With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I find myself focusing on the many people for whom and to whom I am grateful. As an Independent School educator, I think about the parents who send their children to our school. This requires an extraordinary commitment of time and resources—and reflects parents’ bedrock belief that few things in life are as important as their children’s education. As a parent, I think about the teachers who have shaped--and are now shaping--my daughters’ lives. These teachers are exceptional human beings who inspire my children to discover who they would dare to be.
With gratitude toward both parents and educators on my mind and in my heart, I’d like to recommend a particularly powerful book—a collection of essays compiled and edited by Jerry and Lorin Biederman entitled Parent School: Simple Lessons from the Leading Experts on Being a Mom and Dad. Now, you might be wondering why a book with this title would be an appropriate expression of gratitude to both parents and teachers. In a recent letter to our Summit parent body, I offer an answer to that question:
“Parenthood is a gift—in much the same way that being a teacher is a gift. Parents and teachers alike love our children—and are grateful for our time with them. As Thanksgiving approaches, the teachers join me in expressing our deep gratitude, what G.K. Chesterton described as “happiness doubled by wonder,” for all that you do and all that you are as parents—and, most especially, for the opportunity to live and learn with your children.”
I have told many audiences, and will continue to tell anyone who will listen, that the single most profound influence on my teaching and on my understanding of the developmental needs & characteristics of children—far beyond undergraduate work or doctoral studies or classroom research—has been my fifteen-year tenure as a father. And while the roles of educator and parent are distinct, they are also deeply connected. Yes, educators rely on parents to be experts in nurture, structure and latitude with children. Yes, parents rely on educators to be experts in child development, curriculum development and teaching & learning. And, of course, there are moments when these areas of expertise wonderfully and maddeningly overlap. Which brings us back to this brilliant collection of essays.
Parent School is divided into 12 sections, ranging from Parenting 101 (including essays such as “Tending Your Child’s Soul,” “The Seven Best Things a Parent Can Do,” “Four Thoughts for Parents from the Tao Te Ching,” “Raising Good Kids in a Troubled World”) to Lessons in Learning: Educating Our Next Generation (including essays such as “Learning is Really Fun,” “What is Smart? Understanding and Nurturing the Multiple Intelligences in Your Child,” “Children and Books”). The authors are as fascinating and varied as their topics. Everyone from Nancy Samalin (a pioneer in the field of parent education) to Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D. (child and adolescent psychiatrist and co-author of The Over-scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap) offers keen insights and expertise on topics that are at the core of our work as parents and as educators.
In the opening chapter, “Orientation,” the Biedermans offer several key points that speak to me every bit as much in my role as educator as they do in my role as parent:
• “After all, good parents are one of the four fundamentals needed for the raising of good kids—along with air, food, and waters. The very future of our society (not to mention the sanity in our homes) relies on the quality of the next generation.”
And, of course, right up there with those four fundamentals is a fifth element: Teachers. 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.
• “Included in this book are inspired contributions on every subject of importance to parents, including the best ways to discipline your child; how to nurture self-esteem; making the most of our pediatrician’s visit; the art of listening to your child. . .dealing with divorce; building family values; the importance of play; making the most of education.”
The reality is that every one of these topics is crucial to parents and teachers alike.
• “Parent School is not intended to provide fast-food answers to parents’ questions. Rather, it offers gourmet appetizers, and readers are encouraged to go out and get the main course from those authors who match their taste.”
One of the beauties of this book is that it contains substantive essays from world-class experts on topics of keen interest to anyone who is committed, professionally or personally, to the healthy growth, development and education of children.
During a series of five separate “Parent Nights” this fall, I noted the following:
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.
Now, that brings us back around to the essential point of this entry and my reason for recommending the reading of Parent School to both parents and educators: Our goals and responsibilities as parents and educators overlap in fundamental and profound ways—and even in the moments where our work and responsibilities are distinct, the success of each of us results in a synergy of benefits for the children to whom we have dedicated our lives.
In drawing this post to a close, I want to share five essential points from Laurel Schmidt’s essay “What is Smart?” For in answering the question “What does research tell us about how children learn best?”, Ms. Schmidt celebrates the crucial roles of both parents and educators. These five points, she writes, are what research tells us about how children learn best. And, of course, parents and teachers alike can apply these principles to our learning and living with children:
• Children learn through play. It’s the work of childhood.
• Children learn through hands-on experiences. Seeing, touching, tsting, and smelling are th e strongest modes for early learning.
• Children master communication by having conversations.
• Children learn by trying to solve real problems.
• Children find exploration and investigation intrinsically rewarding. The driving force is “What if. . .” and “I wonder. . .”
As we approach this Thanksgiving holiday, let's celebrate the roles of both parents and educators. As a parent, I want to express my deep gratitude to my children’s teachers. As an educator, I want to express equally deep gratitude to my students’ parents. And to both groups I want to say thank you for investing your life’s blood in soulful, profoundly important work. What could be more important or meaningful than our collective commitment to these children? Happy Thanksgiving!