Teachers and parents, we have a trust problem. Just 36 percent of public school teachers express “complete” or “a lot of” trust in parents, EdChoice’s new “Schooling in America Survey” says.
What’s eroding trust? One likely culprit: Parental expectations are sky-high. Harried millennial parents want schools to teach skills once considered part of child-rearing. In a new Walton Family Foundation/Echelon Insights survey, millennial parents say schools bear more responsibility than they do not just for academics, but also for teaching kids how to balance a checkbook, set personal goals, build good relationships — even how to change a tire.
Wow. No teacher has the time or mandate to lead on all that. Teachers assume numerous roles in the classroom. But they aren’t bankers, life coaches, therapists, or mechanics. Nor should parents expect them to act as if they were.
What’s a first step toward rebuilding relationships? Remember the kids and work to get along. It sounds trite, but optimal outcomes occur when kids are supported by adults working in harmony. Allies on the same side, cooperative teachers and parents can improve everything from academic achievement to conflict resolution, research shows. Of course, trust cuts both ways. But on this, schools should lead. A study from researchers at Ben Gurion University, assessing Israeli schools of choice, found that “parents who feel trusted by the school staff are more inclined to trust and therefore engage in school. This implies that trust, being a component of social capital, is rooted in norms of reciprocity.”
Where to look for inspiration? Atlanta’s Ron Clark Academy, “a private school with a public mission,” is a model for positive partnership. Founded by teachers, RCA serves 120 mostly low-income students in grades five through eight. The school is small, but its reach is global: RCA has trained 50,000 educators from 50 states and 26 countries; 90 percent are public educators. Academic growth is the stuff of educators’ dreams. Yet RCA’s culture stands out most. Each fall, staff pile into a van, logging 12-hour days to conduct home visits to new families.
“What we’ve found is that when the parents recognize how dedicated we are to their kids, there’s also a sense of trust that is being established,” says Junior Bernadin, RCA’s dean of Students.
Parent get-togethers provide input on how to support students. Staff members have even hosted parents in their own homes, says Bernadin. On Parent Day, moms and dads attend school; those failing to suit up for PE class get an F.
School expectations are clear. Parents are asked to “trust the process,” says Bernadin. Parents sign a contract of obligation, committing to support school policies. They must volunteer 40 hours annually; most give hundreds of hours. During Teacher Appreciation Weeks, parents have catered food, redecorated the school, and brought in massage therapists, says Bernadin.
What do teachers wish parents knew? “We’re all on the same team. When there are issues, we might not always agree with one another, but we still have the best interests of your child in mind,” says Bernadin, known on campus as the “parent whisperer.”
Parents should respect teachers’ professional expertise just as they would a doctor or lawyer, says Bernadin. They should ensure communication is effective. Negative or accusatory emails can offend teachers who are working hard to help kids succeed. Conveying concerns is fine, but “the tone in which you have a conversation is really important,” Bernadin adds.
About those earlier non-academic skills: Schools can help with some. But most are the work of parents — especially the one requiring a lug wrench.
Kristen Blair is a Chapel Hill-based education writer.