Empathetic Consciousness

By: Jeffrey Rothstein

­­If there is one adolescent trait that I value and quite frankly bet on every time, it is that adolescents are among the most resilient creatures on earth. This resilience is catalytic in their growth, and in helping them deal with all manner of challenges. Unfortunately, adults’ much lower level of resilience often makes working through such challenges more difficult.

Educators of middle level students often discuss what it means to be a parent of an adolescent and how we need to communicate with this understanding foremost in our minds. Middle school is often the time when parents stop being their child’s ultimate teacher. Adolescents are testing the waters of independence, and as a result, they seek detachment from their parents in a variety of ways. At the same time, they increasingly seek support for academic, social, creative, and athletic challenges from peers.

Likewise, the relationship between adolescent student and teacher evolves as students start navigating their identity as pre-adults. Adolescence has been described as “adulthood with a safety net.” As a result, students begin seeing their teachers less as their parent at school and more as the cool aunt or uncle, and in some cases, their buddy.

Educators need to understand how this shift affects parents, and thus the parent- school relationship. No longer acting as primary teacher and confidante, parents experience their own emotional separation anxiety, which has a direct effect on the parent-teacher relationship. The trust dynamics and potential skepticism are different than with younger children and their teachers. Understanding this emotional shift is integral when communicating with parents.

The old adage “kids don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” applies equally to parents. When we communicate with parents, information IS important, but less so than conveying very clearly that we really care about their students.

Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy for a moment.

As educators, we need to make kids feel safe, secure, and confident before helping them self-actualize, which is a vulnerable process that cannot take place unless the other needs are satisfied. Doesn’t this hierarchy also apply to how we relate to the parents? Parents need to believe their child is safe, secure, and valued as part of the community. Being mindful of these needs for student and parent alike allows for all communication with parents to be positive and supportive, even when we have to discuss challenges.

When communicating with parents, we must be mindful that although we have 20–24 students to discuss, they have one child in your class, and in each conversation, we need to treat that child and that conversation as the most important one we have.

Jeffrey Rothstein is director of grades 6–8 and athletics at Cliff Valley School in Atlanta, Georgia.

E-mail: jrothstein@cliffvalleyschool.org

Blog: http://jeffreyrothstein.wordpress.com/


2 comments on article "Empathetic Consciousness"

I found this article very interesting because it is something that we do not talk about much in education classes. As a pre-service teacher, I have learned a lot about having a safe and challenging environment for my students and how to build relationships with their parents, but we rarely consider the struggle most parents experience when their adolescent child is beginning to find support from other adults. As teachers, I think we have to show parents that we value their role and their knowledge of their child in order to avoid crossing boundaries when guiding and instructing their children.

11/10/2014 6:45 AM

Mr. Rothstein,

Thank you for your views on developing empathetic understanding of both the student and parent as they work through trying times. As a future teacher, this is an interesting point of view to look at. We think about the students, and how they are experiencing school. However, the parent's point of view is not often discussed. Even as parents become less of an influence in their children's lives, they still play a vital role in child development. The parents are going through a time of change as well. Their children are growing up, becoming more independent, and trying to make it on their own. This is the time where parents really start to see how they're parenting has affected that child for his or her future. Students develop morals and opinions of their own, not just mimicking what their parents say. So its important to keep both student and parent in mind as an educator.

Thank You for this article and your views on the subject.

4/13/2015 4:42 PM

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