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Parents as Partners

By Laurie Landes, Education Director at Community Synagogue of Rye

“Why is this the first I am hearing about this?”  As a Director of Education, I cringe when I hear these words from parents. Think the sounds of scratching your nails down a chalkboard kind of cringe.  It’s an indication to me that two of our goals, communication and relationship building with parents, had fallen far short.  Teachers for the most part, just don’t feel comfortable contacting parents.  Often they wait until the breaking point to finally reach out to parents about poor behavior.  Why the wait?  Many teachers don’t like telling parents bad news about their child. Or the teacher feels that they can handle the behavior on their own.  Or teachers feel it is a negative reflection on their classroom management ability. Some cannot cope with the possibility of confrontation. “If you could engage my child he wouldn’t be bored and act out.  How come you are picking on him and not another child?  He hates Hebrew school…”    

About ten years ago our school began the RE-Imagine journey to explore what Jewish learning could look like at Community Synagogue. This was a two-year, guided process that included, parents, professional staff and lay leaders.  We went beyond the typical religious school monthly meetings consisting of event planning and policy changes. It was the first time that parents were included in a visioning process for Jewish learning.  Among the many outcomes of the Re-Imagine experience was the recognition that parents play a crucial role in transmitting Jewish learning and connection to their children.  Moving forward, we needed to value and strengthen our partnership with parents.  We launched a robust family learning program to give parents the tools needed to be Jewish role models for their children.  Participation in the Jewish Education Project’s Coalition of Innovating Congregations initiative guided us to the creation of an educational leadership team that included parents as well as a Community Learning Council that was charged with a year-long exploration of one educational cohort.  Our educational leadership moved to a new model that included and valued the voices of our parents. 10897104_779938005425460_8627248664542844683_n

The change process takes many steps.  While we now recognize parents as crucial partners in Jewish learning, our teachers needed to also value this association and then gain the tools needed to form solid relationships with the parents of their learners.  We embarked on a path of change:

  • In-service training to gain an understanding of how and why strengthening relationships with parents can impact learner outcomes in powerful ways.
  • Regular e-mail correspondence from teachers to parents giving highlights of the learning, prompts parents could use for initiating conversations with their children, resources that parents could use to extend the learning and an invitation to respond in any way.
  • Contact with individual parents to let them know about an act of kindness or an exceptional thought or contribution their child may have made. This is like putting money in the bank and watching the relationship interest grow. 
  • Training to deal with parent contact when there is a problem: “I would like to be able to partner with you to create a plan so that David will be successful..”
  • Teachers take leadership roles during family learning, helping to facilitate family discussions. This is an opportunity for in-person relationships development.

talking-to-kids-467x267We are still in the process of changing the culture of the teacher /parent relationships. Sometimes I feel like Moses when he confronted the “Golden Calf” and other times I see evidence of success.  It takes time, mentoring and monitoring, but the outcome is that if we can partner with our parents, their family Jewish journey will be a richer and more meaningful one.

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