Trustee Table Takeaways: Working with Independent School Parents

Here are the top five takeaways from Episode 24 of the NAIS Trustee Table podcast, "Working with Independent School Parents." In this episode, Robert Evans and Michael Thompson, authors of the new NAIS book Hopes and Fears: Working with Today’s Independent School Parents, discuss the power dynamics among parents, teachers, and school leaders; the role of the board in parent relations; and how parent board members can serve more effectively.
  • What hopes and fears do parents have for their children? Often, parents choose independent schools because they have very specific hopes or intense anxieties around their child’s success, development, and well-being. This can create substantial friction when working with their child’s school. Educators want to believe the partnership between schools and parents as easy and congenial, but this is not always the case.
  • What hopes and fears do teachers have around working with parents? Teachers hope to have a wonderful group of students who are ready to learn and who receive support from home. However, they have many fears of working with parents who see themselves as “customers.” This might include an angry parent coming to them to say, “You don’t know my child,” or, “You are hurting my child.” At worst, they worry that parents will use their influence to go directly to the head of school or a board member with their concerns and bypass them completely.
  • What should board members understand about why teachers harbor such fears about parents? Trustees must first understand that for teachers, working with students is more of a calling than a job. They are willing to work for relatively low pay in exchange for finding a school where they can flourish professionally and connect with students. In addition, many teachers are conflict-avoidant, so trustees need to be aware that how they resolve issues in their own workplace may not be the same for teachers.
  • What exactly should be a board’s role in parent relations? The board’s role should be to support the school in the structuring of partnerships with parents. Trustees should understand the boundaries between parents and the board and redirect parents to the head of school and the leadership team when necessary. With the heightened anxiety and exhaustion brought on by the pandemic, it is also important that the board be the place where school leaders can expect support and backup regarding how the school operates.
  • How can parents who are also board members serve more effectively? Parent trustees must remember their role as board members: to ensure the future sustainability of the school. Often, their perspective on teaching and learning comes directly from their child. They may want to bring up issues such as teacher performance or student placements in the board room, which is not appropriate. Board chairs must remind parent trustees of their responsibilities and the parameters of their role, especially during recruitment and onboarding.