The researcher who conducted the survey [on instances of overparenting, as reported by educators] said that she’d drawn another conclusion from her results: many parents aren’t letting their child reach normal developmental milestones…
…As they grow up, those milestones begin to feel so much less clear. When should a child cross the street alone? Be able to enter a store and politely and successfully make a purchase? Advocate for herself with a teacher? Ride the subway? Take himself to the doctor or dentist, or for a haircut? Cook a meal, do a load of laundry?
Those are milestones, too. And those are the kind of milestones that it’s easy to forget your child isn’t hitting. Once we’ve set aside those books and charts— which provide remarkably little guidance on when a child should be capable of cooking a meal or doing a load of laundry — it’s too easy to forget to step aside and let those equally important moments happen.
Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield writing in The New York Times:
During the 1970s, Chris Argyris, a business theorist at Harvard Business School (and now, at 89, a professor emeritus) began to research what happens to organizations and people…when they find obstacles in their paths. Professor Argyris called the most common response single loop learning — an insular mental process in which we consider possible external or technical reasons for obstacles.
Less common but vastly more effective is the cognitive approach that Professor Argyris called double-loop learning. In this mode we question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. This more psychologically nuanced self-examination requires that we honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information, which may lead to fresh ways of thinking about our lives and our goals.
Great advice for parents and teachers alike about ways to build a positive relationship. Here are my selections from the article that I consider worth noting and that we constantly illuminate for our community here at Alexandria Country Day School:
For our parents:
“We all need to learn how to work with diverse people,” he says. “Imagine how confident a student will feel if he or she works with the teacher and resolves the issue on his or her own?” College admissions officers tell Mr. Skelly [Superintendent of the Palo Alto Unified District] they’re looking for students “with a voice,” he says. “When parents intervene on their children’s behalf, it’s robbing them of their own voice.”
For our teachers:
Identify and build on strengths. I [Mr. Skelly] don’t do this enough as a teacher, and most parents, according to educators I’ve spoken to, don’t do it at all, but if you have something positive to say, say it early and often. Parents are better prepared to hear about a child’s challenges, if a teacher knows their child, understands his or her strengths and is prepared to build on them. The same is true for teachers. Let them know what they’re doing right, not just what they’re doing wrong.
Other nuggets of wisdom include responding to parents in a timely manner, coming up with concrete solutions when discussing concerns about a child’s performance or behavior, using emails appropriately (i.e., not to vent or accuse, but for information purposes only), taking children’s complaints about their teachers, peers, or the school with a grain of salt, and finally, the power and disarming nature of an apology.
In my experience, nothing erodes trust between teachers and parents than the lack of communication and when assumptions and perceptions, rather than curiosity and open-ended questions, drive the discussion. The advice above serves as a helpful reminder of simple things that both sides can do regularly to keep the child and his/her well-being at the center of the parent-teacher relationship.
Other helpful resources to consider on building a strong parent-teacher relationship:
Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot: The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other
David Brooks, The New York Times columnist, writes in a 2011 article in The New Yorker:
We’ve spent a generation trying to reorganize schools to make them better, but the truth is that people learn from the people they love.
One statement, yet more powerful and profound than many treatises on educational reform. What the greatest independent schools get right is this bond between teachers and students. Even a mediocre teacher will sometimes get a pass if the students know that he or she cares about their success. Similarly, the most competent teacher will fail in his mission if the students feel an emotional tension or distance.
What mattered most was not the substance of the course so much as the way she [the teacher] thought, the style of learning she fostered. For instance, Ms. Taylor [the fictional teacher in Brooks’ tale] constantly told the class how little she knew.
How we learn is more important than what we learn, and yet, most schools are content-delivery machines. They let substance drive the curriculum, rather than skills and concepts. As a result, assessments test information rather than application. Too often, teachers become focused on “But I’ve always done this unit,” or “The kids loved it last year,” or “The parents expect it each year.” We need to shift the conversation first, before we can change attitudes and curricula.
As long as we permit such statements in our schools, and hire teachers with low EQ, we will fail in our obligation to prepare students for success in today’s society.
[For another perspective and analysis of Brooks’s article, see Jonathan Martin’s blog post at http://21k12blog.net/2011/01/16/david-brooks-in-the-new-yorker-relationships-and-uncertainty-matter-most-for-learning/%5D
Our peer mediators at Alexandria Country Day School design and enact skits each year for the full school on good teasing, bad teasing, and unintentional bad teasing. The quote below is extremely helpful in recognizing when teasing crosses the line.
You can call some teasing starter bullying, or even bullying outright. The teasers may laugh, or even mean very little by it, but the teased don’t always see it that way. Research (which Gretchen pointed me toward) shows that while teasers describe the interactions as lighthearted and fun, those teased often described the same situation as malicious and annoying.
