In a school community, all members influence the culture. Parents’ and caregivers’ attitudes and behaviour can serve to promote or negate our efforts to build equity and inclusion and prevent bullying. When parents and caregivers display or express discriminatory attitudes, engage in bullying behaviour or harass others, it has a negative impact on the whole school culture and community.
Our Equity and Inclusion module affirms the importance of consistently and explicitly interrupting inequity and bullying whenever and wherever it occurs, and whomever is involved. This includes situations in which parents and guardians express discriminatory attitudes or use demeaning language when students or other adults are present, or while we are interacting with them in a one-on-one situation.
Teachers (as with everyone else) can freeze when confronted with offensive comments, when racist, sexist, homophobic, for example. We may not know what to say or how to respond. An effective way to begin a conversation is to use an “I” message, speaking calmly and clearly, for example:
We can then invite the parent or caregiver to explore this with us. By digging deeper, we may discover that the attitude they have expressed is based on misinformation or a misconception about a particular group of people. Challenging people on homophobia, transphobia, sexism and racism can often provoke resistance and defensiveness. By raising the issue with an attitude of openness and an invitation to have a dialogue, we can decrease (though probably never eliminate) the likelihood of resistance.
The goal is to break the silence and communicate that this issue is not taboo. People’s assumptions and beliefs will not change if they are not addressed. They are likely to shut down if they are approached with judgment and condemnation. We can approach them by assuming the best, that they are open to discussion and self-reflection. Ideally, we will succeed in engaging the parent or caregiver in a dialogue.
Once we have had a conversation about the issue, and clarified the negative impact of such attitudes and words, it is important to clearly communicate that sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic and other discriminatory behaviour and language are unacceptable.
The Equity and Inclusion module presents a number of other strategies for use with students to interrupt inequity. Many are also relevant for interactions with parents and caregivers. (See Interrupting Inequity: Reactive Strategies.)