Dr David George
was formerly Associate Director of Nene College (Now the University of Northampton) and before that Dean of the Faculty of Science. He now pursues his special interest in the education of gifted and talented children. He is Founder President of the National Association for Able Children in Education and was a member of the Executive Committee of The World Council of Gifted and Talented Children. He is a consultant to the British Council and UNESCO. He has lectured both nationally and internationally on the education of gifted and talented children and is the author of The Challenge of the Able Child, Gifted Education: Identification and Provision.
How to get the relationship right
We hear a great deal of rhetoric these days about the parent-child-teacher relationship and the words “community”, “inclusion”, “stakeholders” and “partnership” are bandied around. Involving parents in schools is essential if we are going to turn out well-rounded, happy, fulfilled young people. This is more crucial than ever before because of the rapidly changing world in which we live. Trust in institutions such as parliament, the judicial system, church and monarchy is in doubt. The population is ageing and living longer and the implications are enormous.
Many psychologists will now agree that authoritative parenting promotes many of the personal characteristics that typify happy, successful people: emotional skills, social skills, freedom from excessive anxiety, a sense of control, self-esteem, resilience, optimism and freedom from excessive materialism.
Life role models
Teachers and parents should act as good role models who reflect the goals we set children. This means more much more interaction with them; we have to set the pace and the example. Children watch us and listen to our every word. If we want children to read, we must read (to them, with them, in front of them); if we want them to work hard, then we must work hard; if we do not want them to sit in front of the television every evening then we must not sit in front of the television ourselves.
Involving parents in students’ education is not an option. As education is about the whole life, teachers need to draw on the outside world, including the world of families and the community contexts from which they come.
Most schools espouse the view, in promotional material, that they look forward to working in close partnership and harmony with parents to provide the best possible learning environment for child to develop and realise their educational potential.
Yet, if we agree that parenting is the greatest vocation in the world, then we also have to realise the tremendous pressure in today’s world.
It is not just children but parents who are cracking under the weight of exams and, along with teachers, are expected to raise law-abiding, high achieving, healthy citizens while managing the pressures of work and, in particular, the developing independence of teenagers in a society which seems more full of risks than ever before.
The partnership in and out of school
What most parents want from a school is a guarantee of clear systems of communication; information about what children will be learning; progress reports; practical support if children begin to fall behind or struggle and suggestions of how they can engage in the schooling process.
Parents likewise need reminding that children are not, proportionately, in school very much over the year. In fact, school is a mere 17% of a pupil’s working life, with 33% of their life in bed leaving 50% for the hidden curriculum. Therefore, school does not finish at 3.30pm, and education does not stop at the school gates.
The role of parents
The science writer and former Cambridge behavioural scientist Dr Paul Martin states in his excellent book Making People Happy that there are four categories of parent:
FOUR CATEGORIES OF PARENT
Authoritative Parents – love their children unconditionally and accept them for who they are. They keep a close eye on their children, provide them with plenty of support, set firm boundaries, and grant considerable freedom within those boundaries.
Authoritarian Parents – have a colder parenting style which is more demanding but less responsive to the child’s real needs. Authoritarian Parents are highly controlling, but are not very warm or loving. They intervene frequently, issuing commands, criticisms and occasional praise, but do this in an inconsistent way.
Indulgent Parents – are responsive but undemanding and permissive. They are warm and loving but lack setting few clear boundaries. They often respond to their children’s wishes, even when these are unreasonable or inappropriate.
Uninvolved Parents – are unresponsive, undemanding, permissive and set few clear boundaries, largely because they don’t really care very much. Unlike Authoritative Parents they are neither warm not firm and they do not monitor their children.
Source: Making People Happy, Paul Martin, Fourth Estate (2005)
The children of Authoritative Parents are happier, academically more successful, emotionally better adjusted and have better personal relationships than children from the other three categories. They adapt better to school, or university, and perform better.
What is interesting is that studies have found that these children are less likely to smoke, engage in other types of risk behaviour such as drug taking or abuse alcohol. Many psychologists will now agree that authoritative parenting promotes many of the personal characteristics that typify happy, successful people: emotional skills, social skills, freedom from excessive anxiety, a sense of control, self-esteem, resilience, optimism and freedom from excessive materialism.
Our society has made two promises to its children: to prepare a world that accepts them and provides them with opportunities to live, grow and create in safety. It has also promised to help them develop their whole beings to the fullest in every respect. Education is the vehicle through which we try to keep these promises…in partnership with parents.