Finding Common Ground

There are many different values within a diverse school community and many different childrearing styles. Parents and caregivers are all located somewhere on a continuum of childrearing styles, ranging from completely permissive to completely authoritarian. Some families have values that flow from their religion, while others embrace a secular world view. Families may adopt a decidedly traditional value system, endorsing binary gender norms linked to notions of behaviours and roles that are viewed as “masculine” and “feminine”. Other families may have consciously chosen to reject and challenge those norms.

The vast majority of families harbour conscious or unconscious ideas about what is “normal” and “good”. These colour the attitudes, behaviours and assumptions parents and caregivers bring to their interactions with teachers and other school staff. Each family has a history and origins and these will vary widely; each family brings its own unique life experience and culture to add to the mix.

The school’s culture can set the tone so that it becomes the dominant culture in that environment. This is more likely to occur when there is broad-based buy-in from a significant number of students, staff, caregivers, guardians and the administration so that a tipping point is reached. An inclusive school culture is rooted in an understanding that we can all have pride and confidence in our identities without needing to be superior or exclude other groups.

School staff and administrators can reach parents and caregiver by appealing to essential, universal values that affirm everyone’s intrinsic humanity. This provides a foundation upon which we can hopefully all agree in principle. Each school will find its own unique way of expressing this. By teasing out our common values and distinguishing these from personal or culturally specific values, schools remain within their purview and mandate. Such values ensure the creation of an environment where everyone can learn equally and flourish.

By establishing a basic premise centred around the notions of respect for differences and human rights, encompassed by the right to be safe, strong and free, we create a point of reference. It is also important to discuss our responsibilities in conjunction with our rights, as all rights have limits. We can remind ourselves and others of the simple notion that when it comes to our rights “we are all in it together”, since “one person’s oppression is everyone’s oppression”. Such ideas can serve as a powerful reconnection to a school’s essential value system when daily life presents its many inevitable grey zones.

Scenario A student’s parent approaches you to complain that their child has been paired with another student who has a learning disability for a class project.