Dear Parents, Be Less Involved

Okay, there’s a title to raise some eyebrows, but hear me out.

As a kid, I never really thought about my parent’s involvement in my education. Like most parents, no news was good news. Neither of my parents had a high school diploma and like many parents of that era, teachers were more educated and placed in relatively high regard as experts and professionals in the community. As more people become college educated and society, in general, became less compliant towards authority, schools and teachers were now more accountable for their actions. That was certainly an important and useful change.

As a teacher, I soon was able to see categorize the levels of involvement of parents. As a first-grade teacher, parents generally were fairly involved and interested in their child’s education. Particularly if this was their first child, they were anxious to know if their child was having success as a reader and learner, if they were developing social skills and if they were enjoying school. Most parents already knew the answer to these questions but appreciated affirmation. Yet while this was generally true depiction, there were some differences among parents. A small percentage of parents never showed up for interviews and I had little or no contact with them. The majority attended parent-teacher conferences, read notes from school and stay in good communication with me. Another smaller percentage were more involved. These parents volunteered in the classroom and field trips, baked cookies for class parties and had more in-depth and specific questions about their children’s education. A few of these folks challenged my teaching methods on occasion and some were a strong source of encouragement. As a young parent at the time, I could relate to parents and how busy their lives were and tried not to place undue pressure or expectations on them. From an academic perspective, I mostly wanted them to read to their children and talk to them every day about school and learning. Even though I did some things I wouldn’t do if I were teaching now (reading logs, homework) I didn’t ask much of these parents. You love on them, I’ll look after the academics. That’s somewhat simplistic but also an accurate synopsis of our working agreement.

As I moved to a district leadership position, parent engagement became a bigger priority. As public support for education diminished, getting parents to become partners in education and accept that role would be important. We began to use the internet and social media to share our stories and show that schools were vibrant learning spaces that parents would be proud of and advocate for.

I still believe all those things. But I also think parents need to consider exactly what their role is. As a parent my involvement with my own children’s education was limited. I personally knew many of them and trusted them as professionals. I also wanted the same courtesy and trust given to me. That doesn’t mean I thought all my kid’s teachers were amazing. They certainly had a number of teachers who were less than amazing. Sometimes they made decisions that I disagreed with but for the most part, I gave them grace. But mostly as a parent, I didn’t have the time or energy to give to my kid’s education. I don’t know if that sounds callous or privileged but my kids had abilities and no learning issues so I let them manage school.

I’m thinking about our current political climate. I wonder what kind of a person would enter politics? While I’m sure it’s always been a challenging job, I can’t imagine waking up each morning knowing so many people will despise every decision you make. Part of the challenge is the access we have to their daily work. 20 years ago, most of us didn’t scrutinize our politicians so regularly. There was a level of trust. We elect you to do a job. We don’t have time, energy or expertise to monitor your daily habits, conversations and decisions. You do your job, I’ll do mine and in 4 years we’ll decide if you should keep it. Now many will say people should be more informed to make a better decision about who the elect. Certainly, but I”m not convinced that information people are getting today on a daily basis through social media and 24-hour news cycles make them more informed. It does make them angry and disillusioned but I”m not sure if they are more informed.

Education is facing similar challenges. Parents are getting louder, more vocal and in many cases misinformed about many things. Teachers don’t have the time or energy to debate many of these issues. They become distractions to doing the real and important work of learning. In part, I believe it’s contributing to teacher attrition.

So what I’m suggesting is that we begin to put a little more trust in teachers and experts in general. I realize that’s a broad statement and everyone will cite many examples where that’s a dangerous idea. My belief is that for the good of our mental health and sustainability as a society, it may be an essential step. There will always be watchdogs and those people are necessary parts of a high functioning, healthy society but that means that for most of us, we can focus on our work and expertise and let others look after theirs. When the COVID-19 vaccines were introduced, the majority of folks had enough faith in their doctors to take the vaccines without having to do crazy amounts of research. We realized we were never going to be smart enough to understand all that goes into that amazing creation and accepted with gratitude how it would help us. If you think about it, society is built on a great deal of trust. We trust that the food we buy is not going to harm us, that there are standards and systems in place to ensure our safety. We trust banks to make sure our money is looked after. The list goes on.

So parents, trust your teachers and educational leaders. There are lots of checks and balances in place to ensure they are doing their job. Go to your child’s scheduled interviews and ask all the questions you have. But please let them do their job. They likely aren’t trained to do your job and most of you aren’t trained to do theirs.

One last note. I write this as a privileged Canadian with healthy children and means. I am fully aware of my bias but may not always see them. I write to think and learn. I welcome pushback, that’s why I share this publicly. Please share your thoughts.