Parent-Teacher Relationships: It Takes Two
It’s no secret that teachers and parents, working together, provide the educational ecosystem that helps students succeed in school. Both groups are critically important to the process and where there is a strong partnership students flourish. Research confirms the following student outcomes:
- Increased student motivation
- Better attitude towards school
- Better sense of well-being
- Better behavior
- Higher academic achievement
What could possibly go wrong?
Recognizing the benefits of working together doesn’t necessarily make it easy. One Christian school administrator must have been chuckling as he asked…what could possibly go wrong? After all, we only deal with people’s children, their money and religion. Throw in classroom discussions involving social issues and politics and…what could possibly go wrong?
In my opinion, the goal for improving home-school relationships is the shift from a “contract” mentality to a sense of community. From transactional to relational! In other words, parents don’t just deposit their children at the school door and leave everything to the teacher. Nor do teachers expect parents to mind their own business. Each expects cooperation, assistance and support; recognizing that we’re in this…together!
The starting place for building positive parent-teacher partnerships is a foundation of trust, confidence and mutual respect layered with effective, on-going communication. However, even with these systems in place, it still takes effort to build positive partnerships. So, here’s a few tips for teachers and parents.
What Teachers Can Do
- Maintain regular communication by sending home classroom newsletters, consistent posting of homework and grades into the parent portal and use of shared software apps, like DoJo, which connect the home and school.
- Inform parents when there is a change in behavior or if grades are slipping. Early awareness of a problem leads to quicker interventions and support at home. Kids are often reluctant to tell parents about low grades or the social problems they’re having at school. In many cases students aren’t quite able to articulate what’s wrong, they just “feel” a certain way and get stuck.
- Be accessible. A recent Barna report ranked teacher accessibility amongst the top three qualities parents value in a school. This means answering parent emails promptly and returning phone calls as quickly as possible. Accessibility also applies to being available to students as needed, before or after school, at recess, or even the occasional…gasp…lunch period.
- Demonstrate a disposition of understanding, encouragement and mercy. Wear it like a beautiful garment. These are attractive qualities that reinforce a relational connection. It helps parents and students feel the teacher is approachable. It’s interesting to me, how attractive Jesus was to children. In the Bible we hear him say, “Let the children come to me.” It’s true that children learn many important lessons through applied consequences and strict enforcement of classroom rules but sprinkling a little mercy into the mix teaches important lessons, too. Great teachers focus not only on compliance but on connections and relationships. It has been said, “A good teacher knows the rules. A great teacher knows the exceptions.”
“A good teacher knows the rules. A great teacher knows the exceptions.”
What Parents Can Do
- Be positive. No matter how much a parent thinks they are not projecting personal frustrations upon their children, students pick up on these sentiments and mirror those same attitudes at school.
- Don’t be overly disappointed or punitive when a child’s work slips. Extreme reactions heap additional pressure and anxiety upon your child and it’s usually counter-productive. Be assured, your child is already internalizing their personal disappointment for a failed test or a low grade. Instead, be encouraging and supportive while establishing interventions and routines that will move your child toward improvement.
- Give teachers the “benefit-of-the-doubt.” If this were a Poker game, the “benefit-of-the-doubt” chip would be of maximum value. Every teacher cherishes this chip. They hope parents will withhold judgment about a situation until they’ve heard the teacher’s side of the story. A child’s perception or recollection of events isn’t always accurate. Sometimes they miss details or, in some cases, purposely leave out parts of the story that are incriminating. (Why? See #2 above.) Of course, parents need to believe their children, but getting clarification from the teacher goes a long way toward strengthening the relationship and resolving concerns. If the trust factor and confidence level are high, the benefit-of-the-doubt chip will sound something like, “Hmmm, that doesn’t seem like something that teacher would say/do. Let me call and get clarification.”
- Have a growth mindset for your child. When faced with academic challenges or hard to learn lessons, don’t blame the teacher or your child. Instead, have a growth mindset that recognizes hard work and effort will pay off. A growth mindset believes in the power of “Yet.” I don’t understand it…yet! I don’t know how to solve this math problem …yet, but I will! A growth mindset embraces the idea that if all learning was easy, how fun would that be?
What We All Can Do
- Make an appointment to discuss the more important issues. Impromptu drop-in discussions or carline conversations aren’t always the best time or place for conferences.
- Listen and Learn. Building partnerships between parents and teachers relies on taking the time to understand each other’s perspectives. Parents know their children best and teachers can gain valuable insights that may help unlock a child’s learning. Teachers, on the other hand, offer parents the gift of “third-party objectivity.” Their observations about children in an academic environment (away from parental oversight) are important and can assist parents in their efforts to shape their child’s character and growth.
- Be tactful and kind. Approach concerns and disagreements in a manner that encourages mutual problem solving and respect. Attack the problem, not the person. Don’t be defensive. Admit mistakes and forgive one another.
Pursuing positive parent-teacher relationships is a worthwhile goal for all parents and teachers. A healthy home-school connection cultivates the optimum learning environment and increases the likelihood that children will thrive in their education and relationships. We’re in this together!
– Mr. G
His name is Bo Gutzwiller. But to the students and families of Foothill Christian School, he is simply “Mr. G.”
Mr. G has been the superintendent of Foothill Christian School since 1987. As Superintendent, he has led FCS through six accreditation visits and championed program growth to include a junior high program from just two self-contained classrooms to one that instructs 145 students with classes in advanced placement math, Spanish and over 25 elective course offerings. His passion for excellence has been a driving force for significant expansion in the area of technology, athletics, library services, as well as the creation of an award-winning Fine Arts Department. When it comes to his passion for education and philosophy about learning, motivation is what makes all the difference: “I not only place high emphasis on nurturing and developing students’ minds, but also unleashing their inspired potential. The MQ—the motivational quotient– is as important as the IQ, because inspiration and motivation can sustain you in the end. It’s about one’s drive to work hard, to be deeply committed, and to engage passionately in those things that one believes and dearly loves.”