But some teasing, called “prosocial teasing” by those who study these things, has benefits. It can be playful, reveal affiliations and help both the teaser and the teased feel closer. After all, only someone very close to you, or someone very mean, will tell you that your feet have a certain unappealing jungle quality. But teasing isn’t positive unless both parties perceive it as positive…
Two very different but interlinked analysis of the highly publicized incident of a public school bus monitor, Karen Klein, being taunted and mocked by students on the bus:
Charles Blow in the NYTimes:
This kind of behavior is not isolated to children and school buses and suburban communities. It stretches to the upper reaches of society — our politics and our pulpits and our public squares.Whether it is a Republican debate audience booing a gay soldier or Rush Limbaugh’s vicious attack on a female Georgetown law student or Newt Gingrich’s salvos at the poor, bullying has become boilerplate. Hiss and taunt. Tease and intimidate. Target your enemies and torture them mercilessly. Maintain primacy through predation.Traditionally inferior identity roles are registered in a variety of ways. For Klein, she was elderly and female and not thin or rich. For others, it is skin color, country of origin, object of affection or some other accident of birth.The country is changing, and that change is creating friction: between the traditional ruling classes and emerging ones; between traditional social structures and altered ones; between a long-held vision of an American ideal and growing reality that its time has passed.And that change is coming with an unrelenting swiftness.
In an article in the Washington Post on the same video, Janice D’Arcy questions modern parenting attitudes and whether children need to be reined in more:
It just so happens that the New Yorker’s latest issue has an eye-opening piece by Elizabeth Kolbert called “Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?”
In the article, Kolbert examines several new books that look at different sides of an increasingly obvious trend — that we are spoiling our kids like never before.
From a study by anthropologists that revealed a lack of discipline in the modern American home to new examinations of how college graduates are returning home in droves, Kolbert’s piece becomes an indictment of our parenting culture.
The fact of the matter is that both Blow and D’Arcy are right: there IS a crisis in modern parenting and there IS a culture war where the majority/minority dynamic has shifted dramatically. If the recent Pew Research Study on Asian American births is any indication, minority groups have for the first time reached a tipping point and the balance is surely reconfiguring everything from politics to education to entire communities. Blow cites the following statistics from the Census Bureau to further prove his point:
During Samuel Palmisano’s tenure as chief executive of IBM, the company became:
A textbook case of how to drive change in a big company — when so much of the study of business innovation focuses on start-ups and entrepreneurs.This column is a glimpse of the thinking behind some of the major steps I.B.M. has taken under Mr. Palmisano’s leadership, based on two recent interviews with him.He says his guiding framework boils down to four questions:
•Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?
•Why would somebody work for you?
• Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?
•And why would somebody invest their money with you?
I have wondered if these same questions can be adapted to independent school leadership. Independent schools are both schools and businesses. Unlike public schools, they are tuition-dependent and have to raise funds annually in order to operate and finance various curricular initiatives and capital projects. Independent schools also compete with one another, parochial schools, and local public schools for students and families. So while one side of the coin represents the school’s mission and educational status, the other side represents its financial needs. These questions, then, can be interpreted and applied to independent schools just as well as they apply to any other business or institution. The following is my attempt at that interpretation:
Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?
In a previous post, I referenced another news article that looked at rising tuitions in many Manhattan independent schools, with a few already touching $40,000 and others almost there. For many families attending our schools, mortgage payments and their child’s tuition are the two biggest debits each month. Schools must double their efforts on recruitment and retention, especially in a sluggish economy. Word-of-mouth advertising by current families is normally the best marketing tool for any school, and schools need to answer this question – what is unique about them? – for these families on a regular basis. Heads and division heads can utilize social media tools such as blogs and Twitter to link to or write about what moved them about a lesson they observed today, or an athletic victory, perhaps a student’s performance in the winter play, and so on. Schools are beginning to adopt Facebook and use the fan page as an opportunity to tap into Facebook’s massive database and people’s existing routines. Scheduled morning coffees or afternoon/evening presentations and parent education talks also keep families connected to the school, and give the school another opportunity to communicate its mission and philosophy. All of these initiatives must link back to a broader strategy of the school and convey a singular message.
Why would somebody work for you?
This question is key. Daniel Pink’s book Drive addressed three factors to motivate today’s 21st Century Worker: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. How does your school define and act on these clearly and explicitly with your faculty and staff? Are they part of a teacher’s evaluation process? Conversations about these three factors should be initiated by the school’s administrators with their direct reports, and not always the other way round. I am more likely to stay positive and motivated to do my best work if I know that someone, preferably my direct supervisor, is invested in my success. Leadership then should be cultivated at all levels of a school, and not just in the administrative team. The 21st Century School will have a stable and strong cadre of teacher leaders.
Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?
This question is best answered with a comment made by Wes Moore, one of the keynote speakers at the last People of Color Conference held in Philadelphia in December 2011: Schools must be of a community, not just in a community. This statement is profound in its charge to all schools across the globe. From the faculty to families and students to curriculum and service projects, schools must actively engage their communities by first locating themselves within. How does your school reflect your community? What contributions can you point to within your community? How are you promoting civic engagement amongst your students and families, and inviting professionals, alumni, and others to come talk and share at your school?
And why would somebody invest their money with you?
Schools are different in that families are not simply investing their money with us, but their children as well. The question could then be rephrased to say: “Why would somebody invest in their children’s future with you?” I am not certain the answer here is vastly different from my response to question #1. The difference in the two questions hinges on the verbs used in both cases: “spend” in #1 and “invest” in #4. The verb “spend” could refer to the purchase of a product or service for the short-term, whereas the verb “invest” in question #4 points to a long-term relationship and belief in the company’s (or school’s) mission beyond its products and services. For example, at Alexandria Country Day School, we look at every prospective Kindergarten student and applicant family as investing in us for the full nine years. Looked at in that way, what is unique about your school should answer this question just as well. Every administrator and faculty member at your school should be able to answer this question with strong conviction. So why should somebody invest in their children’s future with you? Does your faculty know how to answer this question? And do you know what they would say?
**Another way to look at the difference between the two questions here is to use #1 for recruitment and #4 for retention.
“Within one to two years, every independent school will cost more than $40,000,” said one board member at a top school who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the school had not yet set tuition.
And that is before requests for the annual fund, tickets to the yearly auction gala and capital campaigns to build a(nother) gym.
It seems like a simple matter of supply and demand here. For instance, the article notes in a quote from Pat Bassett, President of NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) that while in the rest of the country the admission pool is declining, this is not the case in New York City, making any reason for “moderate tuition increases” an unnecessary choice. And yet, I have to question the ethical obligation here; do independent schools that are tuition-driven obligated to keep their costs affordable for families not in the top 1%? The population attending our schools will and does change when the tuition is north of $40,000, and that’s not necessarily for the better. There’s usually a cost with such choices, and I hope that as independent school trustees across the nation vote on the 2012-2013 tuition increase this month, they will keep in mind families that only a few years ago sent their children to our schools but can no longer afford to. How has your school’s makeup changed as a result over the years, and how will it change in the coming decade? Are independent schools becoming less diverse socioeconomically? The article alludes to this changing reality for Manhattan private schools: “In a twist, despite the lingering recession, the percentage of students receiving financial aid has not increased alongside tuition.”
In today’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman has penned a provocative article that is a must-read for all educators. Friedman writes:
In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius. Therefore, everyone needs to find their extra — their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment. Average is over.
I am concerned that Friedman’s article will, in twisted ways, validate the anxieties of parents who want their children to change the world before they are sixteen so that the Harvards and Stanfords will take notice. As we – school leaders and educators – debate 21st century education and continue the march towards becoming 21st century schools, it is imperative that this progress does not feed the high school or college admissions frenzy that is already pervasive in our culture, especially in independent schools that talk of “rigor” and advertise themselves through the number of graduates going to Ivy League institutions and near-perfect SAT scores. The latest issue of Independent School magazine has an article on anxiety school heads and principals are seeing as early as the elementary grades because families are concerned about their child’s perceived success and the possibility of falling behind his or her peers. Neal Brown, the author of this article and a head of school himself of a PreK-8 independent school in Maryland, writes:
We know that force-feeding academic skills to young children is not healthy for them and won’t improve their current or future lives. But we can’t just snap our fingers and expect all parents to let go of their anxieties for their children’s futures. Rather, we need to engage parents in an ongoing conversation about what makes most sense — about the learning process that will help their children develop into successful, engaging, and resilient adults.
Last year’s movie, Race to Nowhere, highlighted this point as much as it showed the dangerous consequences of overburdening expectations and the competitive culture we live in. So yes, Friedman may be right in that average is officially over and today’s current and future jobseekers will need to do something extra – their “unique value contribution” – to be noticed, however at what expense will we see this occur? Can we as educators help our parents and students strike a balance? I have written before about my school’s work last spring on developing our Portrait of a Graduate. The four attributes our faculty eventually agreed to as reflective of our mission and program are: Independent Learner, Effective Communicator, Community-Minded, and Balanced. That last attribute – balanced – is, to me, what keeps our school and program in check by always asking the question: Are we allowing our children to be children? Great schools are not academic factories but communities, and as we say at ACDS, one big family.
How do you strike a balance in your “school family”?