Parents behaving badly?

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There has been quite a bit of publicity lately, calling out abusive behaviour by parents towards school staff, and principals in particular. Abusive behaviour is never acceptable. In the context of a relationship between home and school it is certainly counterproductive and not in the interests of our children. Public, tough talk isn’t helpful either. Engaged parents can be vocal and so are the silent and seemingly “no fuss” ones. Focussing on feelings and apportioning fault only serves to elevate a challenge into the collective consciousness of problems. That collective consciousness in the world of school education is getting crowded. Am I critical of this stance and public shaming? Yes!

Even by the statistics mentioned in recent media releases and interviews, it is not all parents, all of the time. It is small number some of the time. So what is working well for the vast majority of parents in good relationships with the teachers and leadership at their children's schools?  Parents are motivated by doing the best by their children. Perhaps we need to reset the way we view, construct and nurture the relationship between parents and schools and take a good, long look at what is working for most parents and schools most of the time.

Do we need a culture change? Relationships and communication are key. Approaching each other with a battle mentality is never going to end well. Start with the end in mind. What do we want the relationship to look like? What will be happening in that relationship? How will we know that it is working? Having a common understanding of parent-school engagement, goals and aspirations is the bedrock for a successful partnership in school education.

How do schools discover what parents want for their children?  Teachers need to ask them, by speaking with them. Once a year surveys and focus groups are not going to give teachers this sort of deep knowledge. There needs to be conversation.  Parents are the experts in their child. They know their child in ways that nobody else does. With very few exceptions, parents want the best for their children. They are the first and lifelong educators of their children.

Teachers are experts in school education.  

As a parent I know that I have not always expressed my desire for particular outcomes effectively or productively. As an educator I also know that I have made assumptions about parents, their motivations and deficits. The parent role and teacher roles are different. There is parent knowledge and there is teacher knowledge, and they can come together in powerful way if we are willing to take the steps to construct and nurture the relationship.

Last month at the Victorian Parent Council’s Parent Engagement Seminar in Melbourne, I challenged participants to consider another pathway to deal with in the Home-School conflict. A pathway that honours parents as parents and teachers as teachers. Accepting they bring different, but complementary skill and knowledge sets to the enterprise of school education. A pathway that builds on strengths, nurtures relationships and finds a solution.

Is it easy? No. Only because it is unfamiliar to us.

Is it quick? No.  However, small change is possible and that is all we need to start moving in the right direction.

Is looking for a new way forward important? Yes. Our children’s education and their future depend on it. Choose that pathway.

Jacqui Van de Velde


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