I was both surprised and alarmed the other day when a teacher friend of mine told me that he was searching for ways to send communications to families without families having the ability to respond.
Schools and school personnel have always been masters at one-way communication: we send stuff home. We inform parents of expectations, achievement, requirements, and what we deem to be meaningful and relevant. In the age of technology, we search for tools that can send information, but not allow a direct response. I’ve even seen instances where technology allows for responses, but schools decide to “shut off” that component.
All of this, I think, is based on simple idea: Fear.
So where does this fear of family feedback come from? Because of some of the more negative experiences that school personnel have had with families, the idea that families would have a forum to share their ideas and concerns is not overly palatable to many educators.
It is a rarity that school districts devote any professional development time or resources for teachers to learn more about family engagement, customer service, communicating with families, dealing with difficult people, handling difficult conversations, etc. Teachers are simply not trained or equipped to deal with these situations. As a result, we end up looking for ways to avoid direct engagement with families, or at least the ones we perceive to be difficult, have had negative experiences with or are disengaged.
Fear drives a lot of actions. Fear of retaliation, fear of resentment, fear of anger, fear of mistrust, fear of criticism, fear of disagreement, fear of challenge, fear of overt defensiveness, the list goes on and on. Understanding, embracing and discussing this issue, I believe, will begin to help us create more opportunities for open dialog and true engagement with families with the understanding that by not doing so, we are feeding the very problem we construct barriers to resolve.