I recently attended a seminar dealing with how schools should interact with parents. The seminar, hosted by lawyers, highlighted some recent examples of case law where interactions between schools and parents broke down in relation to children with special needs.
The salient point of the seminar was that schools and parents should enter into “meaningful consultation” with each other and how that consultation should look like.
It was noted that “consultation” is not the same as “informing”. Giving options, both parties willing to listen to each other, “give and take”, getting to a “win-win” and “having an open mind” were some the terms used to describe “meaningful consultation”.
It was also noted that schools should not develop a plan of action in isolation and merely ask for parental support. Schools should, for example, include parents in developing a plan of action.
Of course all consultation should be conducted from a student centered perspective and should vary in form and type according to the specific needs of the child. One of questions that came up was “who has the final decision making authority”? Legalistically speaking, it was stated that schools have authority over the final decision related to the school based educational program but only after “meaningful consultation”.
That last question unsettled me a little only because I realized situations where we rely on “the authority to make the final decision” are precipitated, usually, by a breakdown in trust and healthy dialogue. Interestingly enough, shortly after attending this seminars, I came across a blog post where one educator states, in relation to curriculum and testing:
Parents do not have a right to tell the school what their children will and will not be taught and as public school administrators and teachers we cannot follow parent directives.
I can appreciate this comment, perhaps from a legalistic perspective - but it does unsettle me as an educator. One of the values we espouse in our Catholic school system is that parents are the “primary educators of their children”. I hold that value close to my heart and mind whenever I speak with parents.
I am always struck by the inherent (and required) trust parents place in me. This trust is one of the foundations that make our schools safe and caring communities of learning.
I am, for example, still asking myself about my own approach to communicating with parents – Do I tend to inform or consult? I suppose that best answer I can offer is that “it depends” on the matter at hand.
But what comes up for me over and over again is that whether informing or consulting with parents – regardless of the subject matter – I always see parents as the primary educators who are doing there best, often sacrificing so much to provide for and raise their child.
In my interactions with parents, this mindset has allowed me to sort through challenging issues in a respectful way. It has helped me deliver good news in a joyful manner and, perhaps most importantly, it has allowed me to apologize in a vulnerable way when I’ve made mistakes.