The Essential Conversation

The Essential Conversation: What parents and teachers can learn from each other

The Essential Conversation - Parent Teacher Advocacy

I'm thrilled to highlight the work of Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot in this blog post. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Ph.D. is a Professor of Education at Harvard University. She is a sociologist interested in research surrounding the intersection between families and schools. She writes with incredible insight and  great appreciation for the intricacies involved in parent-teacher relationships. Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot unveils that both teachers and parents often walk into bi-annual conferences with an underlying anxiety, even dread.  These feelings can negatively impact the quality of the conversation as well as the outcome of the parent-teacher conference. Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot interviewed both teachers and parents and observed many parent-teacher conferences first-hand to more closely examine these dynamics. She notes that teachers enter the field with little preparation for how best to facilitate parent-teacher conferences, and parents have even less guidance. Teachers often report feeling intimidated or defensive in response to parent concerns. Parents often experience the same feelings of intimidation or defensiveness in response to teachers' concerns.  The ritual is typically polite, but the underlying emotional experience can be trying for teachers and parents alike. 

I find this book fascinating for two reasons. First, Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot brilliantly illustrates the emotional nuances involved in parent-teacher relationships. She highlights a dynamic that resonates powerfully with both educators and families. As an educator and a parent of a school-aged child, I can deeply identify with Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot's work. Second, I can't help but draw parallels between the dynamics involved in traditional parent-teacher conferences and those experienced by families and educators in annual IEP meetings. I can't help but wonder... to what extent are these dynamics magnified when a child has a disability? When families and school teams are in disagreement around services? When a child is not making reasonable progress toward annual goals? Although Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot did not extend her research into the arena of special education, I can only imagine that the tensions are higher, and the dynamics are more complex.

This book is one of the most powerful reads on the many ways in which parents and teachers can learn from each other. Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot helps us understand multiple perspectives. She writes with the expertise of a Harvard professor and educator, the passion of a mother, and the insight of a sociologist. I highly recommend this text to both families and educators. Below is a brief video of Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot sharing an overview of her book. May her work inspire us all to listen for the purpose of understanding and to place kids at the heart of our decisions. 

-Dr. Kimberly Melton Lechner


“Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is an author, educator, researcher, and public intellectual. She has pioneered an innovative social science method called "portraiture," written eleven books, serves on numerous professional and scholarly boards and committees, and has received 30 honorary degrees. A MacArthur Prize-winning sociologist, she is the first African-American woman in Harvard University's history to have an endowed professorship named in her honor.”

Kimberly Lechner