At first blush, this posting could appear to offer a stark contrast to our Thanksgiving topic. A week ago, I was celebrating the twin gifts of parenthood and teaching. And while acknowledging the roles of parent and teacher as distinct, I also noted the following:
“In fact, teachers are able to do a better job with children in school when parents do a better job with children outside of school. In short, parents and teachers alike deal with the whole child—and have an impact on the whole child. . . . Each of these children is the center of someone’s universe. We celebrate that fact. And we’re mindful of it. That each of these children is the center of someone’s universe drives home the point that we as educators can’t support a child alone. We don’t know all that there is to know in that child’s universe. You as parents can’t support your child alone. Because a part of that universe is here at school. The good news is, together--as partners--we are able to act in the best interests of your child.”
That bridges us from last week to this week—and brings us to the topic of what Independent School psychologist, parent, writer and speaker Michael Thompson terms “The Fear Equation.” Thompson names an 800-pound gorilla in the shared space of our Parent-School Partnership:
“Parent-teacher relationships, even when good, are less than they could be because of the latent fear between the parties.”
As formal assessment and evaluation periods cycle into view, reporting documents are sent home, and parents and teachers meet about the growth and development of children, these unspoken (and often unfounded) fears can, if not understood and addressed, undermine what is possible in parent-teacher relationships—and, thereby, inadvertently limit the success of our children. Rather than skirt the issue, Thompson addresses it head on and transforms it into a powerful opportunity for parents and teachers to understand one another’s perspectives and experiences more deeply and compassionately. And in so doing, he helps establish the terms for parents and teachers to work together more effectively as advocates for the children to whom both parents and teachers are committed.
A key reality is this: Few relationships have greater bearing on the academic success of our children than the parent-teacher relationship. We must, then, seize the opportunity to approach this relationship with good-willed intention and to give it thoughtful and informed attention.
How? Thompson begins by outlining 7 sources of parental fear and 7 sources of teacher fear. I would offer that in acknowledging these sources of fear and being mindful of them in our parent-teacher interactions, parents and teachers alike can help reduce unspoken but nonetheless potentially powerful sources of anxiety in one another. And we must both lean into these sources of fear and move beyond them because our collective responsibility for the children we share must overshadow any discomfort or anxiety we might feel as adults. To move beyond these fears, we must first name them—and then be mindful of them in our interactions with one another. Thompson’s 7 sources of parental fear are:
 “Parenting is inherently difficult and no one is expert at it. . .When you sit down with your child’s teacher you are nervously aware of your amateur status.”
 “Your child-rearing mistakes are on display through your child’s behavior in ways you cannot know. . .We are all afraid that our characters are on view in the way that our children behave in school. . .and they are.”
 “Every parent is trapped by hope, love – and anxieties. Parents are so vulnerable with respect to their children. . .[I]n hav[ing] given birth to a child. . .you have opened yourself up to a lifetime of worry. You have to pace yourself. All parents are nervous; all parents are pacing themselves.”
 “In important ways, you may not know as much about your child as his or her teacher does.”
 “Teachers have immense power over children’s lives.”
 “Parents may feel trapped by and with their child’s school. . .When a parent believes that a particular teacher is not effective or kind to their child, he or she may not be able to do anything to change the situation.”
 “Parents bring their professional skills to bear on their relationships with teachers even thought they may not be helpful in the school situation. . .Even when parents know they are intimidating teachers, they cannot stop exercising their strongest muscles, the ones that make them powerful in their own professional lives.”
As educators we need to continually remind ourselves of the potential vulnerability parents can feel. And, in the process, we need to continually demonstrate a collaborative spirit and a strong sense of mutual trust—all in the best interest of the child.
Thompson identifies 7 sources of teacher fear as well:
 “Teaching, like parenting, is an inherently difficulty job: organic, hard to measure, and intensely personal.”
 “Teachers are always seen [and at times in the evening discussed around the dinner table] through the distorting eyes of children.”
 “If you teach well and effectively, you do not always get the credit.”
 “Teachers are not accorded enough respect in our culture, and it puts them at a psychological disadvantage. . .Teachers feel the loss of the culture’s regard every day and it makes them vulnerable. Individual parents can restore, for a moment at least, that respect as a basis for their relationships with teachers.”
 “Every teacher has been scarred by at least one threatening out-of-control parent.”
 “Teachers fear that parent influence with school administrators means their jobs could be at risk.”
 “Good teachers see the world through the eyes of adults and also through the eyes of children. . .Being able to think like children you teach is essential for teachers; it puts you at a disadvantage in dealing with the parents of those children.”
As parents we need to continually remind ourselves of the potential vulnerability teachers can feel. And, in the process, we need to continually demonstrate a collaborative spirit and a strong sense of mutual trust—all in the best interest of the child.
Our parent-school partnership is a relationship that we maintain in the best interests of our children. One thing we have figured out about relationships—at least those that are healthy and working well—is that the people in them are working on them: They are giving the relationship attention and they are approaching it with intention. Through this partnership that is exactly what we are trying to do: Give the parent-school relationship attention and fill it with intention—all in the interest of best supporting our children. Being mindful of one another’s sources of fear and demonstrating our mutual respect and trust through word and action are vital to this relationship. This is work that matters. This is work that is worth all that we put into it—and then some.