There is likely no stronger bond than the one that develops between parent and child. Adding a teacher to the dynamic, especially during the early years, may feel uncomfortable, unnatural and just plain wrong -not only for the child, but (especially) for the parent as well.
To consider parent-teacher-student relationships at various stages of a child’s education, Dr Darika Lathapipat, President of Dhurakij Bundit University, recently sat down for a chat with Chris Nicholls, Master of Wellington College Bangkok, Katie
Byrne, Assistant Head at the British School in Tokyo, and Christian Bishop, Head of Wellington College Bangkok’s Junior School.
DL: If parents are sending their child to a new school, how do we make the relationship work with teachers in real life?
CN: In her 2015 book ‘How to Raise an Adult’, Julie Lythcott-Haims studies a range of evidence from scientific research and concludes that there are some common things that good parents do. But, as partners in the process of bringing children up,
I think teachers ought to look in the same direction. Some examples she gives are:
- making the children do chores (the Japanese famously do this in school and, having lived and taught in Japan for years myself, I am a big fan of this practice);
- explicitly teaching, and reflecting on, social skills, such as making friends, helping others, listening and so on;
- setting high expectations;
- maintaining healthy relationships with each other (in a school, that’s between us teachers – at home, between husband and wife!);
- teaching mathematics early;
- not letting the child feel stressed;
- giving more credit for sincere effort and less for avoiding failure; and
- being authoritative, that is, teaching behaviour rationally rather than based on fixed cultural rules.
DL: Hold on – without some stress, won’t a child just become lazy?
CN: Bad stress – where negative emotions seep in – is never a good thing. Some people say ‘it never did me any harm!’ – but that’s simply not true. While no one can be permanently in a state of happiness, what we all want is a better family dynamic; to put it bluntly, negative stress always works against that ideal.
KB: Being authoritative in the sense Julie uses the term is a large part of what Wellbeing is all about. Teaching and encouraging children and young people to think and take responsibility for themselves is such an empowering thing for us to do.
Teaching and encouraging children and young people to think and take responsibility for themselves is such an empowering thing for us to do.
CB: We are able to build on the best examples here in Bangkok, to ensure that the children feel safe and secure in their learning environment. Another focus is specific to Thai culture: I am a big fan of the wai khru ceremony, as something that strengthens the importance of the teacher-student relationship, which should be based on mutual respect and understanding.
DL: Is there a difference in how Thai parents approach education? Does it affect your work?
CB: From my experience teaching here, I see Thai parents support schools more and, in general, are far more respectful and trusting of teachers and their professionalism than in many other countries.
CN: The key thing in this positive environment is to harness the trust and create a really strong relationship, without intruding. A reason why we include one hour of ‘homework’ time within the school day as the children get older is to remove a classic source of passionate parent-child conflict from home life!
DL: How do you adjust your approach for working parents who, as much as they wish they could, are simply not able to attend every school event or parent-teacher meeting?
CB: The relationship does not have to be centred on formal meetings. Even just five minutes here and there for a quick exchange of emails or messages can serve a vital function.
CN: I often say to prospective parents that, when their phone buzzes with a message from school, I don’t want their first reaction to be ‘Oh no – what’s happened?!’ but rather ‘Oh good – a message from school!’
DL: What are your ideal outcomes from a successful teacher-parentstudent relationship?
KB: I find what works best is an initial, deliberate getting-to-know-you phase. After that, everything is so much easier. As teachers, the best thing we can do in the early stages is listen. Parents, quite rightly, love to talk about their children! But that information is so valuable for us. And once a parent understands that our job is not to criticise, or stand in judgement, but rather to support and assist – and that we’re actually interested in them and their children as human beings, that’s the outcome right there.
Knowing we genuinely have someone else’s support, whether we are a teacher, a parent or a child, is hugely reassuring.
CB: Communication, especially in the early years, is crucial and we like to keep parents as informed and involved as possible, to create a coalition for learning. Likewise, when a child has had a bad night’s sleep or is troubled by something at home, the parent needs to feel the teachers are aware of this to enable them to adapt their approach with the child. Communication to and from school is on and around every aspect of the child; this way, the transition between home and school life is fluid, the care and empathy seamless.
DL: How should the relationship evolve as a child gets older? In Wellington’s case you will be seeing the children develop from toddlers all the way to teenagers and the cusp of adulthood.
CN: It’s a bit of a myth that family and school life have to become unpleasant when a child becomes a teenager. It’s not an easy time for anyone but, if we continue to communicate, and we are clear, forgiving and (most importantly) selfaware and reflective, we can all help each other through. Human beings need attention from each other, but it doesn’t have to be negative attention. Knowing we genuinely have someone else’s support, whether we are a teacher, a parent or a child, is hugely reassuring.