We met together with the classroom teacher early on a Friday morning before school. (That is not mentioned to make me sound special, simply that I know the gratitude I felt having teachers who would accommodate my husband and I when we needed to meet early or late!) We were telling mom we had concerns, this was not a surprise to her or the first time but, never easy.
Yet the key messaging we used was this:
- we think your kid is awesome!
- we see great strengths in your child
- we see these gaps in your child’s progress – we cannot diagnose why – but we can show you patterns in our assessment data
- we have an action plan and we want your input
- we know this is overwhelming but we are here for you
- we know there is a lot of paperwork and jargon but it our job to help you with those
- we have NO secrets
- YOU are in control of all decisions and next steps
The meeting ended positively. I believe mom would say the same. Not every moment will be perfect – even I am not that optimistic. But if this is the messaging that parents and guardians receive during each interaction I believe we are making a magical step in the right direction.