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Classical Christian MovementSCL Updates

Helping Your Parents Help You

By May 23, 2024No Comments

Communication and relationships are at the heart of what we do as educators. Therefore, it is essential we not only understand the biblical principles guiding our practices within the classroom and the school generally, but we must also be able to apply the principles we adhere to. This summer, as you review your approach to conflict and parent partnership, think about how you can refine your approach. Many schools become, and sometimes remain, frustrated with parents, but have not established clear norms and expectations for how problems are resolved.

While most schools have a conflict resolution policy based on biblical principles, when it gets down to the actual conflicts, there is less clarity as to how teachers and parents should navigate the relational issues they will encounter. It is not enough to merely send the offended party to the right person. Our parents, teachers, administrators, and students need clear instruction and models for how to resolve issues in a Christ-like way. 

Below are a few helpful tools to reflect on as you refine your parent partnership. First, I will provide principles to consider as you evaluate your policies and approach to conflict. Second, I will provide questions for teachers to use as they meet with families and plan productive meetings. Finally, I will offer a short guide to help your parents approach the school when they have a concern or want to address an issue. 

Key Principles
Conflict is inevitable and normal. We spend a lot of time in schools delaying, deflecting, avoiding, and complaining about it. This only makes things worse. We need to normalize and recast conflict as one of the most formative things that happens in our community. How you deal with interpersonal complexities in your community speaks volumes about your mission and your culture. Of course, that does not make conflict easy, but it does help reframe how you approach it. 

Reconciliation and rebuking people in a biblical way is an expression of love. We need to be proficient at it. If we are administrators, we need to work hard at it, model it, and instruct the entire community on how to be relationally wise. If escalation and avoidance are norms at your school, it is time to take the issue seriously. If necessary, bring in Peacemaker Ministries and camp out on the issue for a year or two. Gospel-centered communities learn to work through offenses, sin, and relational problems. It is not just a way to keep peace, it is a critical component of the education you are providing. 

Key Practices

To do this well, everyone needs to be taught both the principles and the practices of conflict resolution. Virtually every school I have interacted with has a thoroughly biblical policy. But, that does not necessarily mean teachers, parents, and students know how to apply the principles in their daily interactions. Here are some principles and questions for teachers to consider as they think through parent meetings in the coming year. These ideas mostly originated from my time as head at Covenant Classical School in Fort Worth. 

At ______ school, we recognize the parents’ responsibility to educate their children and the priority of the family. This means we:

  1. Meet with and listen to parents as the experts on their children.
  2. Welcome communication with parents on issues related to their children.
  3. Initiate communication and provide multiple avenues for parents to get information.
  4. Collaborate in executing the vision of the school.
  5. Invite parents to observe and/or participate in classes and activities.
  6. Initiate communication when there is something we know parents will be concerned about.

At ______ school, we are committed to being Christ-like in our communication. This means, as teachers, we:

  1. Recognize the power of the tongue (Prov. 15:4).
  1. Listen and think before we speak (Prov. 18:3, 15:28).
  2. Make our words appropriate and timely (Prov. 15:23).
  3. Speak the truth (Prov. 12:22).
  4. Use words that edify (Eph. 4:29-32).
  5. Remember we give account for the words we speak (Mt. 12:36).
  6. In humility, we count others more significant than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).

Key Questions

Additionally, here are some questions you can provide teachers to help them prepare for parent meetings next year. You could use these for faculty development and do some simulations at the beginning of the year. Ask teachers to talk through what they see as they observe the conversations (these are usually a lot of fun as well). Parent meetings constitute a significant portion of time in a given school year and are essential for establishing strong relationships with parents, increasing retention, and adding value to every student’s experience. Take the time to plan and practice. 

Questions for teachers to ask when meeting with parents:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting? Who is “running” the meeting?
  • Did I begin the meeting with prayer?
  • What can I do to win the trust and confidence of the parents at this meeting (preparation, anticipating questions, preparing documents, being organized, knowing my content, highlighting strengths/areas in which the child is doing well, etc.)? 
  • Have I listened to them? Do I understand them and their concerns?
  • Am I demonstrating humility? Have I anticipated misunderstandings? Am I repeating back to them what I have heard when necessary?
  • What is my non-verbal communication saying? 
  • Is this the right time to address the problem or would it be wise to wait?
  • Have I been proactive in my communication with this family?
  • What would I want to know as a parent? How would I want to receive the information?
  • What is the type of information I am sharing? Is it anecdotal, objective, academic, spiritual? How does the type of information impact my method of communication?
  • Have I played out scenarios in my mind? (What if he asks this? What if I get uncomfortable? What are the most important things I want to say?)
  • What, if anything, inside me needs to change to make this situation better? (e.g. accumulated frustration towards the child, unresolved conflict)
  • How can I help the family see issues clearly in their child? Do they see it? How direct do I need to be? Do I need to be the one to say it? Does someone else need to be present?
    What is not being said? Have you addressed any awkwardness or sense of discomfort/frustration (if necessary)? Is either of us bringing things into the situation that are not related (e.g. past hurts, stressful season of life)?
  • What is the outcome of the meeting? Who is doing what? Is there an action plan? Do I need to follow up?

