“You can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse. When children feel better, they behave better.” Pam Leo
This blog has been inspired by Carrie and David Grant who spoke about the parent school relationship at this week’s NAHT SEND Conference.
I was once browsing in a very large HMV close to my school and I noticed my toddler was no longer holding my hand; I looked around and experienced that moment of utter fear and panic as the detachment suddenly washed over me; he was nowhere to be seen. As my heart rate quickened and time slowed to eternity I suddenly saw a parent at my school walking towards me. She had my son. Without missing a beat she handed him over and said, “And you get PAID to look after children?”
Just because I run a school I do not have the secret formula for bringing children up into the 21st Century without making all the mistakes of parenthood.
I believe that head teachers do not make better parents and parents do not make better head teachers but I am increasingly coming to the understanding that by working closer there is no doubt we can do a much better job at preparing our children for their world.
I have my own parental concept of love and understanding. I love my children in ways that fit into my family world, our order, chaos, warmth, ways to hurt each other and ways to make each of us feel better with a smile, action or word. A physical, close and emotionally charged relationship. My family make me happy, angry, pathetic, strong, weak and ambitious in a million different ways each and every day. As I write this my wife has just told me, “Feel free to shout at Erica if she does not move that coat” as she has left the house to play tennis, the irony is I could never shout at my beautiful daughter. There is nothing in my world as a parent that my children’s teachers and schools can really understand; it seems too personal, too soaked in our history, just too complicated.
Schools have three basic functions when it comes to education. They are policy, pedagogy and practice. Get these things right and you can run any school pretty effectively. The problem with this is the first point of call in so many cases is policy. The ethos and foundations of the school is so often build on policy that is often never read. This informs the pedagogy which in turn drives the practice. How much policy in school is written with parents in mind?
My love and understanding of the children in my school is very different to my parental emotions. I care deeply for each and every child I have ever taught (Over 20 years this is quite a few). I want them to have amazing lives, to laugh, be loved like I love my children, be safe, be told why they are the centre of the world, be held when they are scared, be shown when they are wrong, be accepted for who they are (even when they are in the wrong), to have their gaze met, their chins lifted, to have guardians even when they think they don’t need them, to be given freedom, opportunity, trust and the utter conviction that no matter what happens there is someone there to pick them up, dust them down and walk with them if they want it. As the saying goes “be nice to your children because they’ll be picking your nursing home.” But more than this, do it because it feels right.
Turning the individual needs of parents into the collective ethos of a good school may not be as hard as it initially seems. My advice to Newly Qualified Teachers on Parents Evenings, as they sit sweating in fear, is to just make sure the parents know you care for their child. That you are beginning to understand them; that you want to understand them.
The problem with school is the one size fits all mentality is about trying to manage 600 individuals in one house. In truth, it only works so far. If teaching is to truly evolve beyond the limits of the past we need to change our mind-set though. We need to have the NQT parent evening mindset. Every parent in a school needs to feel that every adult in the school understands and loves their child for who they are and has ambition for their future success. It was so refreshing to hear this challenge brought to the school playground by Carrie and David Grant yesterday at the NAHT SEND conference. As parents they have an incredible story to tell. One of love and understanding, but more than that… To stand tall and challenge a room full of head teachers to see things from the parent’s perspective is a brave thing. We need to hear this more. School leadership can get far too stuffy and self-serving far too quickly.
The relationship between school and home is a difficult balance to get right (I have not cracked it for sure). I am told to fine parents for taking holidays (When I often want to say, “Have a wonderful time!”), a parent handed me a BNP leaflet last week saying we ‘indoctrinated children” (that is only going to end one way), what can be a decision that one parent will shake my hand for another wants to (and I quote) “punch my lights out” for… We have politicians who continuously tell parents that education is NOT good enough in this country; we have endless targets, a chief inspector of Ofsted who divides us… But love and understand is a powerful friend (even when faced with hate). It is only through wanting the best and realising others may have the answers that we can move forward.
A bespoke education.
Why can’t some children bring a phone in to school so they can phone home if anxious? We all know that an anxious child is not a learning child… Schools are about learning, so making that happen seems to be the simplest solution. Why do parents drop off at the doors and have to go home? Why is your Ofsted grade more important than your Parent Grade? Why is it that academic exam results are more important than sports results? When we stray from the ‘Rules of School’ what is it that we are so afraid of? Is it about equity? If we stretch the rules for this child then it is only fair that we stretch the rules for all children and suddenly anarchy rules. Or is it about capacity? How can I meet the needs of over 1000 parents at my school where each and every child is utterly unique and the centre of their world (Gulps)? Maybe it is by changing ‘I ‘to ‘US’? Schools are stuffy places and have been coded by decades of ‘This is how we do it’. It takes a brave head to break the mould but it can be done and I believe this is far easier than we might think. It is about changing our mind-sets. It is about putting the child back in to the centre of the picture and not making excuses because we have a government who is not putting the child first (especially welfare). As I keep saying, I don’t need politicians to tell me how to do a better job. I need my community to stand with me to help me do a better job. So, how am I engaging with them?
This is not a quick fix approach. It needs to be a lifelong direction. It is about the evolution of our education system and not doing it the same way we always have for a world that has changed beyond our understanding. It is about finding ways to bring us together rather than reasons to separate. It is about the distance between us.