Pondering Parents

Okay. Yesterday was “Persuading Parents.” Today’s it’s: Pondering.

I re-read 3 old articles about American parent-teacher relations, and considered them anew in the China context.

1. My friend Greg Gunn writes:

From my conversations with hundreds of parents from all walks of life coping with academic concerns around their kids, I’ve seen a few factors emerge repeatedly as to why we are afraid or resistant to ask the tough questions.

We don’t know what we should be asking.

We don’t know how to evaluate the answers that the schools and educators give to us.

We’re worried that if we push too hard, there will be some sort of backlash against our child.

We know some things seem to be working for our child (respect, happiness, or some achievement) and we are worried about jeopardizing those things.

We’re worried that the problem may be our kid, or something we did wrong, and we’re not ready for that news.

We don’t know what we would do anyway if the answers were unsatisfactory to us.

My China thought: There is perhaps less fear of Chinese parents to ask hard questions. The view here is that Chinese parents are pushy.

But I think Greg’s other factors remain true here. There is an opportunity to educate parents on what to ask and what to do with the answers.

2. Danielle Pillet-Shore, a professor at University of New Hampshire, has researched parent-teacher conferences:

The conventional wisdom:

Most people think of parent-teacher conferences as occasions wholly dedicated to the assessment and evaluation of the student – a kind of student performance review focused on how the child is doing in school, akin to performance appraisals done annually for employees in organizations.

But Pillet Shore rejects that view:

“Parents and teachers behave in a way suggesting that they are each treating the conference as an occasion for their own performance review – using the student’s progress, or lack thereof, as a gauge of how the teacher is doing at his or her job of ‘being a teacher’ and how the parent is doing at his or her job of ‘being a parent,’” Pillet-Shore says.

So parent and teacher face a dilemma: How do they each display that they are “good” at their jobs given that they perform much of those jobs outside of direct observation by one another?

My thought: In Kenya for Bridge, Geordie and I experimented with new parent-teacher conference models. It took some tinkering, but we were able to end up with an approach that parents and teachers liked a lot more. We tried it in 1 school, then 20, before scaling up.

I wonder what sort of dynamic a Pillet-Shore would find in China, and once we understood that, how we could improve things?

3. Finally, the estimable Jay Mathews wrote about parent visits to classrooms.

There was a big reaction when I wrote recently about an Arlington County couple who asked to observe a class for an hour to see if the popular Arlington Traditional School would be right for their children.

They also got a flat no. Having them sit quietly in class would be too disruptive, Arlington officials said, without making clear why.

This touched a nerve. That column got three times as many comments as usual. Readers were deeply split. Some shared my view that the policy left parents in the dark for no good reason. Others thought the ban on observations for prospective parents prevented potentially harmful intrusions.

…A parent…said he used to spend a day each year following his elementary and middle school children through all their classes and learned much about teacher work loads and classroom conduct.

An educator signing in as JDunning said: “It’s long past time that we welcome parents in to see what we do and what they think of it instead of hiding in the world’s largest cubicles.”

My China thought: Along with a couple sharp educators from Shenzhen, I recently visited Wild Rose Montessori in Cambridge, a mile from Harvard. Wild Rose had built a little clear-walled tiny room for parents and other observers. We loved it. With so many new kindergartens being created in China, I wondered about that as a design opportunity.

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