Apr 3, 2013

Four Steps to a Great Parent/Teacher Relationship

How do you feel about communicating with your child's teacher?  I remember when our oldest son started pre-school, and I felt like a little kid myself as I attended my very first parent/teacher conferences as a parent.  Who was the expert on my child, me or the teacher?  How much input did the teacher want from me, and how much was I just supposed to listen?

As a teacher myself, I often put myself in the shoes of my child's teacher as I approach conferences and even everyday communication.  And with four kids in school, we have had to negotiate some difficult conversations with a few teachers over the years!  

Now our oldest is in high school, and I have certainly learned some good lessons about communicating with teachers.  Here are four steps to establishing a great working relationship as you communicate with your child's teachers.

1.  Start off by giving the benefit of the doubt to the teacher.  

Listen, I know your child is perfect.  However, sometimes she might exaggerate.  Sometimes he might not represent things correctly.  You will show respect for the teacher when you listen carefully to her perspective.   As tempting as it is, don't always assume your child can do no wrong.

2.  Words of affirmation go a long way.

Who doesn't love to hear nice things about themselves?  A few kind words at the beginning of an email or a phone call establish a friendly tone and will put the recipient at ease.  As a teacher, I always try to begin a conversation with parents by complimenting their child.  As a parent, I show that the teacher and I are on the same team when I find something positive to say from the get-go.

3.   Don't be afraid to be the expert on your child.

You have known your child for longer than the teacher. You see her in all kinds of situations, and have a parent's intuition about your child.  As a teacher, I love to hear stories and anecdotes about my students because it helps me know them as people and understand them as learners.  Share your knowledge of your child with his teacher.  If you have an idea or insight about his or her learning, don't be afraid to communicate it to the teacher.
Conversely, listen carefully to the teacher's take on your son or daughter.  Often times, teachers and other adults notice important aspects to our children that we parents might overlook or dismiss.

4.  More communication is better than less.  

Most teachers are teachers because they love children and have a passion for helping them learn and succeed.  They can do that job best when they work in tandem with parents and families.  Don't make the mistake of assuming your child's teacher doesn't want to hear from you - he or she does!  Never hesitate to communicate with your child's teacher, whether by a note in your child's folder, an email or a quick phone call.  Did your child have a hard morning?  Shoot a heads-up email to the teacher, so she can be prepared.  Is your child struggling with the homework on a regular basis?  Instead of getting frustrated (well, maybe in addition to getting frustrated), get in touch with the teacher and see if she has any insights.  Remember, you both want the very best for your child.  
As children get older and move into middle and high school, communication between parents and teachers falls off precipitously.  This can be okay as the students take on more and more responsibility for their own learning and work.  However, I recommend establishing at least email contact with all of your older child's teachers!  Even just a quick check-in, or a line to say that your child mentioned something he learned in class can give the teacher a good vibe about you and your child. 

Teachers and parents, what would you add to this list? 

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