Teachers, parents and caregivers operate in different spheres and their perceptions of a situation devolve from different information sources. When responding to parents and caregivers about situations of bullying or inequity involving their children, it is important to acknowledge this fact – to ourselves, and to them.
By recognizing our ignorance of students’ behaviour and actions at home, and the importance of parents’ and caregivers’ observations and experiences of these, we validate their reality and their perception. We can do so while asserting our expectation that they also validate our observations and perceptions of students’ behaviour and actions at school. In this way, both parties have access to a much broader sphere and a wider source of information.
Approaching an interaction with a parent or caregiver from this perspective is akin to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. We meet with parents and caregivers partly to gather and compile our respective information, facts and perceptions about the situation. Ideally, by sharing our perspectives we can arrive at a mutual understanding of the problem.
Meeting a parent or caregiver face-to-face can set the stage for a more positive encounter. We can introduce the situation by providing concrete examples of behaviour or incidents we have observed, without judgment.
If we have just been informed of the situation, we can let the parent or guardian know that we will need to find out more about it or report it to the administration so they can investigate, depending on our school’s policy. Note that if the student who is bullied is in danger, it may be necessary to take immediate action.
Teachers may discover that in many cases, individual parents and caregivers lack basic information about bullying and inequity. Even if the information has already been provided in the past, it may be necessary to go over it again, as questions tend to arise when things go badly. It can be helpful to inquire if parents and guardians would be interested in receiving such information, for example:
- a clear definition of bullying adopted by the school (distinguishing it from conflict);
- the impact of bullying and exclusion based on inequity on the person who experiences it;
- the importance of natural consequences as well as opportunities for learning and reparation for the student who has bullied.
We can also ensure that parents and caregivers have accessible information about the school’s policy and procedures on bullying prevention and equity and inclusion, including information about consequences for bullying. In some cases, special efforts will need to be taken in order to ensure that such information is linguistically accessible. (Ideally, this would take place as a proactive strategy so that linguistic adaptations of the policy would already exist).
When parents and caregivers of students who are bullied know what steps will be taken to ensure their child’s safety, they can provide vital information about the effectiveness of those measures. Parents and guardians whose children have supported or engaged in bullying behaviour can reinforce and support any natural consequences applied by the school. Sharing information with parents and caregivers enables them to be active and supportive partners in efforts to ensure students’ well-being.
Information sharing can take place from the initial approach and as an ongoing practice. Teachers, administrators and other school staff can:
- establish and maintain open lines of communication between the school and the parent or guardian;
- inform the parent or caregiver of all actions to date, and of all future actions, especially if the situation has been occurring for some time;
- develop a communication plan with the parent or caregiver, clearly specifying the stages and steps when communication will take place, the methods of communication that can be expected (based on a mutually agreed upon mode), and contingency circumstances that would result in communication.