Inter-personal relationships are tricky. Talk shows focus on them, books give advice about them and specialists speak about them. Not much is said about the parent-teacher relationship, though.
Maybe that’s because there is a common thread with the other pairings. BFFs, marriage partners, parent-child relationships and even business affiliations share a need for open, frequent and continual communication to maintain and grow the ties that bind them together. But parents and their child’s teacher have different parameters.
Parent-teacher relationships are unique.
- They are not true personal bonds or business associations. The link comes with an expiration date. It can last as briefly as a school year for young children and a semester for teens and college students. Parents continue on as the teacher side of the relationship has many replacements.
- The communication boundaries differ, too. Constant and frequent contact may have parents written off as over-bearing helicopter parents, hovering needlessly over their children. On the other hand, when teachers reach out, they don’t want to contact a head in the sand ostrich parent who is unaware or an invisible parent who is unreachable.
- And the parent-teacher relationship is really a trio with the adult pair focusing not on their own best interests but that of a third person: the student with the backdrop of the school (policies, administrators, other parents and students).
So what are the best ways for parents to communicate with teachers to help their child?
As a parent of two children, I lived through many parent-teacher relationships from pre-school through college. I also have spoken with new teachers and old pros. Here are some suggestions:
Show up Whether it’s a primary school Meet the Teacher night, a secondary school Teacher Conference, or College Family Day, it is important for parents to show up. It demonstrates you have made your child’s education a priority to school staff and your offspring. It also gives you an opportunity to collect contact information (email, phone numbers), take a close look at school facilities, and learn more about your student’s studies. Consider the interaction as a fact finding meet and greet that can be used to gain further insight into what can be done to enhance your child’s learning experience
Head’s up Parents sometimes have advanced or special knowledge that students are unable or unwilling to share but school staff should know. So, alert educators to potential problems about something serious that may affect a student’s academic or social behavior. Depending on the child’s age, this can be anything from unusually late nights to arranging for homework/rescheduling tests from absences due to illness to a family tragedy. Teachers appreciate a head’s up about possible issues that may impact student interactions so they can be on the look out and ready to help.
Informal contact Sometimes issues arise in school that students cannot resolve by themselves-but this should be tried before parent involvement. Use the contact info (see Show up) to connect by phone or email. State the problem succinctly and your suggestion/expectations for resolution. Although privacy laws usually prevent colleges from disclosing student info to parents of college students, there are exceptions and parents can also get the student’s permission for disclosure.
Formal meeting Parents or teachers may request a face-to-face meeting for complicated or hard to resolve issues. This is also a good time to use the team approach to exchange observations, listen to feedback and brainstorm solutions including the need for other professionals, experts, and resources.
Join Parents don’t have to negotiate the education system alone. You can join a PTA (Parent Teacher Association), SEPTA (Special Education Parent Teacher Association), and PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association often for older students). Colleges also have parent organizations. Meet other parents, teachers and students. Join a committee to work together on projects. This takes the parent-teacher relationship to a whole new level.
Email, phone, or in person meetings are most effective when both teachers and parents understand each other and work together. So take a deep breath and think objectively before communicating. It is important to keep emotions in check however parents interact with teachers.
Read on for Suzanne’s suggestions and questions for parents to ask in her great Wednesday’s Parent post Parent-teacher communication.
Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!
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