I have had the distinct honor of meeting, and attending lectures and retreat workshops presented by, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot a few times over the years. Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot is the Emily Hargroves Fisher* Professor of Education at Harvard University. She is a sociologist who examines the culture of schools, the broad ecology of education, and the relationship between human development and social change. With the fall parent-teacher conferences on the horizon, and with a keen interest in the home-school partnership and all that we value about it at BFS, I offer the following post and videos (and, if the second video appears too long, watch the first video, and I’d suggest stepping into the second one at the 23:00 mark).
“With the insights she has gleaned from her close and subtle observation of parent-teacher conferences, renowned Harvard University professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot has written a wise, useful book about the ways in which parents and teachers can make the most of their essential conversation—the dialogue between the most vital people in a child’s life. “The essential conversation” is the crucial exchange that occurs between parents and teachers—a dialogue that takes place more than one hundred million times a year across our country and is both mirror of and metaphor for the larger cultural forces that define family-school relationships and shape the development of our children. Participating in this twice-yearly ritual, so friendly and benign in its apparent goals, parents and teachers are often wracked with anxiety. In a meeting marked by decorum and politeness, they frequently exhibit wariness and assume defensive postures. Even though the conversation appears to be focused on the student, adults may find themselves playing out their own childhood histories, insecurities, and fears.
Through vivid portraits and parables, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot captures the dynamics of this complex, intense relationship from the perspective of both parents and teachers. She also identifies new principles and practices for improving family-school relationships. In a voice that combines the passion of a mother, the skepticism of a social scientist, and the keen understanding of one of our nation’s most admired educators, Lawrence-Lightfoot offers penetrating analysis and an urgent call to arms for all those who want to act in the best interests of their children. For parents and teachers who seek productive dialogues and collaborative alliances in support of the learning and growth of their children, this book will offer valuable insights, incisive lessons, and deft guidance on how to communicate more effectively. In The Essential Conversation, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot brings scholarship, warmth, and wisdom to an immensely important cultural subject—the way we raise our children.” (From the hardcover edition.)
“For every parent who has ever suffered the anxiety of a parent-teacher conference, this book is an incredibly honest and insightful look at the undercurrents in this essential relationship between a child’s parents and teachers. Lawrence-Lightfoot, Harvard professor of Education, explores the dynamics at work in the parent-teacher conference, from the subtle institutional barriers that make parents feel unwelcome to the defensiveness of teachers who feel their competence is being challenged. The author draws on her own experiences as a student and a parent as well as narratives from an economic and racial cross section of parents and teachers. She begins by exploring the reverberations of the parents’ and teachers’ own past experiences as students and how that experience haunts the present. She explores often unacknowledged or even unrecognized psychological and social factors, including the different dynamics at work in conferences at poor inner-city schools versus wealthy suburban ones. Lawrence-Lightfoot also offers much useful advice here for both parents and teachers on achieving the cooperation needed to reach the common goal of educating children.” (Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved )
Other great books by Dr. Sara Lawrence Lightfoot
* Emily Hargroves Fisher (Emily has become a dear friend. Her stories about the impact of her experiences and education at two Friends schools – Greene Street Friends and Germantown Friends – ,and her lifelong commitment to service and supporting schools have always moved me.)