Biomimetics, is defined as the copy-catting of ingenious ideas in the natural world. One borrowable concept is the power of three, exemplified in geometry’s shape, the triangle: “… fundamental to … our environments, both physical and virtual…they are exceptionally strong.” (University of Cambridge 2016, p 1) At quantum level, the Rule of Threes is an: “effect that requires three components … to ‘act like’ Borromean rings, an ancient symbol of three interconnected circles…if any one of the rings is removed … the structure falls apart. (Ritsch 2014, p. 1) Figuratively, this could link to the power of a strong partnership between parent, teacher and student. The current pandemic has flung this relationship into the headlights, requiring empowerment, empathy and effort to create an unbendable bond.
The COVID-19 effect
Author Hugh Mackay, in discussing Australian society, talks about, “the last straw syndrome” where: “… even quite minor upsets can feel like one thing too many.” (Magrath & Edwards 2009, p.205) If minor upsets are triggering exaggerated reactions, how much more so must the current crisis, the effects of which will reverberate for generations. In this context, the strengthening of relationships that offer solidarity and solace is urgent; therefore, parents need to know their value.
William W. Purkey states that, “… nothing is more important in life than people.” (Purkey 1992, p.5) This is true in the microcosm of the family, where parents need to understand their value as educators. Paul Jennings suggests to parents, “Go look in the mirror,” (Jennings 2003, blurb) in order to find their child’s best reading teacher. That parents are the first educators, teaching core concepts to their infants, is axiomatic; and professionals agree: “…parental engagement in learning in the homes is associated with increased cognitive abilities in the early years.” (Desforges and Abouchaar, cited in Emerson & Fox 2012 p. 45) Sometimes, parents forget this, ‘handing the reins’ to strangers because they may feel that teachers know best. The truth is that parents, working in partnership with teachers, will strengthen the student’s chances of succeeding in an increasingly complex society. Rafe Esquith advises parents to remind their children that a broad education, “… does not end at 3.00.” (Esquith 2007, Appendix E) Involved parents will help their children see the value of knowledge beyond a narrow skillset; this can only enhance the learning accomplished in the classroom. The Research Spotlight comments that, “The role of teachers in communicating with parents to support student learning is more critical than ever.” (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership 2020, p. 10)
Especially, now, as society navigates the world of COVID-19. Effective communication has to be worked at; it has at its heart, the quality of empathy.
The role of empathic communication
Author, Susan Scott, declares: “The conversation is the relationship.” (Scott 2004, p.97) Excellent dialogue doesn’t come easy; especially in a stressful environment. The dynamics of teachers – as perceived experts, versus parents, who may feel defensive – is entering deep waters, where empathy is the life-jacket. Empathy is defined as the “capacity” to share and understand another’s “state of mind, or emotion.” (Ioannidou & Konstantikaki 2008, p.1)
It is a tool in the toolbox of emotional intelligence that is essential to hone: “The ability to understand…to disconnect from your personal feelings…is particularly important in creating effective and constructive relations.” (ibid, p. 119) Covid-19 has caused Australian schools to ‘turn on a dime’, entering a new dynamic with parents faced with teaching their children at home. This has opened a door of dialogue that needs to be wedged open permanently. Parents have voiced a “new-found respect” for teachers; they’ve had a glimpse of the complexities of teaching the modern child, transfixed by gaming and other technologies.
The teacher’s role
This brief glimpse, will soon be clouded-over by burgeoning anxieties, for example, “The ICRC is concerned that the Covid-19 pandemic may increase stress exponentially.” (International Committee of the Red Cross 2020, p.1) Teachers are under pressure from angry parents - way beyond the ‘last straw’. It takes great effort to stay calm and objective under fire; the biblical adage is that, “A mild answer turns away rage.” (Proverbs 15:1) Kind, well-chosen words can smooth over anxious feelings and misunderstandings. If the conversation is the relationship, then the words need to engage, not enrage. Dale Carnegie described a man, ruffled by a word:
“You fool! You mail me a cheap letter … then you have the gall to ask me when I am worried about the mortgage and the hollyhocks and my blood pressure … to acknowledge your letter … “promptly.” Don’t you know that I am just as busy as you are … And while we are on that subject, who gave you the lordly right to order me around? (Carnegie 1969, p.45)
Humorous, but true; teachers need to be equal partners; not assume the senior partner position. Carnegie advised: “… let your friends excel you … when we excel them - that gives them a feeling of inferiority …” (ibid p. 137) Acknowledging parental skills will keep the relationship balanced, rather than weighted by the power of bureaucracy. John Hattie speaks of the “IKEA effect”, noting that people highly value items that they have built themselves. (Hattie & Zierer 2018, p.135) When parents are invited to be a partner in constructing the piece of art - the adult of the future - they’ll value the partnership. The third side of the triangle is the students.
The student’s role
Students have felt the significance of uncertain times; they’ve seen the impacts on family and finances; some have returned to school with a new outlook. Suddenly, the three R’s take on a whole, new urgency. Students have benefitted from the heightened communication between home and school; they’ve seen a partnership develop between parents and teachers - that compels them to work harder; this is far too valuable to relinquish now. Students who ‘buy into’ the partnership will complete the unbendable bond.
The power of three
The Rule of Threes, encapsulated in the Borromean rings, where each ring supports the other two, is a fitting metaphor for the power of relationships, and the concept of a triangle, the strongest geometric form is worth a little biomimicry - in a figurative way. If parents see their value and teachers invite parents in as partners, then students will be compelled to increase their own commitment to future successes, strengthening them for the challenges ahead.
Evelyn Kiddie joined Clarkson Community High School as an English teacher in 2007 and has moved on to teach HASS as well. Evelyn is a life-long learner, a lover of language and knowledge. She works to invite students to develop, or discover, the same sense of wonder and enquiry in their lives.
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2020. What can teachers do to help parents and carers? https://www.aitsl.edu.au/research/spotlight/what-works-in-online-distance-teaching-and-learning.
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