[This article is cross-posted at The Teachers Lounge blog. Thanks to Brandi Jordan for the invitation to guest blog there.]

Last week, my family and I went to see a stage adaptation of The Little Prince. A scene in it reminds me of the always-complex, sometimes-awkward relationship between parents and school administrators, particularly when it comes to determining what is best for a child.

In the play, the Little Prince meets a fox in the Sahara desert. The Prince is cautious of the fox, but is also curious. Then the fox makes an unusual request: for the Prince to tame him.

“What does that mean — ‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”

“‘To establish ties’?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”

In our ordinary existence, men and foxes are enemies. But this fox and this boy are different, and their relationship grows from an open mind and willingness to listen to each other.
“Please — tame me!” he said.

“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”

“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything….”

“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox.

Administrators and parents aren’t seeking friendship, of course. But we can learn some things from this story about how to effectively collaborate. Here are a few things to remember when you interact with school administrators that will help you make progress. You may even find in the end that you’ve tamed one or two.

  1. Administrators are human beings. This is both a positive and a negative. We are imperfect. We have feelings, strengths, and limitations. We need to learn and grow, just as you do. We get anxious and tired and frustrated just like you do.
  2. Administrators care about your child. Our level of concern is different, and we care in different ways, but I do not know a single school administrator who thinks of your child as simply a test score, a “student of the month” certificate, or a discipline report. We are in this business to help children, and we work hard to make that possible for every child in our care.
  3. We are not the enemy. That we have a different perspective and possibly a different solution to a problem does not mean we are opponents. Entering the process with the assumption we are looking forward to putting up roadblocks and launching counterattacks just invites anxiety.
  4. This is not a contract negotiation. A corollary to #3 is to remember the objective of any meeting with a school administrator. The goal is not for one “side” or the other to “win,” and if either party enters the situation with the sole purpose of getting what they want, then the only loser will be the child. There are no sides, or rather there is one side: the needs of the child. Enter instead with the intention of agreeing together first about the problem, then to work as a team to create a solution that works for everyone.
  5. Administrators have the same goal as you…. We want your child to learn, grow, and succeed. Just as you do. You know your child as an individual far better than we ever can, and just as the fox advises the Prince to do, a wise administrator will spend a great deal of time patiently listening to a parent in order to understand.
  6. …but our context is different. Please remember that the administrator knows the teachers, the curriculum, the school and the field of education far better than you do. It is also our job to ensure that school resources are used equitably and responsibly, and we are often forced to make difficult compromises. A little time invested in trying to comprehend our world will go a long way in building a good working relationship.

Just like the fox and the Prince grow to need each other, so do the parent and the administrator. Neither of us can do our jobs well without the support and collaboration of the other.

Parents may feel intimidated or defensive when meeting with administrators, and this leads to meetings where the parent comes in “armed for bear” (or perhaps foxes) and anticipating a fight. Try instead to tame the school administrator with a little patience and understanding. Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, includes this as Habit 5: Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood. Do this, and you will probably find that you and your child have an excellent experience with the school.

One last tip: Unless you happen to know that they are fans of The Little Prince, it may not be a good idea to actually tell an administrator you are trying to tame them. Let that just be between us.