Robin Booth
Robin Booth

Should we open schools for parents?

It has been well documented through the ages and throughout the world that people are impacted by role models. We learn the same language as our primary caregivers, be it Spanish, English or Japanese. We speak with the same accents, integrate many of the same values, copy many of the same behavioural patterns and reactive responses, and at a core level, view the world with similar attitudes and beliefs. Of course this is a generalisation and there are exceptions to every rule. But there cannot be much doubt that primary caregivers deeply impact the “being of human” of their children.

Thank goodness there is a general move towards an educational system that is far more humane, eclectic and adaptive. Children and learners are beginning to be seen as “human beings” as opposed to a product on a conveyor belt of educational factories. And there is nothing new here, either. For decades there have always been groups of people promoting change and progression. And slowly over time the textbooks have become more culturally and ethnically sensitive. Different learning styles have been incorporated (Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences has made an impact here) and learning is seen as more lifelong than just childhood-based.

Huge amounts of time and money is spent on educational reform and design, implementing a curriculum and resource development. Here in South Africa we have also joined a form of this reform with outcomes-based education and then the revision of our national curriculum. Yet there is extremely little done to develop the resources that actually impact the child the most (and which everyone agrees on) namely the teachers, and the learner’s primary caregivers (parents). These are the people that most impact the child, positively or negatively, appropriately or not, whether we like it or not. And what seems to impact children most are not the qualifications of these people, but who they are as actual human beings. In our schools many teachers hope they will plant a seed of inspiration and hope in the children that will outlast the belittling and undermining of inappropriate parenting methods. And in a few instances many parents hope they will create empowered children who will outlast the arrogance and authoritarian approaches of some traditional teachers.

Every school (at least I hope every school) understands that the most valuable resources they have are their teachers and staff. The quality of these people (and not their educational qualifications) is going to determine the emotional and academic results of that school. The ability to inspire and open up a child’s potential does not come through colourful textbooks or large recreational sports fields. Transformational learning will come through quality people. This will lead to inspirational interactions and conversations, resulting in potential being accessed rather than theorised about.

At our school all our teachers go through intensive communication and personal development training. The personal development training supports them in becoming the kinds of empowered individuals they aspire to. The communication training then gives them the skills to support and empower the learners and children in their classes to become the kinds of individuals they aspire to. Teachers are therefore trained to become qualified life coaches.

The impact of this on the academic and emotional well-being of children has been phenomenal. Teachers are skilled to engage children’s cooperation without the traditional threats and manipulative tactics used. Teachers become skilled to support a learner in becoming responsible for their own learning and self-management. Teachers become skilled at how to inspire and unlock a child’s potential. In many ways, through this process, we are developing and creating “Great” teachers and not leaving it up to luck and good fortune to produce them. The impact of this process on the integrity and smooth flow of the school as an organisation is also phenomenal. When you have dynamic, empowered and independent staff, you enter into the world of inter-dependence and synergy. The whole functioning of the school changes in nature where people love coming to work, and the values of honesty, self worth, team playing and responsibility are the norm.

But the more important question is what is being done to support the primary caregivers in also developing the personal and communication skills to support the development of their children? Should the institution of schooling also include support and development of parents as part of their vision? A child’s development should not be seen in isolation from the development of their teachers and their primary caregivers.

But in many ways I can answer my own question myself. At our school we implemented what we call the Effective Parent Programme (EPP). This programme was designed to support parents to become the kinds of parents they aspire to and wish for. The school is not promoting that we know what an effective parent looks like or should behave like. The design is such that it supports parents to develop the kind of relationship they want for themselves and their children. If a parent enrols their child at our school they are enrolling into the Effective Parent Programme.

So my own answer to my questions as to why time and effort is not put into the development and support of teachers and parents? The answer lies in between the space of a parent wishing to change their communication and behavioural patterns and their actual commitment to do the work to achieve those changes. Supporting people in any form of personal development work (regardless if it promises such huge gains) is time and cost consuming. So as in the schooling, where it is far easier to pay money and design a new colourful textbook than to support the teacher’s personal and communicative development, so it is with a parent’s development. My goal is to find those ways in which we can support teachers and parents in ways that do work because at the end of the day these are the people who will determine the kinds of people our children grow into. If it was easy, a lot more schools and people would be doing it. Or do you think I am wasting my time?

  • Iain Robertson

    I must admit to having a different take on the headline.

    I took it to be an exploration of whether there should be an education process for prosepctive parents.

    Whilst not wishing to promote the detestable philosophy of Eugenics, there are people on this planet who should never procreate.

    Until and unless prospective parent(s) have the personal, emotional and financial capital to take care of a child they should not have any.

    Bearing children to satisfy an emotional need, as a old age pension, or as a ticket to accomodation and income is not the way to approach parenthood.

    So, education for parents, yes, leading to some form of Parent Aptitude Test.

    And before they have children.


  • Kit

    Iain has a point except for the micro: where to draw the line. How much money do people need to have a child? Or do they merely need the potential to make that money or a supportive extended family? How do we measure things like emotional capital? Is it a variant of the EQ test, leading to a random set of numbers that defines whether or not one can procreate?

    The truth is that that is indeed straying right into the territory of forced sterilisation of ‘unfit’ people.

    Far better to acknowledge that in a very broad sense, education in its various forms appears to result in less children being created. That’s a good starting point but doesn’t happen overnight. Supportive intervention (e.g. classes at local clinics, etc.) and emergency intervention (e.g. the social worker bothering to appear when summoned by the neighbours of a neglectful or abusive parent) then supplement that.

    Any kind of ‘parent aptitude test’ would probably just be an excuse for some kind of cleansing of the disliked social classes by people who are probably themselves rubbish parents and demand exorbitantly high standards that they themselves would never muster. The hypocrisy of those tasked to govern doesn’t take long to find. Look in the UK at Jacqui Smith’s anti-porn crusade and see what she had on one of her expenses claims for a classic example. You’d trust her to ‘allow’ your daughter to have a baby – or not?

  • Kit

    And in answer to the question at the end of your piece, Robin – it’s too hard to do much other than surface I’d say with a very limited resource. Changing behavioural patterns is serious hands-on psych work and needs a person to really, really want to change. It doesn’t come from attending a few group sessions in the majority of cases.

    So how does this ‘Effective Parent Programme’ work though? I found your reference to if you’re enrolling your child, you’re enrolling yourself …interesting. I’m not sure how what looks like compulsion links with the truly wanting change bit, which is probably the essence of the entire process. And it might even work in a private school environment but I’d say it would have an extremely limited impact in that kind of form in a public school environment.

  • Robin Booth

    We have found that many parents have come to our school because they have finally found a school that acknowledges and works with them in supporting the development of their children. The thing around the Effective Parent Programme is that it sees parents personal development as highly influential to that of their children. The best way to develop emotional intelligence is through the parent being emotionally intelligent first (or on the journey). And there is a general belief that schools are the ways in which we teach many of the morals and values of our society. Yet teachers, nor parents, have any actual understanding of this and how to go about supporting others in this. Schools have become very good at answering the wrong questions very well. You can see more about the Effective Parent Programme (and how tame we have made it) here.