The Advice Booth: Which Hat Do I Take Off?
I serve as a member of the leadership team at the same school my two children attend. My older child has not yet needed any special intervention from me as a parent, but my younger child, who began at the school this year, is a different story. Her behavior in class can be a challenge to her teachers, and she is going to need both social and academic support. I can feel the teachers shying away from talking to me, and I sense that they think I treat my children differently than other students in the school. How do I know when to wear my “parent” hat and when I need to take it off?
There are so many benefits to working at the same school that your children attend. With some thoughtful planning, those positives can outweigh the inevitable challenges that come with such an arrangement.
For Your Family
Make a plan in advance of expectations for parent/child interactions at school.
Explain to your children, in an age-appropriate manner, that you will give them space at school. Let them know they can talk to you about this if it becomes a problem for them.
Establish clear guidelines for when they can approach you, when they can ask you for things (“I forgot my lunch”), and when and if they are allowed in your office.
Ensure they adhere to rules all students at the school must follow, including where they need to be during non-class time (before and after school). Be very clear with your children that there are no special rules for them just because you work at their school.
Make sure that you follow all expectations given to all parents.
Talk at home must not broach school business of which your children should not be aware.
Parents of your children’s friends need to understand you are not their source of information about the school.
If it works better for you, have another adult attend birthday parties for your children’s day school friends.
When at social occasions (bnai mitzvah, community events), be very careful to be professional, avoiding discussion of school business, yet allow yourself to also be a part of the event. This can be a great balancing act!
Make a plan before the school year begins so that everyone understands protocols for communication.
Set up expectations of how you are to be contacted. In general, you will want to be addressed in person or contacted like any other parent would be, via an email or phone call.
Are you the first person to contact when your child needs something that is not an academic or behavior issue? If not, who is that person? This could be anything from a late permission form to needing more pencils to your child being out of dress code. Again, if you are the contact person, create expectations that you should be treated like other parents.
Make a plan for academic and social/emotional issues. Be explicit. Who is the first person of contact: you? Another parent? A grandparent or provider (therapist)? If it is you, be sure it is handled like it would be for any other student. If it is another person, and contact is made via email, do you want to be copied?
All meetings about your child should take place outside of school hours or whenever parent meetings normally take place.
Make sure all staff and faculty know you want to be treated equally, like any other parent, when it comes to your children, and that you do not expect special treatment. They should also know that you want honesty, and that in turn you will be respectful of their roles.
If a situation should arise where you feel your role as educational leader is being compromised—for example, you really feel the teacher is not implementing best practices for your school—bring in another administrator to help.
Never sacrifice what is best for your child because of your role at the school. Seek assistance to find the right balance. If done with respect for both your role as parent and as educator, you will navigate to the right place.
Always accept guidance and reach out to a trusted colleague to talk through a situation. If you have a coach, use that time to discuss what is happening.
If ultimately the school is not the right match for your child, make that hard decision.
We learn in Tehillim, Psalms 119:99: îëì îìîãé äùëìúé, From all my teachers I have gained insight. With every new experience between yourself, your children and their teachers—your colleagues—you will learn something new. Accept this role as one of development for yourself both as an educator and as a parent. If looked at as an opportunity for learning, the outcomes will be positive and enriching.
Take pleasure in knowing you get to experience, albeit from afar, the joys of watching your child’s everyday interactions and growth. Acknowledge that also might come with having to step back when you don’t like what you see. If you put a plan in place, when surprises happen—and they will—you will be all the better prepared. In the end, working in the same place where your child learns can be a source of great pleasure for your entire family.