Most teachers would say they collaborate well with their student’s parents. Every year, however, teachers report some of the craziest requests parents make on behalf of their kid. Some of these true stories include the following:
“I had a parent (and her son) who refused to sign my rules and expectations sheet at the beginning of the school year because one of my expectations in class was that students are awake and attentive. She argued that her high school aged son should be able to nap whenever he feels the need to.” (Wow. I guess we talk in their sleep?)
“I was teaching a Home Ec class and a parent told me I was unreasonable to expect the student to wash the dishes they used…that was my job and he was going to report me to the Ministry of Education!” (We don’t want them to get dishpan hands!)
“A high school student was skipping classes and not turning in his work. His mother wanted us to follow him in the hall to his next class (‘Follow him, but stay far enough away so he’s not embarrassed!’) and then make sure he went in to his next class (‘But don’t confront him because he doesn’t like that!’) She also demanded that since he couldn’t keep track of his binder that his teachers should carry the binder to the next class for him. She also emailed and called the school throughout the day to check on him.” (Hmmm. Is there anything else I can do for you?)
“One parent wanted the keys to all the tests and quizzes I gave my class to make sure I was grading correctly.” (So nice of this person to offer such support.)
“One of my fourth grade student’s mother told our school secretary she needed to blow on her daughter’s soup at lunch in case it was too hot.” (Poor baby!)
“A mom called to ask me to teach her ninth grader about hygiene. She recommended a crash course on brushing teeth, using deodorant and even table manners.”
Wow—there are far too many parents delegating their jobs.
The Kind of Leadership Students Need From Us Today
While I believe each of these parents meant well, but they failed to see their own damage. Students who make up Generation Z need us to balance two paradoxical leadership styles. Whether you’re a teacher, parent, coach, employer or youth worker, we must walk the fine line between the following two approaches:
We Must Balance Being:
1. Intentional – We must be proactive at coaching them to learn life’s essentials.
2. Laissez Faire – We must let them learn many things through trial and error.
Intentionality is key to our leadership today. The times are gone when parents or school leaders can hope that kids will pick up life skills such as resilience, patience, ethics, discipline or interpersonal skills. Our society, filled with smart technology, ensures they learn some skills (like searching for information), but it may leave them bankrupt when it comes to other skills. Adults must be intentional on the essentials that prep them for adulthood and for leadership in their world.
By the same token, we must be laissez faire on our approach to how they learn such skills. By this I mean, you cannot teach discipline or resilience with a lecture or video. It’s like riding a bike. They can’t learn it by reading a book. They must experience it firsthand, and maybe—just maybe—even skin their knee, navigate their fear and fall off and hurt themselves. Yes, I just said that.
I know, I know. That seems so wrong.
But you and I both know some things in life can’t be done for our children. We can create environments for them to learn, but kids must learn for themselves. I believe we can actually be intentional and laissez faire at the same time. When we introduce them to experiences that we know will prepare them for the future, but we let the environment do the teaching, then we will strike a great balance.
The Temptation for Both Styles
The temptation for intentional parents is to over-function—to do too much or to become too prescriptive in their leadership. The truth is—we must help them grow, but we cannot do it for them. They must “own” their life and their outcomes.
The temptation for laissez faire parents is to communicate we don’t care—to become absent from the process, where kids begin to feel alone or unsupported. The truth is, we must let them learn life skills through experience, but remain a guide on the side.
So—let me offer two questions to ask yourself as you lead your students:
1. Where do I see the need to back off and let them lead themselves?
2. Where do I see the need to communicate support and belief in them?