Can you imagine reading this? How would you react? I suspect that educators everywhere would become enraged. Parents would start asking what was going on in the classrooms? Certainly a campaign to counter the anti-school sentiment would begin. And rightfully so.
Yet, in recent months I have seen a number of tweets from educators implying the same attitude towards families (eg. “School is their one true home”). And the number of “likes” and “retweets” seem to indicate that others feel the opinion is spot-on. Our students, they suggest, are faced with abuses, dangers, and insecurity at home. School is the one safe haven for these neglected children.
When did it become acceptable for schools to judge the families with whom they should be working? What led educators to believe that they, alone, make a difference? To suggest that teachers are a refuge from the “threatening” outside world is to push away that world. It reflects biases that affect how schools relate to their families and students.
Family engagement expert Dr Karen Mapp lists “All parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them” as the first Core Belief of Engagement. We need to stop judging “someone’s story based on the chapter we walked in on”! Let me say that again - we need to stop judging. That parent who is working three jobs leaving their kids alone, or is dealing with their own trauma, or struggles daily with some form of mental illness, or is overwhelmed by responsibility, or is parenting alone, or is exhausted from caring for an extended family, wants their child’s future to be bright and filled with possibilities. They look to the school to do what they believe they cannot. They yearn for
understanding and support. They hope for a teammate with whom they can work. One who can step in when they falter. And isn’t that what teachers want from their families?
What if we began each day believing that our families had dreams for their kids? How would that affect our biases and our practice?
Would it encourage schools to build bridges to their community?
Might it embolden teachers to work with families, co-creating plans of support and learning?
Could it move parent groups towards initiatives that build the capabilities of the home to support the learning that happens in the classroom?
Would authentic partnerships develop that allowed schools to understand the vulnerabilities of families, and families to accept the imperfections of schools?
Rhetoric extolling the virtues of schools shouldn’t seek to boost the morale of the teachers at the expense of families. It’s not nice. Or kind. It’s bordering on bullying. Certainly, it is not the behaviour one would want modelled for our students.
Please, be your best everyday, beginning with a smile, and ask, “How is your Mom/Dad/family today?”