Wearing Two Hats II: Parents as School Employees
The key to successful staff-parents is to be proactive. The time committed upfront will provide the school with opportunities to avoid the pitfalls of dual role professionals.
In our own small school, I and two fellow administrators have children in five of our school’s nine classes spanning grades K-8, and a similar situation can be found in many other day schools. The dual roles of parent and administrator can be difficult to manage, and wearing two hats has its daily challenges; but being a parent employee has tremendous advantages, including the rewards of being “present” in one’s own child’s education. Having the opportunity to develop personal relationships with a child’s teachers, knowing what it is that s/he will be studying and the environment s/he will be studying it in—these offer a bounty beyond remuneration.
Problems arise, however, even for employee parents with the best intentions. Many fail during moments of conflicting interests; others are challenged professionally knowing “too much for their own good,” and being “too involved” to be objective about their own children. Still others fail to keep confidential information from friends and family because of social demands and peer pressures.
Yet the majority of employee-parents behave with impressive sensitivity in their dual roles. The parents who struggle often think that they know better or more than their colleagues, in whom they lack faith.
The key to successful staff-parents is to be proactive. Whether it is the creation of a clearly written document that is committed to by the supervisor and employee, or less formal face-to-face conversation clarifying expectations and procedures, the time committed upfront will provide the school with the best possible opportunities to avoid the pitfalls of dual role professionals.
It is also critical to differentiate between the act of voicing a concern and the method a professional takes to voice it. Here are a number of steps schools can take to clarify the expectations of staff members who are also school parents:
Employee-parent contract. A simple addendum to any existing contract can be created to clearly delineate a professional’s responsibilities as they relate to his or her dual role. This addendum should be given the same legal status as the formal contract itself, allowing for both the institution as well as the parent-staff person to go back to it should the time ever arise.
Preemptive conversation. This is probably the most common method employed to address this situation. The advantage is that it allows for an informal opportunity to discuss the benefits and challenges of the dual role. The most significant negative is that it leaves much room for misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and significant “grey area” should any challenges arise. As good practice, it is recommended that there be a brief written summary of the meeting, with the staff person provided a copy and the original placed in the professional’s personnel file.
HR manual description. This method is the least confrontational way of dealing with a staff member’s dual role. A paragraph articulating the policies and procedures for a dual role professional in the school avoids the need for the administration to address this situation personally with each employee-parent.
Employee-parent ombudsman. Schools may consider assigning an administrator, a supervisor, or a qualified lay person to serve as an objective ombudsman, to mediate and advise the staff-parent and the administrator through any difficult and challenging issues in this area.
Parenting as a professional in a school requires a high level of commitment to setting boundaries between these dual roles. Success is in the invested time up front, and most definitely not on the hopes and prayers that a staff person will do the “right thing” if the situation ever arises. By clarifying expectations and separating the hats of employee parents, schools can assure that the relationships are positive and beneficial to all parties. ♦
Nehemia Ichilov is both the head of school at The King David Jewish Community Day School in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the parent of two children in the school. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.