Honesty is the Best Policy

How might we establish trust between parents and educators to facilitate meaningful discussion?

Photo of Lindsey Ott
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My current position is at a small school for 11th and 12th grade students.  Recently, I contacted a parent whom I know reasonably well.  We have mutual friends and talk casually about hobbies and interests.  The student, whom I have taught for 2 years and have a very good relationship with, missed school for three days in a row.  I sent the father a text message saying:

Hi there!  I noticed Student A hasn't been at school in a few days.  Is he ok?  Is there anything I or the school can do to help?

Father: Student A has been ill.  He will be in school tomorrow if I have to drag him there myself.

Me:  Ok, no worries.  I just was concerned since it is out of character for him to be absent.  

Father:  Thanks.

The following day, the student returned to school.  I asked him if he was feeling better.  He looked at me in a very confused manner and said, "I wasn't sick; I had some family in town and I've been fishing for the last couple of days." 

This struck me as very odd because the father had told me something quite to the contrary, almost as though he was "covering" for his son.  But what was really confusing was "why?"  Why did he feel the need to tell me an untruth?  By all accounts we have a very good relationship and I have always been extremely complimentary of the son.  

In my recent experiences with parent contact and conferences, I have experienced quite a bit of dishonesty.  I don't fully understand the root cause of this dishonesty, but it feels as though a lack of trust may be part of the problem.  

I do not find that getting parents to show up is the problem, but rather that getting them to be honest about the student situation or the family situation is the problem.  I find myself doing it too- I exaggerate abilities and performance, I gloss over major issues with behavior, and I don't speak assertively.  

Reflecting on this behavior, I think I am not forthcoming because I lack trust in the parent.  I don't want to upset them with aspects of their child they may not know about.   But why not?  This is their child we are talking about, possibly their most valued thing in life.  Why wouldn't I feel comfortable telling them that their child frequently cheats on assignments or that I think he or she may have had a failed relationship lately that is impacting their behavior?  

Could it be possible that a lack of trust from all parties involved is the problem?  What can I do to change that?  I don't think conferences can be valuable without honesty and trust.

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe something you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research.

Reflecting on my personal experience with parent conferences, I believe that trust among stakeholders is at the root of the problem with effective parent involvement.


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Photo of Clint Heitz

Lindsey - If you'd be willing, I would greatly appreciate your support for Guideposts to Success by heading to the post and leaving a positive evaluation, as well as suggestions to grow the idea even more. Perhaps this idea could be a great way to build the relationships you're seeking for honest communication! Thank you!

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