Sunday, September 29, 2013

Parents: To Inform or Consult?

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 merely 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 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.

Still figuring it out....


  1. Hey buddy - well said. It is all about trusting relationships. Whether it is about a child's minor struggles or working together to develop an IEP, we must have 2 way dialogue. What I have found is this also works so much better in the long term as we can share the dilemmas we face in the education system about making decisions for students. If both parties are willing to listen, we get a better idea of where parents are coming from and parents can seek to look through the lens of a teacher/admin. We don't always have to agree but we must respectfully seek to understand. I have huge concerns with the us vs them (and telling each party how to do things) that I sometimes read in articles as I believe it creates a wedge that hinders students' opportunities for success. There is a time for informing parents much like there is a time for informing schools - but if it is a decision that has a larger impact on students, we need to consult. Although it takes more time, meaningful consultation (with listening and trust being the key) helps everyone better understand each other and results in better relationships.

  2. Thanks John. Another thoughtful post. I've always found it valuable to build those relationships at the earliest point possible and at the lowest level of the problem. For example, working with parents at the beginning of the year in regards to their child being responsible and coming to class prepared yields better results than informing them that their child is receiving consequences because they have been unprepared five times. When we build respectful relationships, parents also come to respect the knowledge and background educators possess.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to comment Tom & Chris
    Firstly, Chris I think you hit on an important point - what might be some of the times that are more conducive to informing vs consulting? Focusing on the anticipated "impact" of a decision might be a good place to start. Regardless of how many are impacted - the greater the impact the greater the need to consult.

    Tom - I agree with your comment. The quality of relationships we foster (real and authentic) is proportionate the climate of trust that exists in a school community.

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