Parents and school

Parents and teachers: An uneasy and fragile relationship!

School forms a huge part of children’s lives, greatly influencing their well being and their future. For parents, the importance of school for their children creates an enormous vulnerability: Will this school and this teacher understand or like my child, will they help him or her reach his full potential? For the teacher, there is a new class of 25 children every year for whom the teacher has a collective professional responsibility. For the parent, there is just one child, and everything hangs in the balance–his future, the parent’s hopes and expectations for him.

Not only are their interests and priorities different, parents and teachers share core vulnerabilities that can lead both to feel easily attacked by the other, and put onto the defensive, which in the worse case scenario, becomes an escalating spiral of mutual blame and emotional injury. These inherent dangers can make teachers and parents alike more inclined to take offense or become defensive more quickly than they might otherwise do if the stakes were not so high.

And yet, teacher education and school policy have made very little place for thinking about parents. Teachers are not taught about the psychology of parenthood or how to communicate with parents. And just about all of the research literature on parents and schools is solely focused on encouraging parents to become involved in a helping role for example as involved tutors who can facilitate greater school performance for their children. There is little attention to how to manage or improve the fragile and uneasy professional relationship between teachers and parents.

I have written about this topic in my inaugural book (see Publications on this site). I have given presentations to teachers and school directors (for example the New Year’s speech for JES Rijnland) and developed curriculum and training materials for teachers and school directors. Teachers have a primary professional task and relationship with children, not parents, yet it is important and helpful to understand something about parenthood, parents’ concerns, and how to communicate with parents.