Setting Boundaries with Administrator’s Children

Cooki Levy, "Dear Cooki Advice Column"

As stated in the last column, living in the community where you work is a mixed blessing. All the more so is the situation when your child is a student in the school in which you work. How is this best handled? The following are some guidelines. While they seem very “black and white,” and even somewhat harsh, the reality is that most of the time you will simply be able to enjoy both the convenience and the pleasures of being with your child in school each day. But there are dangers, and areas that require thoughtful contemplation and planning. And while most likely you will not be able to adhere to these guidelines all the time, they can provide an important compass for you at critical moments.

You should be able to set some clear boundaries and “rules of engagement” from the outset. In school, your child is just another student. Don’t pay more attention than necessary. Do not linger outside her classroom to make sure she is ok. Do not spend extra, unnecessary time in his classroom beyond that which you would spend in any other class. Don’t automatically give her special privileges, like buying her a special lunch in the lunchroom or being the monitor more often than the others. Don’t check where he is sitting, if she has friends at the lunch table or if he put his snow pants and hat on for recess (you can tell where I live!) Trust that school staff will be as attentive to his needs as they are to those of all other students. Try to remove your parent hat during the school day. Does this mean that you should ignore your child if you pass in the hallway? Of course not. Presumably you would greet any child you know.

In addition to the day-to-day interactions, your potential ability to impact long-term planning may tempt you to orchestrate your child’s classroom placement, select his teachers and sign him up early for popular programs. It is very hard to close your eyes totally and allow random decisions to take place. And certainly, if all parents may enter requests for specific teachers or for special friends, your child should not be the only one without that right. Allow your professionals to do their jobs as you believe they should, without your interference. Save that for the very few, really critical times when you feel strongly that intervention is a must.

If your child is one of those who is always well-behaved, who never forgets her homework, who requires no remedial services and rarely has serious social issues, you are, indeed, very lucky for many reasons. But most of us have children who, at least occasionally, “get in trouble” and need individual intervention from a staff member or administrator. Parental involvement may be needed. If at all possible, do not be that parent. If circumstances permit (and I know that in some schools both parents are employed, and that there are single parent families as well), decide from the beginning that your spouse will be the “go-to” parent for all school communication. Even if teachers approach you directly in the school building—such a convenience—direct them to your spouse. Similarly, if you are the head of school, ask your principal or another administrator to be the point person in regards to your child. Teachers who are experiencing difficulty with your child should ask for advice and support from this person.

Parent-teacher interview evenings pose a particular dilemma. Should you attend the meeting? Should your spouse, in your stead? Should you let the teachers know in advance that you will be coming? Do you risk the ire of other waiting parents who think that “you can talk to the teacher any time—why add to their wait”?

On the other hand, don’t let your focus on the big picture prevent you from enjoying your child’s programs, presentations and projects. When all parents are invited to the class, you should be there as well. When all parents are asked to help with a specific task, you should take on the challenge. The guiding question is: Is this for all parents, or is this something only I can do because of who I am?

Be very careful about the conversations about school that you have at home. If your child is to feel comfortable, he should not be aware of your school issues. Don’t discuss difficult teachers, troublesome parental interactions, or student problems ever when your child is nearby. You may think she is not listening, but, I assure you, she may well be. And conversely, take extreme care with the things you hear about students from your children. Don’ t ask them to report on their friends, tell who did what at the last Bar Mitzvah party, or divulge who bullied whom in the schoolyard. The other kids should never see your children as the “stoolies” who gave away information.

As soon as you think your child is old enough, have a clear and honest conversation about this issue. Tell her your guidelines for yourself and for her. Discourage her from coming to see you in school inappropriately. Just as you must disengage as parent, she must disengage as child. The same school rules that apply to all other children must apply to him as well, and he should understand that he must direct questions or concerns to the same school personnel that all the other students use. But be certain you also assure your child that he may always let you know what is troubling him at school, and that she can talk about any unhappiness she experiences because you are in the position you are in.

Being on the front lines of your child’s growth and development can be a rare privilege, one for you to appreciate and enjoy. But it can be a treacherous road as well. By following these few pointers (and others that I am certain you have developed), you can navigate a successful path.

Cooki Levy is the director of RAVSAK’s Head of School Professional Excellence Project (PEP). [email protected]

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Spring 2015