Thabiti Brown on Engaging with Parents: The Challenge of Differing Approaches
Thabiti Brown is the principal at Codman Academy, a charter public school in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
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"In cases where we’re looking at social dynamics that are disrupted, where we’re looking at issues of bullying or harassment, we're looking at possible violence, we’re looking at kids that are using all of their understandings-- be it, you know, culture within my home, culture within my neighborhood, culture within my school, culture within the city-- and are trying to navigate all those things, engagement with parents gets really tricky. And the reason is, I think, because often our parents align very well with the policies and the procedures and the ways we try to do things here at the school. But, just as often, they don’t align well. So a parent will say—and this is a not-aligned piece—the parent will say: if a student steps to you, you need to step back to them. Translating: If a student confronts you, you need to be strong and stay with them in that confrontation. Walking away is for people who aren’t part of our family. All right. I’ve heard this come out of a parent’s mouth. Whereas we talk-- we preach about walking away.
So there are moments of disconnect between our culture and the things that we are trying to teach here at the school and the culture of our parents. And I think parents feel that as well. And so they’ll say, “I don’t care what y'all say here, you know, we need to make sure that our children are also safe on these streets, and if they’re acting the way you’re telling them to act here, they’re not necessarily going to be safe on the streets.” And that’s a real conflict. And we try to mediate that and say, “Well, there are ways around this. The ways around this are: you got to figure out a way to be different in different contexts. You can’t have one lens for everything. So in that sense we want you to be true to yourself, be your own true self, but also be able to navigate as a different piece of yourself in different contexts.
So, I mean, you heard me speaking now using different intonations and different forms of speech, and that’s part of who I am, and I can try to go back and forth between that. So we try to speak to our students about that, going back and forth piece. What we could do more is speak to our parents about that going back and forth piece, because I think that it’s essential that they’re with us, with learning the different codes for different contexts. But, again, at the end, we want to engage them, and we want them to continue to engage with us in helping to educate their child.”