Key Guidance

Finally, as it pertains to parents, schools often assume parents know what you expect. The truth is, when it comes to conflict, everyone brings a host of baggage and assumptions about how to best resolve problems. The school can set the tone and culture by providing policies that ensure Matthew 18 compliance and specific expectations that align with the school’s values. Parents can appreciate the need for these types of guidance and conform their approach to the school’s standards as part of their participation in the school community. Here is a process to help parents bring issues of concern to the school:

 

1. Commendations – Begin the conversation with authentic commendations related to the issue of concern. It is human nature to get defensive when we feel like others are on offense, overly aggressive, or coming to a conversation with an agenda. While the context for the meeting may be inherently adversarial, there are almost always good things to highlight and build on. It is also important for families, no matter what situation they are facing or what degree of frustration they are facing, to remind themselves of the good things that ground the relationship with the school and the people with whom they are meeting.

This is not a forced, cheesy compliment sandwich. The commendations allow the conversation to begin with common ground, shared values, and goodwill. Forcing yourself to think through this part will reframe the conversation and anchor it in something larger than the conflict. Finally, if you cannot find commendations related to the issue you are bringing to the school, think more broadly. Prayerfully reflect on the things that keep you at the school and that you value most to help you put the conflict in perspective.

 

2. Clarification – Ask clarifying questions. This may sound simple, but many parents, well intended as they may be, put the school on the defensive by immediately going into “fix it” mode without first seeking understanding. Commit to entering the conversation with a mind toward understanding the situation while assuming the best. Seeking clarity will help define what the issues really are, what has been done and why, and what a meaningful path forward could look like. However, to get in this frame and prepare adequately, it means saying to yourself, “I am going to operate on the premise that I probably do not understand the issue as I need to in order to provide meaningful feedback. Therefore, I am going to honor you by making sure I seek to understand as much as I can before I offer any critique. Any feedback I may have to offer will only be better informed, nuanced, and clear by first seeking understanding.” 

Asking questions and assuming the best will honor the leaders you are addressing, but it will also open them to receive the good ideas you want to share. If you approach it this way, they will likely invite your ideas before you get a chance to state them. It will also put school leaders in a disposition to receive your ideas rather than resist them. 

 

3. Clarification – Ask more clarifying questions. Putting clarification on the list twice is not a mistake. It highlights the proclivity of every one of us to get the niceties out of the way and get on with what we want to say. Resist that. Once you have asked questions about things like background, definition, context, nuance, and perspective, take it a layer deeper. 

If done wisely, your queries can eventually come in the form of recommendations, but still posed as questions: “Have you considered”? “Did you think about X when you were making the decision? Was there something I could have done differently?” You are assuming that your suggestions have probably been considered and ruled out. This is loving your neighbor and exercising grace. It is hard and will not be possible without prayer and preparation. Questions, when asked with the right tone and seeking authentic answers, convey deference and honor. It opens the other person to listen, lean in, and reconsider, which moves the conversation towards consensus, reconciliation, and, if nothing else, mutual respect. 

 

4. Invitation – Based on your deeper understanding of the situation and more clarity from school personnel, you can ask to provide some more direct feedback, suggestions, and/or critique. If you are upset, this does not feel like strength. When we are upset, many of us want to be more assertive so people know the gravity and impact the situation has had on them. But we have to remember to exercise wisdom and grace. Demonstrating grace and wisdom will be far more compelling than emoting and venting. If the goal is to find a meaningful path forward, solve the problem, acquire reconciliation, and move forward.

 

5. Presentation – Present your perspective and feedback with grace, humility, and gentleness. 

 

6. Participation – Be part of the solution. Offer your personal assistance in whatever solutions you recommend. Follow up and follow through. Do your part and don’t leave any issues undone or things unsaid. Before the meeting ends, identify what is going to happen next and who is doing what. Thank them for their time and efforts and express your commitment to ongoing partnership.

 

7. Incarnation – Do all of the above in person. Adversarial issues require an embodied presence. Don’t settle for another mode and don’t let things linger. Get in person and do it as soon as it is prudent to do so. Meeting in person will require more empathy and move the conversation in a more humane direction. At the school I led, we had a “no hand grenade” policy. This meant no one could send angry emails. If anyone did receive them, they were required to pick up the phone and schedule an in-person meeting. If there are hard things to say, don’t hide behind screens. Get in the same room and work through the issues. 

I grant you that very few of our encounters go this way. But we can strive to set this standard and model it consistently in our interactions. By embracing these principles and practices, we create a community where conflict is not feared but managed with wisdom, grace, and biblical fidelity. Our goal is not just to resolve issues, but to strengthen relationships and enhance the overall educational experience for our students and families. Let’s commit to being intentional in our communication, proactive in our relationship-building, and steadfast in our mission to provide a Christ-centered education that prepares our students for a lifetime of thoughtful and faithful engagement in the world. Together, we can foster an environment where everyone—parents, teachers, administrators, and students—thrives.