It’s been really disheartening to me lately, especially in my role doing online engagement work with Edutopia, to see educators type things along the lines of “I really care about each and every one of my students. Those parents, though…” Another common one is “I can only do so much but those parents need to…those parents should…those parents shouldn’t.” It’s disheartening because I strongly believe that when we make a commitment to support our students as “whole children,” we commit to supporting students in their family and home context. This means pulling family members closer to us instead of writing them off, engaging caregivers even when they frustrate us, and doing everything we can to see past old excuses and blame-based commentary. Saying we support “the whole child” but giving up on parents we perceive as “not involved” is giving up on the child themself.
Our students’ parents are the same humans as our students. Sometimes this is literal: our students grow up and have children and we educate those children, or our students have children while they are with us and we educate those children. Sometimes, this is figurative: our students are human members of our community, and their parents and family members are human members of our community. If our goals in education center democracy and citizenship, we must model a respect and inclusion of all community members. This means seeking understanding and building connections. It means talking about the parents of our students as if they were in the room with us. It means checking our assumptions, examining our biases, and seeking to educate ourselves on cultural differences so we can build stronger relationships. Being in community with humans- our students and their caregivers and families – means actively advocating for change and dismantling the systems that oppress the humans in our communities.
This isn’t easy work. But to quote the Talmud: You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
When I’m interacting with a student’s family and I feel defensive, annoyed, frustrated, angry, or scared, that’s a clue to me that I need to take some time to check my own emotions and get some perspective, often through checking in with trusted colleagues. I need to re-center the student and re-commit to unconditional positive regard for the entire family. I must evaluate whether I’m playing into a negative script or whether I’m writing new one, collaboratively with the people with whom I’m trying to connect.
I wrote some practical tips and conversation-starters for a community post on Edutopia: click here to read more. Bottom line? Empathy is everything, and it’s essential especially when it’s not easy. Our students are the community is our students are their parents are our community and on and on. Let’s do our best to empathetically engage with them all.