Anna Nolin on Communicating with Parents
Anna Nolin is the principal at Wilson Middle School in Natick, Massachusetts. She is also an adjunct professor at Framingham State College.
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"Parents need to hear a coordinated script from schools about what the situation actually was that occurred and not being afraid—not letting the school be afraid to take some time to figure out what the next best steps are. So we’ll often make a first day call, 'Look, this event happened, here’s what we know so far,' listening to the parent kind of processing because you get more information that way; they may tell you, 'Oh well this has been happening at soccer or this has been happening in the neighborhood,' and it’s information that might be critical to the intervention you’re about to take. And just saying, you know, to yourself, as a school person, I’m not going to rush to judgment here. We’re not going to rush to punishment. We want to calm the situation. We’re not just ready—we don’t want to just get it done and discipline someone and I think that’s often a temptation to make heads roll in a case like that and send a big message.
But the parents need a consistent script from the adults that they talk to, because the pattern will be they’ll not like what they heard from one adult in the school so they’ll call another, and if they don’t get the same kind of understanding of the case, they’ll keep going until—and start to therefore become part of the hot air of the difficult situation. And it’s not that anyone has any bad intentions, they’re just worried about their children, and so they want to get involved. How are you going to corral that involvement means that you have to be very coordinated in the scripts that you tell them and then what you say to them in terms of 'Hey Mom, you know I need you to understand this occurred and here’s how I’d like you to participate in this conversation for now. Call me back if you have any thoughts."
Parents do feel very helpless in dealing with these situaitons. Imagine having only one girl's perspective from the ostracism case, and it's sitting on your couch and it's crying and it's making your home life just absolutely nuts. So, as a parent, you want to immediately respond and fix the hurt. But, again, you can be loving and you can, you know, say 'I'm sure this hurts', but you can't rush to judgment either, becuase your child is part of a larger dynamic. And it's easy to say to say that from an intellectual point of view; when it's my own children it's less easy to do. But, again, it's about hearing the other perspectives and understanding that other ones are going to exists and perhaps your child has done the right thing, but perhaps your child has not done the right thing. So, parents often only have just one shard of the whole broken picture, and it's up to school staff to be the intermediary between what's happening at school and the outcomes they're seeing at home. It's not always easy to hang into that dialogue, but if we're going to be good collaborators, we have to model that behavior. It's exactly what we want from the kids in these situations.