Parents as Partners

purple background with the words Fostering relationships leads us to build community and enables us to open our congregations, our schools and our hearts so that all will be welcome; Removing the Stumbling Block

Updated May 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, we find ourselves increasingly challenged in ways we never expected just a few short months ago. Our lives as parents look dramatically different as we juggle our own work responsibilities, childcare, household management, financial strain, and issues of mental health & well-being. This is hard.

Educationally we have experienced a rapid shift to online learning experiences. There is tremendous variation in the quality and effectiveness of such instruction around the country. Even where an individual teacher's online instruction is highly effective, this layer of educating from a distance in the midst of a pandemic has introduced a complicated layer of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty.

Irregardless of the effectiveness online instruction, one of the most notable byproducts of distance learning has been the recognition among many more parents of just how hard and nuanced it truly is to be an educator. This recognition offers us an opportunity that we should not waste.

Now, more than ever, we have the opportunity to forge partnerships between home and school, parents and educators. Right now, at this critical moment in time, parents need more support than they ever did before, and I expect most would welcome the expertise and guidance of caring, thoughtful educators.

Open and supportive communication with parents is essential for a successful school experience for any child, especially for successful distance learning. 

Here are key points that I feel can help to build the foundation for meaningful, supportive, and productive relationships with parents:

It’s all about relationships:
Strong relationships are built on trust. Parents need to trust that we are really here to support their children and that we really want to take this journey with them. All the more so for families of children with disabilities. The work that we do in synagogues (and all faith communities) and synagogue schools (really, all schools) is relationship-based. Building strong, lasting relationships is the key to successful experiences across all experiences and all platforms. That does not change when we cannot be together in person; and in many ways it becomes even more important. 

piece of lined paper with the word YES, a smiley face, and a gold pen; Removing the Stumbling Block
Say YES:
Parents of children with disabilities can spend many hours of their days in “battle”.  They often struggle with doctors, insurance agents, therapists, and so on. When joining a faith community, what I believe families most want is to find a place where they don’t have to fight, where they can be accepted as they are, and where their family can find respite and rejuvenation. It seems logical that they should be able find this in a synagogue community. The most significant thing that synagogue professionals can say to parents and family members of those with special needs or disabilities is, “Yes, we can meet “Jonah’s” needs…now help me understand how to do that.”  Or “Yes, of course your family can worship here and be a part of our community…please help me understand how we can make that possible for you.” I am not suggesting that every request can and will be met with “yes”, but we have to start by opening the conversation and building the relationship, so that if there are things that are not possible, we can speak about them openly and honestly. When we start with yes, we rely on our trusting relationships to guide us.

Parents of children with disabilities need to grieve:
When parents learn of a child’s disability, they need to grieve…not for the child, but for the idea of what they thought parenting would be. They process through the grief of what they may not be able to have, while coming to terms and learning to celebrate the new reality of what they can have. This is not easy. 

But isn’t this the very nature of the work of a religious community? Aren’t we in the business of pastoral care? When a child significantly struggles in religious school, parents may be pushed back into the grief cycle, this time wondering if they will have to give up on their idea of bar/bat mitzvah (or any other significant life cycle event). 

When educators focus on a student’s limitations, they may inadvertently put a family back into a stance of defensiveness. I am not suggesting that we don’t discuss a child’s limitations, but rather that we need to do this in the context of supporting relationships that begin with “yes”. When we honor the process for each individual child and family, we develop the trusting and lasting relationships that will help to guide us.  

Distance is learning is not easy. We can find our way through this challenging time by working as partners, parents and teachers together.

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  1. Very well stated and extremely important! Yishar koach!

  2. Thank you, Lisa. Excellent. We need more of this to move us all forward.


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