Parents and teachers — in Hebrew, the root word for both is the same: to enlighten. As parents, we fervently hope that our children’s teachers will seek out ways to enlighten our kids. In fact, we not only want them to enlighten their minds toward intellectual success, but we also want them to enlighten their hearts toward their world, G-d, and their internal selves.
Ideally, the relationship between parents and schools is a partnership. Schools are experts in education and parents are experts on their kids. In reality, however, the partnership can be quite strained.
I recently observed a public discussion between two veteran heads of school of Modern Orthodox institutions about the partnership between parents and schools. The topic was the spiritual engagement of the children. The gathered adults wanted to discuss how to increase children’s feelings of connection to community, Judaism, and G-d.
Almost immediately, I noticed the difficulty that both the parents and the educators had in hearing and internalizing the challenges of the other. Parents wanted their children to be successful and religiously connected, and were frustrated by what they perceived as administrative inflexibility and Judaism that is taught as a class, lacking warmth and inspiration. They also expressed resentment at having to choose between secular success and religious connection for their children. The schools' leaders, on the other hand, were frustrated by lack of parental support as they try to balance the need for connection with the need to succeed. They also believed that religious connection begins at home and the job of educating Jewishly does not exclusively belong to the school.
There seemed to be a feeling of entrenchment and defensiveness on the parts of both the schools and the parents. Each believed that they understood the problems and knew the solutions — and that, in large part, the other was to blame for the struggle of the children.
There is irony in this: Both schools and parents want connection for their kids, but find difficulty in building a connection between themselves to figure out how to do it. As with any challenge, though, there is opportunity. As parents and educators, we have the ability to collaborate on achieving both goals of connection and success. In fact, they need not be mutually exclusive.
Success can be achieved through connection. A person who has a strong appreciation of themselves, a belief in their abilities, a respect for others’ points of view, a willingness to collaborate with others, and an ability to analyze, evaluate, and problem-solve are likely to be successful in life. And, those comfortably connected to self and others, are then able to connect to G-d. Children can only achieve these connections when they see them in action and have opportunities to experience and practice them.
We each have something to say about this. Schools can ask themselves how they are doing in their connection with the students and parents. Are there open lines of communication? Do they give parents and kids an opportunity to weigh in and give feedback and then follow up on it? Is there an avenue to establish relationships with each child? Does the school see, value, and address the individuality of each student?
Parents can also ask themselves to what extent they make an effort to model connection. Do they speak regularly, respectfully, and constructively to, and about, the school and teachers? Do they offer to collaborate with and support them? Do parents model strong connections with their own families, communities, Judaism, and G-d and discuss these with their kids? Do they make a point of listening well, working collaboratively, solving problems, and using other “soft skills” that make life and relationships smoother?
Parents and educators want success for their children. Perhaps, if they can each focus on “enlightening” themselves, they will find the commonality that will enable their children to experience the success that is borne of connection.
By Laura Goldman