In the absence of clear guidelines and information, parents and caregivers may misunderstand their role and our expectations, leading to inappropriate or unconstructive interventions on their part. If we have experienced problematic contact with parents and caregivers in the past, we may be tempted to react by minimizing and avoiding contact. In fact, proactively educating and equipping parents and caregivers to be effective, responsible and constructive advocates for their children can help to circumvent such difficulties in the future.
When schools can articulate each party’s roles and responsibilities, this immediately clarifies the expectations we have of parents and caregivers, as well as their expectations of us. We create a realistic vision of the relationship we are aiming to achieve: one in which teaching students about respecting differences is viewed as a shared responsibility, no less important than helping with homework. By establishing this premise when things are going well, we create a reference point for when we are struggling.
Once parents and caregivers understand the parameters of the relationship, we can provide them with information and strategies for effective and constructive advocacy. By equipping them, we increase their sense of their own agency. When people feel confident and empowered, they may have less need to act aggressively. (See Working With Advocates.) Schools can outline a list of positive strategies for advocacy by parents and caregivers such as:
- providing concrete and clear information about the situation or issue;
- documenting dates and times of occurrences or incidents;
- listing people who are witnesses or who are aware of the situation;
- positive and constructive ways of communicating.
Parents and caregivers need accessible information about policies related to safe and inclusive schools – including all party’s roles, rights and responsibilities – at the ministry, board and local school levels. We can proactively provide accessible information to parents and caregivers, for example:
- We can refer them to the appropriate websites.
- We can offer to print out information for those who do not have a computer.
- We can find or create versions of policies that are written in friendly and accessible language.
- We can create a concise, simplified version of the school’s code of conduct, containing a summary of procedures, definitions, rights, responsibilities, consequences related to bullying and inequity.
Informing parents and caregivers of systems, structures and resource people aimed at promoting safe and inclusive school can also promote positive and constructive interventions. For example:
- identifying resource people to turn to if needed;
- informing parents and caregivers about the school’s “parent representative”;
- informing parents and caregivers about the school’s provincially mandated “safe schools committee”.
Parents and caregivers will be more able to collaborate with the school when bullying occurs if they have basic information about the issues, such as the signs of bullying and the difference between bullying and conflict.
- We can provide concise one-pagers that summarize key concepts.
- This information can also be included as part of the school’s code of conduct.
While parents and caregivers may not take the time to read this information unless there is an incident, we can take every available opportunity to revisit it and remind them about it on a regular basis.