Archive for November, 2015


November 6, 2015 Comments Off on TEACHERS AND COMPASSION FOR FAMILIES General



Bernard Malamud once wrote, “We have children because we believe we can love.” I think this is true – the desire to love and to share love with children seems to be engraved in human hearts. This desire, however, does not always come with full knowledge of or preparation for what parenthood will entail. How many of us can truly envision the dimensions of work and patience and resilience that will be demanded of us? Even when we were witnesses as children to the financial or emotional struggles of our own parents, we often cannot truly understand the vulnerability faced by all families until we have children of our own. It is never easy to be a parent or a family — all parents and families deserve recognition, respect, and compassionate support.

When we are asked the question, “What can teachers really do?” one of the many answers is that teachers can model deep regard and respect for the family of every child. In my recent chapter titled A Social Justice Approach to Diverse Families published in the Handbook of Early Childhood Teacher Education (Couse & Recchia, 2016, p. 305) I define parents “…flexibly to indicate the adult or adults who have major responsibility for the child and who are the primary source of communication between home and school.”  This definition was created to avoid unwieldy terminology or unintended exclusion of any form of family. As Berman and Enjoli (2010, p. 305) indicate – if you consider yourself a family you are a family! In my chapter I also consider the term “diverse families” to be all-inclusive – every family is considered to “…be part of the world of diversity in which we all live.” Any conceptualization of a “normal” family (often a family with White, married, heterosexual, and economically privileged parents) inevitably creates the idea of “diverse others” that can support bias and differential levels of respect and compassion.

Isn’t it time for all of us as educators to stand up to the deficit-based assumptions that exist about so many families of children who attend our schools? This does not mean that we must blindly accept parental or family circumstances or behaviors that are upsetting or difficult for us. It does mean that we always need to remind ourselves that they “had children because they believed they could love.” There are many ways that we can show every parent or family member our acknowledgement of his or her capacity to love through compassionate support that enhances their confidence in their ability to be a loving and effective parent.

Every family is unique. If we take the approach of inquiry, we can always locate funds of knowledge and better understand the funds of identity of the families of children in our classrooms. An approach of inquiry requires us to relinquish blanket judgments (e.g. “Parents who don’t care about education”) and to make a genuine effort to communicate with and learn more about families. A friend of mine who is a principal once said, “Every child brings his or her very best parent to school.” Our students love and depend on their families, even when we might be tempted to judge them as inadequate. If we as educators are willing to reach out to all families for the sake of the children in our schools and classrooms, we may well encounter a wealth of knowledge that improves our daily practice. For the sake of children – for the sake of families – for our sake as educators who want to move the world forward – let’s do it.


Couse, L. J. & Recchia, S. L. (2016). Handbook of Early Childhood Teacher Education. New York, Routledge.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator and advocate for children