Of all the new things in the beginning of the school year — new backpacks, new lunchboxes, new clothes — the prospect of new relationships tends to bring the most anxiety for parents, particularly the relationship between child, teacher, and parent. Parents may wonder, will my son get along well with his teacher? Will I get along well with my daughter's teacher?
The importance of a good relationship fit for teachers and students is crucial, and of equal importance is the relationship between parents and teachers. A positive partnership between parents and teachers has far reaching benefits. Research has shown students earn better grades, have more positive attitudes toward school, attend school more regularly, and engage in more positive behavior when their teacher and parents have a good relationship.
Parents and teachers often get along well, which can develop into a great partnership. But there are many times throughout the school year that can cause strains in that partnership. Teachers are placed under enormous pressure to have all of their students be successful, sometimes with limited resources. On the other hand, parents are under pressure to ensure that their child is successful in school, while sometimes feeling powerless to make changes in the educational system. Sometimes parents and teachers agree on what is best, and sometimes they do not. Below are some effective ways for parents and teachers to develop a partnership in spite of the many challenges:
1. Collaboration. Parents, students, and teachers are essential parts of the collaborative process and hold shared ownership and responsibility. Kathleen Minke, PhD, NCSP, former president of the National Association of School Psychologists outlines the CORE (connection, optimism, respect, empowerment) model for effective collaboration through promoting underlying CORE beliefs. For connection, trust develops when all parties feel valued and understood. Optimism involves believing that the parties involved want what is best for the student and are doing the best that they can within the constraints of their environment. Finally, collaboration involves respect for all parties involved and empowerment through shared decision-making and partnership.
2. Communication. Sometimes parents and teachers only communicate when there is something wrong, which can strain a relationship. Parents should make an effort to establish a relationship early on with their child's teacher by reaching out, attending back to school events, and/or volunteering if possible. Teachers should make attempts to communicate with parents often, even when there is not a problem. Together, parents and teachers should establish a communication schedule for the year, outlining the frequency (daily, weekly) and method (log, email, phone conversation). A recent study found that when parents received a short, weekly message from their child's teacher outlining areas for student improvement, it benefitted that child's academic achievement. Just communicating a sentence each week to parents made a difference.
3. Empathy and understanding. The saying, "It is difficult to dislike someone whose story you know" rings true; everyone has a story, and assuming that each person wants to and is doing their best in the current situation, can go far in a collaborative partnership. Parents want what is best for their children, so sometimes it can be hard to hear from the teacher that things are not going well. Teachers want their students to be successful, so it can be difficult to hear a parent asking for the teaching to be done differently. Assuming the best in the other party and utilizing joint problem solving – rather than becoming defensive—will nurture the home school partnership.
All relationships require effort and patience, particularly the most important ones. Parents and teachers may not always agree, but for the sake of our children it is essential that we try. When it comes to the education of our children, we are all in this together.