Mutual Fear

One of the benefits of gaining more and more life experience – ok, let’s be real, growing older – is it allows you to reflect on how you have dealt with certain tasks and challenges. It also allows you to see more clearly both sides of some issues.

I was interested to read a research report we commissioned recently about teachers and parents working together. It allowed me to reflect on how I interacted with parents as a teacher, and how I interacted with teachers as a parent. It also allowed me to think about my own children and their homework.

I know homework is a vexed issue amongst teachers and parents – how much should there be, if any? How difficult should the task be? Should it be reinforcement or enquiry-based?  Many of us are familiar with Karl Stefanovic’s rant, earlier this year on the morning show he co-hosts, about homework involving constructing suspension bridges.

I was interested to read that “close parental supervision of a child’s homework has the potential to be counter-productive, and giving parents formal training in how to help their children in specific subjects areas does not seem to make a difference”. This seems to go against common sense, but when you look at what the research says about what makes a difference, it starts to become apparent why it’s the case.

On reflection, I can recall how frustrating helping with homework was for everyone involved as my boys progressed through school, particularly in the middle and senior phases of schooling. Reading the research paper I realised that I was not alone in my feelings of frustration and ineptness as my sons studied subjects that I did not have expertise in or used methodologies that had changed so much since I studied the subject. I clearly remember the bemused look from one of my sons when I asked him for his slide rule to help solve a mathematical problem.

So how could I have spent my time more productively with my boys?

It appears I could have had the most influence on my sons’ education by: having high expectations for them, showing an interest in their learning development, talking to them about things that interested them, and discussing their educational and career aspirations. I hope I did these things as well as supervising their homework. Having these types of conversations may have been far more enjoyable than me drilling my sons about logarithms and trigonometry (my apologies to my sons’ maths teachers!). The research also mentions the importance of talking about how maths works in real life and how it can be used at home to solve challenges.

The research showed that effective schools had highly engaged parents and students, while children whose parents were actively engaged were more likely to achieve higher outcomes and develop positive self-esteem.

So the teacher/parent relationship is paramount; parents have to feel connected with schools. Parents need to feel welcomed at schools and the language and culture of schools need to be demystified for parents. Teachers and schools have an important role in establishing a positive relationship.

The term mutual fear is used in the research. It refers to the fear both teachers and parents feel about talking to each other. I clearly remember my very first class of 8 and 9 year olds. At the end of Term 1 we had parent/teacher interviews. The father of one of my students lectured at a College of Advanced Education in early childhood studies. He was held in high-esteem in the profession. I can still remember the anxiety I felt as my interview commenced with both the parents. Was he going to be critical of my teaching strategies? My fear was quickly alleviated when I heard the words “we will support you in any way possible”. Hindsight is easy, but if I had my time over again I would have had interviews earlier than waiting until the end of the term and ensure I had a number of positive comments to give each parent about their child.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what the evidence says about teachers and parents collaborating to assist students to reach their full academic potential.

If you haven’t already, you can read the full report we commissioned “Parents and teachers: Working together to foster children’s learning” here:

Do you have strong views on any of the issues raised in it?JohnRyanBlogAuthor

Kind Regards,

John Ryan.

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