Respecting the system or demanding compliance?
In managing a school or teaching a class, the question of how to deal with parents, that scary bunch who can sometimes over-step the mark, interfere and waste everyone’s time and energy,will come up. We can chose collaboration, partnership with parents, or we can we manage them through the introduction of endless reels of red-tape, by being cold, by absolute insistence on protocol.
There are organised parents, clear spoken, quick-witted and confident with the energy and resources needed to be heard. Some are more aware of what needs to be done and how, get the attention they need, know what the problem is and state it. Other, so-called ‘pushy’ parents will never have any difficulty having their voices heard, they will either demand attention or write their notes and jump expertly through the hoops as they speak for their child – sometimes their actions will be justified, sometimes they will not.
What of those parents, who hang back, perhaps, or who are less eloquent, less certain or too anxious to express themselves clearly? Over-stretched, stressed out parents will not always notice things, cannot always write clear notes, with many things going on, particularly if there is a child in the household with needs that are different to the norm. If there isn’t a system in place that supports them as they endeavour to help their children develop socially and develop friendships, more unnecessary stress can build. How will they manage the invitations to their children’s birthday parties, if, particularly at the junior end of the school, they have difficulty matching names to faces – either of their children’s friends or of their parents. It is possible to find creative ways to manage these situations so that the uninvited (of whom I was one as a child) are not hurt, personal information is not shared and children manage to have friends celebrate with them without parents tearing their hear out trying to reach everyone.
If parents feel alienated or intimidated, what will happen?
If we create more barriers than we need to, are we at risk of creating a situation of them and us, where teachers and schools have all the answers and parents, those who know the children best, have no real input?
Will their children, the reason for our existence, lose out?
Worse than that, the more vulnerable ones, those with needs that are sometimes hidden, or the ones who are different, who we are only now truly beginning to understand, will be hurt the most.
What happens if there is a crisis, if strong emotions and concern for their child means they lack the mental clarity required to speak first to the office, to plan what to say and then send in that well-written, polite note? What then?
If they can’t be heard, if they are not taken seriously and their children, who may be struggling socially, academically or behaviourally are over-looked, what will happen to their holistic education?
What will happen to the human flourishing that is at the heart of the Irish education system, at the heart of Catholic schooling, to the legacy of its pioneers, people like Mary Ward, Frances Ball, Ignatias of Loyola, John Henry Newman, Catherine McCauley, Edmund Rice and Margaret Ayleward ?
Will they just become another set of crazy parents, nightmare Mammies with bees in their bonnets, frustrated, worried, concerned for their child, feeling like their concerns are not being taken seriously?
In the past, these parents were rarely heard, they were not taken seriously, concerns were not addressed, their children’s needs were not met, partly because their teachers did not hear directly from parents and because educators presumed to have all the answers.
Marginalisation comes in many forms, not just the material. How schools deal with parents can bring healing, or cause greater rifts – it is possible to maintain appropriate boundaries that allow teachers to get on with the job of teaching and principals get on with the job of running a successful, happy school committed to social justice without compromising on learning, minding and listening.
If we continue to approach parents in a manner that does not promote partnership, collaboration and mutual respect, nothing will change.