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Are Staff Children Different? (Part II)

By Dallin Bywater
Are Staff Children Different? (Part II)

In Part I of this series, I proposed that staff children are different from their peers because of (and through no fault of their own) the cognitive and social biases that exist around them. Staff children often are given more attention, have unique social standing, and at times are treated differently when it comes to privileges and discipline at school. If you have taught a colleague’s child before, you likely would agree that the experience is different from teaching a non-staff child.
So how do we approach this phenomenon in which staff children are perceived and treated differently from their peers? How do we create a healthier environment for these international school children who number in the thousands around the world?
Here are a few tips for creating a healthy school environment for staff children, their educator parents, and their international school peers:
1. Talk about the issue. If we don’t talk about the unique situation of staff children, then we will continue to make the same mistakes, creating an unhealthy education environment. Do not be afraid to broach the subject and to have an open dialogue.
2. Make healthy professional boundaries a topic of training and continuing conversation. Staff need to be explicitly trained on how to maintain professional boundaries and how to discuss these issues, so that they share a common language and common expectations. Cognitive and social biases have less power if people are allowed to voice concerns and talk through uncomfortable situations.
3. Set appropriate professional boundary expectations for staff. It should be clear to staff parents and their teachers that teachers are expected (and encouraged) to treat staff children and their peers equitably. Permission for teachers to do so relieves some of the perceived social pressure teachers may feel to favor or highlight staff children.
4. Avoid personal boundary conflicts and model professional behavior, especially if you are in a leadership role. If you identify a clear conflict between your own parent and employee roles, voice the concern, give yourself additional time to make fair decisions, and consult with others. Excuse yourself from conversations or meetings that might jeopardize ethical professional boundaries. An administrator should probably not attend a discipline meeting organized around his or her own child, for example. In any meeting parents would typically not be asked to join, it is likely not appropriate for you to mix your educator and parent identities.
5. Assume that fellow staff have positive intentions. Parents, including staff parents, do not want to make a situation worse for their child. Sometimes staff members who are parents need help identifying problematic areas. Engage in conversation around these topics, and invite others to point out boundary issues that might be hard for you to discern on your own. Be forgiving, flexible, and open to these conversations.
6. Allow flexibility in supporting staff parents. Make sure that staff parents have opportunities to attend parent workshops that are not in direct conflict with their teaching schedules.
Staff children did not ask to be placed in an unhealthy, power-unbalanced environment. It is our responsibility to even the playing field, creating a healthy learning environment for all of our students, especially those who are vulnerable or in unique situations. As we improve professional boundaries and increase productive dialogue about staff children, international educators and students will all benefit.
Dallin Bywater is a third culture kid (TCK) and an international school counselor in China.

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