Part 2 of the Menachem Education Foundation (MEF) Chinuch Series
Parents give over a large portion of the responsibility for their child’s education to schools, and they are concerned.
What can I do to support the efforts of my child’s educators for the best possible outcome? How can I intervene when I have a concern about my child? Can there be a healthy, wholesome partnership between us, the parents, and our child’s school?
To address some of these questions, the Menachem Education Foundation presents an interview with two members of its faculty: Rabbi Mendy Greenbaum, principal of Cheder Menachem of Los Angeles, and Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum, principal of Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh.
They both emphatically establish that the partnership between parents and schools is, indeed, a two way street.
That partnership begins at the most basic level. As Rabbi Greenbaum points out, when the Alter Rebbe was hiring a melamed for his son, he said to him: “I have the mitzva of “teach them to your children.” You have the mitzva of sustaining and providing for your family. Let’s make an exchange…”
However, the partnership does not end at the classroom door. Rabbi Rosenblum points to a letter of the Rebbe, one of many that emphasizes this point, which says (emphasis not in the original):
Certainly they will take advantage of the days of Purim, which are approaching, to strengthen the ties between the students and teachers, and also – and this is the main thing – with the parents of the students. In addition to the fact that this affects the Chinuch of the students, indeed, this effort in its own right, in the sense of influencing the parents, is extremely lofty, and this too is the task of chinuch…. (אגרות קדש, חלק יד, עמוד תט)
Thus, the obligation of parents and educators toward one another is mutual. What does this look like?
From a parent’s perspective, it is critical to remain fully involved throughout a child’s schooling. Rabbi Greenbaum points out that even when things are going well for a child in school, a parent needs to proactively reinforce the child’s education, as well as foster a vibrant relationship with the child to keep potential difficulties at bay.
By reviewing the day’s lesson with one’s child, modeling respect and regard for their teacher and hanhala, and, most fundamentally, setting a living example that is aligned with the values given over in school, a child’s chinuch comes to life, and becomes something real and relevant beyond the four o’clock bell.
Additionally, a child must feel heard and secure so that if an issue arises, she will know that she has to whom to turn. A strong line of communication between parents and children is the number one prevention for difficulties and frustrations in a child’s schooling.
But difficulties do arise, whether academic or social-emotional. At this stage, it is crucial that parents and educators come fully together to deal with the issue at hand. One party may identify the issue, whether by observing the child at home or analyzing a school assessment, but then, the other party needs to come to terms with the fact that a difficulty exists and to take whatever steps are necessary to address it.
Often, this will take the form of professional intervention, whether by a member of the school’s staff or otherwise. However, professional intervention does not mean that the work is done. It is up to parents and teachers to follow up on the professional’s recommendations, and for all three parties – the school, parents and professional – to communicate regularly until the issue is resolved.
What is the school’s role in cultivating this partnership? Ideally, says Rabbi Greenbaum, they will follow the advice of the Rebbe’s letter quoted above, and create concrete opportunities for parent engagement. These include: ongoing communication and frequent progress reports; inviting parents to participate in school projects and programs or to volunteer in the classroom; arranging parent workshops, and more. All these measures serve to solidify the parent-school partnership, and beyond that, send a powerful message to the child, who realizes, “My school cares about my parents, my parents care about my school, and my chinuch is important to everybody.”
Additionally, however, parents and schools must work together on the larger issues of education. This is why Rabbi Rosenblum emphasizes that the correct word to use in this context is “engagement,” which connotes a more authentic two-way partnership than a word such as “involvement” would convey.
Again, this does not happen by accident. For example, at the beginning of this year, Yeshiva Schools invited parents to participate in drafting a School-Parent Compact. The school recently held a meeting with parents to provide the opportunity for both parties to report to each other at year’s end.
On the school’s end, the Compact includes such things as “provide high-quality curriculum and instruction,” “create and maintain a safe, supportive and effective learning environment,” and “provide parents with frequent reports on their children’s progress.” The parents’ responsibilities, in addition to basics such as monitoring student attendance and homework, include: “participate, as appropriate, in decisions relating to education,” “initiate communication with the teacher when an issue arises,” and “speaking positively of and supporting the school, especially in the presence of students.”
“Parents have to have a voice,” Rabbi Rosenblum emphasizes. What kind of voice? Rabbi Greenbaum specifies that parents “should be able to have discussions with the school about their educational philosophy and the rationale behind it.”
One example of how both principals encourage this kind of conversation, as participants in MEF’s Zekelman Standards Program, is hanging a copy of each grade’s Chumash standards outside the classroom door. The main thing, says Rabbi Rosenblum, is that a school be “reflective and responsible” about student learning.
Both Rabbi Greenbaum and Rabbi Rosenblum share the conviction that open and positive communication is key. When both parties put any other concerns aside and focus on the good of the child, we can be sure of a positive outcome.
Ultimately, notes Rabbi Greenbaum, schools and parents joining forces to benefit children echoes the idea that two Jews working together to improve in Avodas Hashem have the advantage of two G-dly souls against one animal soul. Whichever side of the partnership we are on, let’s resolve to join forces to ensure the best possible chinuch for all of our children.