Torin Finser Discusses Parent-Teacher Relationships at September Community Meeting

by on September 23, 2014

Finser_2014Dr. Torin Finser, author of seven books and faculty chairperson at Antioch University, discussed the importance of the parent-teacher relationship at Camellia Waldorf School’s (CWS) monthly community meeting on September 16.

“I was sitting in a restaurant when I ran into a newly graduated Waldorf teacher,” said Mr. Finser. “I asked, what could we have done better in your training?”

The new teacher said she was well prepared, but had realized just how important parent-teacher relations are.

“If the relationship works,” the teacher said, “all things are possible. If not, nothing is possible. It’s like we need a second classroom.”

It was then that Mr. Finser said he realized he needed to write a book about the parent-teacher relationship, which he titled A Second Classroom.

Mr. Finser said he began his work on the book by surveying parents and teachers at five Waldorf schools across the United States.

“Parents and teachers agreed that communication, not just the transmission of information, but the give and take of communication that takes place during phone calls and parent-teacher conferences, were the most important, “ he said. “But, there were differences in responses that were quite interesting.”

Teachers are six times more likely than parents to rate sending home letters as important for communication. Parents were twice as likely as teacher to say that emails are helpful. Teachers were four times more likely than parents to say that class meetings are helpful.

“Given how much time teachers spend on letters home and prepping for class meetings, the question becomes, is this what is needed for communication?” Mr. Finser said. “It seems that parents are hungry for that one-on-one with the teacher.”

Adding to the complexity of parent-teacher relations is what Mr. Finser described as the life cycle of parent involvement, for which he has identified seven stages:

Stage 1 – Discovery: This is when parents first come across the school and fall in love with it.

Stage 2 – Conviction: This is when parents say, “I want my child to go to this school. I will move mountains because I’m convinced this school is for my child.”

Stage 3 – Testing: This is when parents question some methods or practices within the school. It’s natural for parents to stop idolizing teachers, and how a school deals with the testing phase affects enrollment. It also determines how many volunteers a school will have.

Stage 4 – Commitment: This is when parents say, “This is the best school for my kids, but we’re realistic.“ When parents are both idealistic and realistic, they become involved. Parents in this stage often become volunteers or board members.

Stage 5 – Outer Orbit: This is when parents are still connected, but are involved in other outside activities. They do less than they used to. This is also a natural phase that schools should plan for.

Stage 6 – Return: this is when parents get more involved again, perhaps because of a younger child.

Stage 7 – Life-Long Appreciation: This is the alumni parent stage. Many Waldorf schools work with alumni, but very few work with alumni parents. They are missing an incredible opportunity to engage with, and benefit from, the skills and experience of alumni parents.

Given the complexity of the parent-teacher relationship, there should be more open arms, and less finger pointing, said Mr. Finser.

For example, biography plays a huge role in parent-teacher conferences. Mr. Finser described a father who, as his parent-teacher conference was ending, suddenly launched into an intense description of his own experience of being in fourth grade, when he was told he was uncooperative, “and you’re saying the same thing about my son,” said the father.

“What if we had some biography sharing in class meetings?” Mr. Finser asked. “Maybe share a story about a grade experience, college, or a first job.”

Birth order can also affect parent and teacher experiences and perspectives.

“First borns stand between the role of child and adult,” Mr. Finser said. “They are very past-focused and tradition focused. Second-borns are the opposite. They live in the moment and question. Think of how this can affect a school if, for example, all of the faculty are female first borns and all the board members are male second borns.”

Throughout his presentation, Mr. Finser emphasized the complexity of parent-teacher relationships and the need for collaboration, careful listening and mutual support.

There is a third space between the two intersecting circles of parents and teachers where, Mr. Finser said, “if we can pause sometimes, there is room for the spiritual element and the gift of insight.”

CWS wholeheartedly thanks Mr. Finser for sharing his time and insights with our community.

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