Parent and Teacher Communication in Schools:
By Lyn Worsley
This past week I have had the privilege of working along side Dr Ben Furman, a psychiatrist from Finland. We were both presenting at the Strength and Resilience conference in Singapore.
Dr Furman runs the Helsinki Brief Therapy institute, in Finland, and brings a refreshing outlook to the discipline of psychiatry. Of his many books, Dr Furman’s “kids Skills” puts forward the notion that children don’t break rules, they rather “forget” the rules. Children don’t have bad behaviour it is rather they don’t know the skills to have good behaviour. Children don’t need to address their problems rather they need to address the skills needed to solve their problems.
Dr Furman’s refreshing outlook can also be transferred to adults. In Solution-Focussed Therapy, it is a common practice to help clients to learn the skills needed to move them in the direction of their preferred future. Solution Focussed therapy is practiced most successfully when the therapist asks the client about a miracle and together they begin to scale the progress towards the miracle.
What I found most interesting from Dr Furman’s talk was his practical exercise in helping key adults in Children’s lives to communicate. These key adults are the teachers and parents. He noted that parents and teachers play the blame game when they think something is going wrong with their child. The teachers quickly find fault with the child’s home life, looking for a cause of the behaviour change. The parents quickly find fault with the style of teaching, the type of school, and the teacher’s poor judgement. This “blame storming” sends both the supporting parties into a defensive zone rendering them both unable to support the child to find solutions to the problem.
Using the fingers on both hands, Dr Furman referred to two ways of doing things.
On one hand he had the “Old school” and on the other hand he had the “new School”.
The old school had five points of communicating for the teacher to the parent.
- The teacher asks the parent to meet them.
- Mention the problem:
- Show the consequences of the problem
- Warn them of longer term consequences
- Threaten with punishment if the problem isn’t addressed.
The new school also had five points
- The teacher inquires of the parent as to the most convenient time to meet to discuss the child’s progress
- Mention the successes and strengths of the child
- Note some new skills that are needed to enhance these strengths
- Ask “what helps” at home so far
- Collaborate on a plan to help the child build the skills.
The outcome of each of these styles of communicating is profound.
What was most telling is the effect of the teacher-parent interaction on the subsequent parent-child interaction.
In the old school, the parent feels the shame and is more likely to go home and blame the child for their poor behaviour. Perhaps resorting to punishing them, and the child doesn’t learn the skills they need to solve their problem. The “Blame Storming” continues.
In the new school, the parent goes home and mentions their teacher has noticed the child’s strengths, and that there are a few things they could do to help their strengths to develop further. In the new school the parent feels more positive, and acknowledged for their part in helping their child to succeed. This communication style has a flow-on effect to the child, often resulting in collaborating with the parent to find a solution.
Asking questions about “what helps” is a great way to elicit a collaborative response from anyone.
Perhaps if we all took this approach when we communicated in our workplaces, as well as our schools and homes we may find we too will learn skills to solve our problems.
Furman Ben (2004) . Kid’s Skills. Playful and practical solution finding with children. published by St Lukes Innovative Resources