That Really Works
We won't mince words here: parent-teacher communication is usually stressful. Whether it be in the context of parent
teacher conferences, or to informally discuss how a child is doing, both teacher and parent are likely to be on edge.
It's ironic, really. Parents and teachers are two of the biggest advocates for their kids' learning. Both really want to see
the child succeed. Both are concerned when there are problems, and both would like the support and cooperation of the other. But perhaps here is the
sticking point: both feel they are in charge of the child's education.
Both feel strongly about the needs of the child, and are worried that the other person won't really listen to them.
They may label each other: too clingy, too strict, not involved enough, too bossy. Parents may be remembering their own
difficult times in school, and feel anxious about meeting with a teacher. Teachers may feel threatened and overwhelmed at
what may feel like unrealistic expectations.
It's time for parents and teachers to get on the same team. Together, they are a potent and powerful force in helping their kids learn and
thrive. Try out these tips to make your parent-teacher communication positive and productive.
Tips for Parents
- Write down your questions and thoughts ahead of time. What you remember at home might fly right out of your head in the unfamiliar
classroom setting, and you will feel more confident and prepared if you can jog your memory with a few notes.
- Look beyond any negative things your child might have said about her teacher. Kids might say a teacher is
simply because she gives homework, or isn't quite as affectionate as last year's teacher. Keep an open mind and assume the best.
- If the teacher tells you of a problem, don't get defensive. If she states a concern, it's because she wants to keep you informed
and wants to help. Just because you may not have noticed that behavior doesn't mean it isn't happening in a different context. Instead
of denying what she is saying, say,
Can you tell me more about that? When does he act that way? or
I haven't noticed that behavior at home.
- Perhaps you are familiar with the problem behavior and have seen it at home. If there is something you do with your child
that seems to help, tell the teacher what has worked for you, and ask what has helped in the classroom. Good parent-teacher
communication may provide both of you with some new ideas.
- Do talk about your concerns, but don't blame or attack the teacher. Instead, say what you have noticed and keep your voice calm.
My child works on homework for 2 hours every night, and he seems to need help every step of the way. This concerns me. Or,
My child is afraid to go to school because Joey has been picking on him. Do you have any suggestions about how we can stop this?
- Show your appreciation. Even if you disagree with some of the teacher's choices, he is still doing his best to help your child.
Recognize that he has his hands full with a full class of kids all day, and this is difficult. Thank him for all he is doing to help
your child, and for taking the time to meet with you.
- Keep regular contact with the teacher, but don't overdo it. If you are unsure about how much parent involvement is the right amount, go ahead and ask the teacher.
appreciate being able to talk with you about my daughter's progress, but I know you are busy. Does stopping by for a brief visit
every couple of weeks sound ok to you?
Tips for Teachers
- Recognize that many parents will be intimidated by you. For some people, talking with a teacher is equivalent to
chatting with a cop: it doesn't matter how friendly the conversation is, they are going to feel stressed. Put parents at ease by listening
closely to what they say about their kids, validating their efforts to help their kids, and being genuinely welcoming.
- Stay unbiased. Teachers will talk amongst themselves, and occasionally the talk may portray a certain parent in a
not-so-friendly light. Your experience may be very different, so keep an open mind and assume the best.
- Remember that parents are teachers too. They are in charge of helping kids with homework and explaining difficult concepts, and
often feel inadequately equipped to do this well. Treat parents as teaching partners and give concrete suggestions for ways they can
help at home. Show an easy card game that gives adding practice, or suggest ways to help with reading.
- Listen compassionately to parents, even if you don't feel they are giving kids the attention you feel they deserve.
If their circumstances are preventing them from giving their child the help or support they need, brainstorm together about possible
Is there someone else who she can stay with after school? Do you have a neighbor who can help her with homework?
- Encourage parents to ask questions and to talk about concerns. Parents may feel shy to bring up something they would really like to
talk to you about. Be open and attentive as you listen, and try not to take criticisms to heart. Instead of getting defensive, ask if
she has any suggestions. If you feel that it would be best to continue what you have been doing, tell the parent why you feel this way
and offer to get together in a few weeks to check in about the child's progress.
The great majority of teachers and parents are working toward the same goal: they are trying to do what is best for their kids.
Each parent and teacher has different strengths which, when combined in partnership, are all the more powerful in raising and
teaching kids. Positive parent-teacher communication will provide opportunities to connect, ask questions, solve problems together,
and work together to help the child you both care for have the best learning experience possible.
Thanks to Bill Kralovec
and Santa Barbara Catholic School
for their photos of parent-teacher communication.