Monday, 13 April 2015

What do we need to consider when engaging parents in a difficult issue such as bullying?

7 February 2015

Often when pressured with deadlines and outcomes it is too easy to get right down into strategy -What we will do? Sometimes that is OK, but when there is complexity and conflict of views I have found the 'Seven ways of inquiry' process by Henderson and Kesson to be very helpful. These seven unique lenses represent different ways of thinking/feeling/relating with issues. They also work holistically together. Please do not be put off by the Greek names, rather use the questions as prompts for reflection. What can they reveal in this case?

Below is my map of  trying to capture the thinking and dilemmas of Pete, the Primary School Principal as well as my own. As Pete and I discussed it together we also added thoughts. The question behind the map is:

What do we need to consider when engaging parents in a difficult issue such as bullying?


How do we do it?

  • What is the process we will use to engage parents?
  • What is the form of the outcome of this? (Policy, protocol, awareness, champions?)
  • How do we communicate it in a way that engages and empowers other parents? 


Drawing on everyone's practical wisdom. Asking why. Going into deeper understandings of what is happening.

  • How can we tap into parent's wisdom about positive parenting and social and emotional development? (e.g. building relationship with their child, skill building, praise.) What processes do parents already use when their children face dilemmas? 
  • How do we enable time for parents to explore/discuss the reason behind bullying dynamics in order to understand why? (eg. power issues, identity, fear, role, home issues, peer culture.)
  • How do we encourage different parents to build an expertise and bring information to the group?
  • How do we help parents to build a bigger picture of where bullying sits in their own words and narratives? (For example, our narrative might be: Bullying is just one of several unhealthy relationship dynamics, that students can become trapped in, feeling powerless to change.)


Critical Inquiry.  Challenge assumptions. Question how this process itself might set up power inequities between participants.

  • How does this process help participants feel empowered?
  • What assumptions or worldviews are we bringing through focussing on the issue this way - eg. stop bullying approach versus positive behaviour approach.
  • What processes can we use to surface everyone's assumptions in a caring and respectful way?
  • What assumptions do we think parents might bring? (My child is not a bully. Bullies need to be punished. It doesn't happen here. Tackle the issue when it happens. The school is responsible to fix it. The school isn't taking this incident seriously enough. Bullying is bad. I have taught my child to stand up for herself.)


Enabling different perspectives to converse. 

  • How can we collect diverse positions and value them, and put them in conversation?
  • Whose voices? (students, teachers, parents/carers)
  • Whose roles? (Bully, victim, bystander, carer, teacher, counsellor, siblings, friends, principal)
  • How can we help participants walk in another's shoes? (bringing mind, heart and soul)


Soulful attunement, integrity, wholeness, creativity

  • How in this process can we be mindful of participant's feelings and work with integrity?
  • In whatever policy/approach that is created, how do we ensure that all players cancome out whole, feel a senses of growth and integrity, and not feel diminished/blamed/shamed.
  • How can we keep in mind the larger wholes here? This is not just about fixing a problem for individuals, it is something that contributes positively to the fabric of society. 


Contemplative Wisdom. Linking to purpose and vision of what education is about.

  • How can an issue like this link into a purposeful curriculum of life? (For example, each incident is an opportunity for social/emotional learning. It is welcomed as being part of our core business of learning and child development. It is not seen as a distraction.)
  • How might thinking about what we need to do in terms of PREVENT, PREPARE, RESPOND, RECOVER enable us to see how this fits more strategically within our curriculum? For example, thinking about PREVENT might encourage us to develop pedagogies for more collaborative learning, with greater student agency.


Public Moral Inquiry. Making visible underpinning and possibly conflicting values. Moral responsibility.

  • What responsibility does each stakeholder have? Eg. Each parent has a responsibility for every child.
  • What values do we want to underpin the school's policy? Eg. Restorative (no child should leave the school) vs punishment. What happens if Restorative doesn't work?
  • How can we tease out the various merits of different positions? What do we agree on?
Pete and I spent 30 minutes exploring and discussing the elements of the map, testing whether we had captured his concerns and thinking, and also what it opened up in terms of possibility. A key "break through" was the framing of bullying as part of a spectrum of relationship dynamics, enabling it to be linked to the school's core business in a positive way.

Pete said once he got over the Greek names he found the 7 lenses very logical and useful - and it was helpful to see the whole picture and how they interacted. He found one section -phronesis, considering the wisdom of the parents  - an important perspective that he had missed. He said if we were to take into account all of it, there is no way we could do this with a parent group in 1.5 hours. So we framed this as a touch-stone - something to help our thinking - and inform the design of the parent workshop.

We both had homework  for our next meeting - Pete to design the parent workshop, and me to consider how to engage the Grade 4/5 students in a transforming leadership role.

Dr Sue Stack

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