When approaching parents and caregivers (or anyone), it can be valuable to do so with an understanding of the importance of context. Contextual understanding propels us toward a deeper understanding of our interactions with our students’ parents and caregivers.

For example, if a parent or caregiver does not attend parent-teacher meetings, awareness of context enables us to ask ourselves “What might this person be experiencing that prevents them from attending this meeting?” We may thereby refrain from snap judgments, knowing that the person may work night shift or two jobs, for instance.

Context can also include historical factors, past experiences and lived circumstances that continue to affect a person in the present. For example, Aboriginal parents and caregivers often retain a deep mistrust of the school system, related to the traumatic experience of residential schools. Other parents and caregivers may have been bullied or abused during their own school years. Entering a school and interacting with teachers and other school staff may trigger a host of unwanted memories.

When we remember that there is much we don’t know about the context of parents’ and caregivers’ lives, it helps us to remain alert. We may be more likely to pick up on clues that these individuals may face barriers and challenges when interacting with the school system.

Of course, contextual understanding enhances and draws from our awareness, our openness and our empathy, increasing our ability to build positive alliances with parents and caregivers in our students’ best interests.

Reflecting about the context of parents’ and caregivers’ lives
  • What do I know about my students’ home lives?
  • Who are the families represented in my class or classes?
  • What do I know about where they live, how they live, with whom they live, their income sources, their access to transportation and child care, and other factors that may affect their daily lives?