How many of my fellow educators have been in a parent conference and find yourself not really telling the parents the whole truth or intentionally omitting what you really want to say or should be saying? I think all of us have "been there-done that" at some point. I understand the importance of the "little white lie." I even understand the need to be careful not to hurt the parents' feelings or place blame. But if we truly want to make a difference in the lives of these children, are we doing them a disservice by constantly sugar coating the issues when talking to the parents? I realize that every situation is different, and I will try not to make any sweeping generalizations, but let's look at a hypothetical example of what I am discussing.
You are in a parent meeting. You know the history of this family because this is the third child having come through your school system. The situation is that the mom is college educated but chooses not to work. (There is nothing wrong with that.) What is curious is the fact that she sends her child to daycare after school until the father comes home from work, which is around 6 p.m. It seems the parents prefer spending time with their older child. You have personally seen the mother and father out to dinner with the older child while the younger child was left at daycare an extra hour. You know from experience that these parents never follow through on any of your suggestions. You know that the parents tell us everything they think we want to hear, but never actually do anything to help their children improve. We have what seems like regular meetings with these parents to discuss attendance issues, academic concerns and socialization concerns. We give the parents strategies that we know they won't implement. We give them advice that we know they will ignore. We continually ask for their help and support, which we know we'll not get. When should the charade end?
Even though we know that the parent plays such an important role in the education of their children, it is very difficult to look a parent in the eye and say, "You are the reason your child is having such difficulty in school. You need to wake up early enough to get your 6-year-old child a good breakfast and get her on the bus. This will resolve the attendance issues. You need to support and supervise her at night as she completes her homework. This will resolve the academic issues. You need to model good behavior, and not accept your child being mean or cruel to others. This will resolve the socialization issues. You need to spend time with all your children, not just the one you prefer. You need to be a quality parent."
We too play a major role in this equation. We, the educators, cannot be honest without also being helpful. We need to create opportunities for parents to learn educational expectations. We not only need to educate the child, but also we need to educate the parent. We should develop an online parent academy where parents can access relevant articles about children, including behavior strategies, homework help and educational tips. We should offer parent workshops where parents can discuss and question school curriculum. A parent mentoring program could be very helpful for all parents, but especially new parents. Monthly parent newsletters can inform parents of school activities and school themes. The list goes on and on, but the reality is that we need to be absolutely honest with parents about the "state of their children", and then be prepared to help and support them on their pathway to quality parenting.