As a parent, I’ve learned the importance of humility. Every time I begin to wrap my head around a stage that one of my children is moving through, I’m quickly pulled into another, feeling like I’m back at square one. I have constant questions about how I’m parenting and if it’s good enough. When asked by their pediatrician or another parent, I can talk at length about what they’re doing and what I think it means, but I still regularly feel like it’s tricky to get my hands around whatever current issue we’re facing.
Humility is important in every aspect of life; we have to accept that each of us has limits, based on our experience and knowledge. But there are some places where it can feel difficult to express our own humility and acknowledge that we don’t know it all. Schools are often one of those places. I remember a conversation with my oldest brother (years ago now, though after I’d started teaching) where he suggested that he knew everything he needed to know about schools because he’d been to one. This kind of thinking is common; of course, he is an expert in his own school experience, and he is, of course, entitled to opinions on schooling based on that. But going to school doesn’t make someone qualified to talk about what schools should or shouldn’t teach or what kinds of books should be taught or allowed in the library. As parents and community members, we have to remind ourselves that we don’t know it all because our singular experience isn’t universally transferable. We have to trust teachers and schools and give them the agency they need to make professional decisions.
Likewise, as teachers, humility plays a critical role. It’s true that we have our own school experiences, as both student and teacher, and we have professional learning and certification. But each year, we have a group of new students that we only know small bits about (and that’s if we’re lucky enough to benefit from the wisdom of last year’s teachers). There is a lot we cannot know at the beginning of the school year because we don’t yet know our students and their families. We can peg a student who reminds us of someone else as being exactly like that other person, even though they’re not. We can see a student with a diagnosis or disability and assume too much about that person and their capabilities. If we aren’t humble, we get in our own way.
When teachers and families try to keep the other at arm’s length, students suffer. But together, they are powerful allies. Where a teacher doesn’t yet have deep knowledge of any individual, families have an abundance. Where a parent can’t understand if a behavior or seeming slowness to be able to do something is a cause for concern, a teacher can provide important insight. We all need to understand that we bring limits with us wherever we go, but genuine openness and curiosity can allow us to do our work better and improve the work of anyone else who interacts with our children and students.
Now that school is back in swing, teachers’ theoretical work of summer preparation turns tangible. If you work in a school, consider how you can proactively reach out to your students’ families, inviting their expertise and participation. Begin building relationships with the people best positioned to help you understand the members of this year's class. If you’re a parent, reach out to your child’s teacher in the first couple of weeks of school, citing something specific (and hopefully positive) about how things are going so far.
Want more help trying to figure out some initial relationship building moves to bridge the family-school divide? Reach out; we’re happy to help!