Working together for a common good

Manaswini Sridhar

My child will be getting into regular school this year. I know the strengths and weaknesses of my child and I am also well aware that he can be demanding at times. As parents, many of us are disposed to having the teacher shoulder the entire responsibility of taking care of his/her child. We make our appearance in school primarily when we have complaints about the teacher or the school or when there are complaints about our own children. It seems to me then that we visit school only when things are going against us. How do I, as a parent, collaborate with the school and the teachers to attain the common goal that we all have in mind – of helping children learn, and guiding them toward success and a feeling of well-being? How do we make schooling a win-win situation for all concerned?

Schools, parents, and teachers will undeniably do better if they became partners in education. However, it requires time, a lot of thought, maturity, and patience to allow parents to get involved in the education of the child without giving them room to interfere in the school’s policies and administration. Most schools assume that once the parents are let into the (wrestling) ring, they will usurp the throne and misuse the power granted to them. What schools should understand is that getting parents involved in the school will help foster in the students a positive attitude towards learning, the teachers, and the school itself. Parents too will appreciate better the struggles of the institution in educating their children.

Schools can start the year by inviting parents to meet the teachers of their wards and also the parents of the other students. After all, if parents are to partner with the school, they do need to get acquainted with the teacher in an environment that is not as taxing as the PTA meeting or the report card sessions. It gives room for the teachers and the parents to appreciate one another as individuals; the parent and the teacher meet well before they have been labelled ‘strict’ or ‘boring’ (by the student) and ‘the parent of the lethargic child’ or ‘the unruly child’ by the teacher. When the meeting takes place under these positive circumstances, each is more open to understanding and listening to the other.

Once school starts functioning, parents can be posted updates about school programs or schedules via e-mail. Conversely, the school can update all this information on their website and allow parents to access it. There are many tech-savvy parents in the school who would be willing to help out on this kind of a website. Once information is passed on to them, it would be their responsibility to upload it. In schools where computers are still only heard of but not seen, students could be asked to note the necessary information in their journals. Parents should be told at the initial informal meeting that it is mandatory on their part to read their ward’s journals every day so that there are no gaps in communication. Many schools already have such a system in place but it proves to be ineffective because parents shrug their shoulders and attribute the negligence to forgetfulness!

Schools could allow for parents to participate in some of their activities. There may be parents who have expertise in a particular field. They could be invited to give presentations both to the teachers and the students. Parents who specialize in arts and crafts could help with the posters and artwork for the school. Again, this kind of ‘volunteering’ should be left to the parents and should never be in the guise of even mild arm-twisting because it then works against the cause of collaboration and partnership! If one of the parents owns a small store, the pre-primary children could have a trip to the store and learn about what goes on in a store and how much work the person in the store has to do so that the customers can buy their chocolates! Such real-life situations are more stimulating than reading about ‘Our helpers’ in the social studies book.

When parents are genuinely involved in the school and are passionate about the educational institution, it becomes a little awkward for them to allow their child to ‘bunk’ school because it happens to be his/her birthday or because a grandparent has come to visit. The school then becomes as much a home to the parent as their own home. When all communication channels between the teachers and the parents are more transparent and open, then students too cannot claim that they do not like a subject because of the teacher, for here the parent is acquainted with the teacher and will have the opportunity to talk to the teacher about the reasons for the child shying away from the subject. Communication barriers need to be broken down both by the parents and the teachers so that teachers can do their jobs better and parents can continue to support their children at home in order to achieve better academic standards and life skills. Staying in touch with the teacher helps motivate the students, and by opening up to one another, the two teams also get different perspectives about the same problem or situation and are therefore able to handle or solve it in a better fashion.

We may not arrive at the picture-perfect situation, but when we strive towards attaining more for our children by doing that extra bit, we are all richer… the school because of the satisfaction it gets in having a more involved set of parents and therefore a more involved set of students; the teachers because their job is easier since it is also carried on at home, and the parents because they find that they are able to contribute towards their child’s education not just by paying for it but by staying linked in with the providers of that education. And of course the children also learn to appreciate how different forces come together with a common goal… their own personal growth.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.