Asking About Needs

Schools can make an effort to discover the different social groups that are represented by our families.

Sound bite

In one school, teachers come together and do “class studies” during staff meetings. Each teacher presents an overview of the composition of the families represented in their classroom, including ethnocultural origins, family compositions, and any other characteristics related to students’ and families’ identities or life circumstances. By pooling the information gleaned during this exercise, school staff can paint a portrait of their school community members.

Once we have a sense of who makes up our school community, we can take steps to identify any special needs. Simply asking about people’s needs is a way of validating them, and we relieve those who are marginalized of the burden of raising the issues. These steps can take place collectively within the school as a whole, for example through consultations or surveys, or in the context of an individual interaction.

Sound bite

A teacher had a student who was transgendered in his class. When meeting with her parents, he asked them: “I noticed your child expresses their gender by identifying as a girl. I wonder if there is anything your family needs to support your child and to make sure you feel safe, accepted and included in our school?”

Saying it

“Thanks for sharing that you and your family are Muslim. Is there anything we can do to make it easier for you to practice your faith while your children attend this school?”

We can then take steps – working with the school’s administration – to accommodate people’s different needs wherever possible. Sometimes, simple arrangements can transform a parent’s or caregiver’s experience of school and increase their sense of safety. For example, if the need is identified, teachers can provide the following accommodations:

  • ensuring that exams or school events do not conflict with major religious holidays, whenever possible;
  • creating gender-neutral alternatives to gender-specific whole school events or activities (for example, events or activities that involve “mothers and/or fathers”);
  • offering a variety of modes of communication, taking into consideration that not all parents and caregivers will have computers or literacy skills.

Teachers may need to balance accommodation of parents’ and caregivers’ needs with their own personal and professional need for work-life balance. For example, for many parents and caregivers, taking time off during the school day is difficult, impossible or may cause undue hardship (such as loss of income). Occasional meetings outside of school hours help to overcome this barrier; however, we may have our own personal and family obligations. Furthermore, we need to be mindful of our own personal limits.