I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on the parent-school relationship by Jonathan Wolff recently. It was all about how Montessori teachers and Heads of Schools can, “optimize parent engagement” in their school communities. Maybe it’s the current political climate, the stage of life I’m in or what I see as a crucial aspect in the work I do, but my biggest takeaways all revolved around the same theme… CONNECTION. Funny enough, this seems to be one of the big themes showing up for me in 2018.
Connection is an incredibly important aspect in the parent-school relationship, because when there is real connection, there is trust. And when we have trust in our schools then parents, teachers and children can all feel supported. I see connection and trust as the lifeblood of a happy school. I’m thinking they are for a happy life too.
So below I share 2 slightly modified takeaways all about fostering connection and building trust regardless of the situation. I believe they are questions that we can ask ourselves as school leaders, educators, moms, dads or simply human beings wanting a fuller and richer life.
The Parent-School Relationship
How are we nurturing the relationship with…?
When Jonathan asked a room full of educators how we are nurturing the relationship with parents, I got goosebumps all over. What a simple yet powerful question!
I then immediately thought of this… As parents or educators, how are we nurturing the relationship with ourselves, our children, our partners, our co-teachers and our heads of schools? And are we courageous enough to answer those questions?
Nurturing one of these relationships may look like:
A parent writing a note to a classroom teacher letting her know that she’s appreciated and valued.
A Head of School setting aside the time to observe in a classroom and share the awesome things that she saw.
A teacher making a phone call to let a Dad know that his son patiently showed a younger child how to set the table for lunch.
In the past, I would have massive amounts of guilt around Jonathan's question. I would have become defensive and said that I was doing all I could do. Now, I am fully aware that nurturing these relationships is a constant process and it can only truly begin once we nurture the relationship with ourself. From there, we are able to do this work with others.
How are we sharing the lens with which we see the world?
Jonathan expressed that so often Montessori parents are viewing their Montessori child’s experience from the lens of their traditional schooling. Yes! How many of us educators and parents are viewing this non-traditional experience through such a traditional lens?
I then jumped to this… Aren’t we all viewing every experience and situation from our own unique lens? Each of us grew up differently. We processed situations and experiences as children in our own ways. And so, we each bring our own perspectives, positive & negative beliefs, expectations and insecurities into the mix. And that can be really awesome at times and really hard at other times too.
A big part of building connection and trust is acknowledging that we each have our own lens and that we sometimes see things so differently. We may not always agree. But we can always listen to the other side.
Sharing the lens with which we see the world may look like:
A Dad calmly explaining why encouraging his toddler to eat independently feels contradictory to the way his culture shows respect and love to children.
A teacher asking a group of parents questions around their family's use of punishment and reward and really listening to their needs & struggles in their parenting journey.
A couple sharing their positive and negative experiences from their own schooling during their search for the right program for their child and for themselves as a family. And a Head of School listening intently and asking questions that encourage the conversation.
Sharing our lens may not be fun, easy or a quick process, but it’s worth the understanding, connection and trust that it builds.
I know some, if not most of this may be easier said than done. But what I've been finding over the years is that if we show up in these small ways consistently, we get that big payout in the end... the payout of connection.