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The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other [Hardcover]

by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 26, 2003 037550527X 978-0375505270 1
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.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

On the surface, this book is about that most ordinary of human encounters-the parent/teacher meeting-that takes place more than 100 million times a year, usually in uncomfortable, undersized chairs. Beneath the smooth surface of this mostly polite exchange, according to Harvard education professor Lawrence-Lightfoot, lurk ancestral ghosts and ancient psychological themes, a turbulent mix of fears, anxieties, drives and biases that both parties bring to the table. Add to this the vectors of race, class, gender, culture and language, and you have a set of complex and passionate dynamics that often have as much to do with the adults' desires and needs as with those of the children. Parents and teachers have a lot to learn from each other, says Lawrence-Lightfoot, and these essential conversations are a crucial if neglected aspect of children's educational success. As in her previous works, Worlds Apart: Relationships Between Families and Schools and The Good High School: Portraits of Character and Culture, Lawrence-Lightfoot draws readers in with elegant prose and carefully drawn narrative portraits. Curiously, she does not feature any male elementary school teachers; their inclusion could have made the discussions of gender and power even more thought provoking and complex. But this is a minor shortcoming in an otherwise significant and thoughtfully rendered exploration of a social ritual many adults commonly experience but seldom examine. Anyone who has ever sat through a parent/teacher conference, on either side of the tiny table, will find much to consider in these pages.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

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. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (August 26, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037550527X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375505270
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #889,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is the Emily Hargroves Fisher Professor of Education at Harvard and the chair of the board of the MacArthur Foundation. As a sociologist, she examines the culture of schools, the patterns and structures of classroom life, socialization within families and communities, and the relationships between culture and learning styles.

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential to any teacher October 16, 2003
By A Customer
I bought this because because every teacher needs some help working alongside parents. I have yet to have a class (undergraduate/graduate) where we have been taught how to collaborate with parents. This is not a list of what to and what to not do with parents. Instead, this book shares many personal accounts of both teachers and parents.
As I work toward my doctoral degree, I will remember this book as a text in my teacher-training classes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Parents, Teachers a must read! March 14, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As an educator, I have recommended this book to everyone. It is so important to consider what each of us brings into a conversation about; our children and their education; parent/teacher relationships; and conducting classrooms where everyone is included!
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly engaging book. September 10, 2003
By "marqk"
This is certainly a "must-read" for both parents and teachers alike, in order to align their performance desires and expectations. This book paves the way for dialogue that is needed between parents and teachers.
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars repeat, repeat February 10, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Boring! Silly subject matter, says the same thing over and over. Unfortunately, it was for a class so I had to buy it.
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7 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much personal musings October 12, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I would not recommend this for the layman. The author is telling too many of her own stories.
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