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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Do Educators Really Want Parents to Be Held Accountable?

By Peter DeWitt — March 11, 2018 5 min read
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Last week I posted a blog called “No Place for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools? Are You Sure?” It resonated well with many readers who shared it on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. It was in response to pushback I often receive from people who do not believe social-emotional learning is the job of schools.

After that blog was posted, a principal responded Tweeting, “Schools can raise children...school teachers can’t do it all...how about parent accountability?”

First and foremost, I never said that schools need to raise other people’s children. Nor did I say that teachers can do it all, which is what the principal seemed to indicate in her Tweet. The fact is that I cited some pretty sad statistics, which you can find in that particular post. I do believe it is our job to work in partnership with families, outside organizations in the larger school community, and with our staff to meet the social-emotional needs of students.

I believe that the Tweet from one principal represented how others feel. In fact, there were a few who “Liked” it. However, I also worry that responding by asking about parent accountability is an easy deflection to meeting the needs of students in school. Perhaps it’s due to being exhausted with everything schools are charged to do at the same time our funding is cut. Other times, it’s simply that people don’t understand what social-emotional learning entails.

Social-emotional learning is not a political argument, nor is it the job of just one person or organization. It’s actually a societal issue that we all need to take on. It’s not about one side versus another. Social-emotional learning is about teaching children how to self-regulate, deal with stress, work through moments of trauma, and it’s about teaching how to get along with others. Is that not what we want out of our citizens? Frankly, many politicians on both sides of the aisle could learn from.

However, that parent accountability statement is one worth exploring. I’m just not so sure that people who Tweet that type of response are ready to take on the full extent of what parent accountability actually means.

Do Schools Really Want Family Accountability?
Truth be told, I do want parents to be held accountable. Especially those parents who abuse their children physically and emotionally. They do indeed need to be held accountable for their actions. There should be repercussions.

To a much more innocent extent, but one that can be equally as harmful, we live in a time where we seem to be distracted from having deep conversations where we actually listen to our children. Listening and being distracted are just two of the issues that this parenting blog, What Are We Doing to Our Children focuses on. It raises some grave concerns, and focuses on parent accountability.

However, parent accountability is often a very complicated topic, especially when it comes to schools. We often say we want parents to be accountable, but what we really mean is that we want parents to be accountable when it comes to getting their children to do their homework, showing up for parent-teacher conferences, and supporting our school efforts at home.

There seem to also be times when we would like parents to be a little less accountable...

It seems that we are not always so keen to parents who advocate for their children when they need special or extra assistance at school, and we don’t have time to give it. We are not so keep to ask about parent accountability when they want to tell us how their children learn or the best ways to engage them. We are not so keen to parents being accountable when their children are being bullied over and over and keep coming back to tell us they want more done in the situation.

Parent accountability is a double-edge sword. Leaders and teachers want parents to have it, until it actually works against the needs of the school.

Perhaps There’s a Bigger Question?
Instead of always point the finger and yelling, “When are parents going to be held accountable?” We should be asking, “Why don’t parents always want to engage with us?” Perhaps it’s less about how they want to be held accountable, and more about how they feel when they enter into our schools. I’m sure I will take grief for this one, but I often wonder if parents would be more accountable where schools are concerned if they felt we would listen more to their concerns.

Is there a piece we should own that also affects accountability? Did we too often tell parents what they should be doing with their children that we enabled them to a point where they assume we will do it for them? Did they try to share their voice on what they wanted out of their children’s education and we were not always there to listen?

Communication is Supposed to be Two-Ways
The other day I was finishing up a 5-day (over 5-month) competency-based collaborative leadership course I teach through the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma State Education Department. I get to spend one day a month in Oklahoma with 25 of the state’s finest new leaders.

One of the last discussions we had focused on family engagement. I asked everyone to stand and talk a bit about their favorite ways to engage families. As we went around the room and people shared their favorite engagement ideas, I noticed that there were three common themes that came to the surface. The three themes were:
Monologue - We tell families about important dates, emergency drills, and issues they need to know about.
Dialogue - We spend time on the sidewalk welcoming families into school as they drop off their children, or have discussions with them at PTA/O, and try to talk with them at parent-teacher conferences or when they come to see us about issues.
Learning - We want them to know what their children are learning so we invite them in for Game Night, Math Night or Science Fairs.

I believe this is where parent accountability and school actually meets.

In the End
When we explore social-emotional learning, we often have a variety of viewpoints. One viewpoint is blaming parents for not being accountable, while another may wonder if they did enough to engage parents in the first place. That parent accountability one is really interesting, because it often leads us into a much more complicated discussion.

Do we, as educators, want parents to be accountable only when it serves our purposes or do we want to work in partnership with them even when they want to hold us accountable as well?

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (Corwin Press. 2016), School Climate: Leading with Collective Efficacy (Corwin Press. 2017). Connect with him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.