Three tips for maintaining the parent-teacher relationship

ATL LogoTeachers in the U.K. are concerned that parents are failing their children. In a talk at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mary Bousted said that children are arriving at school without being able to dress themselves, use the toilet properly, or eat at the table. Chlidren from various economic backgrounds are beginning school with social and language delays that interfere with classroom learning and behaviour, according to Bousted. And that may not be the biggest problem – a recent survey indicates that 40% of teachers in the U.K. have been confronted by an aggressive parent; this finding suggests that kids are arriving at schools lacking basic skills, and parents blame teachers for the difficulties that result. Other research has shown that positive parent-teacher relationships are related to improved school performance. It seems reasonable to me that parents who don’t respect their child’s teacher might also interfere with the relationship between the teacher and the child as well, which could in turn reduce the child’s willingness to comply with instructions and their motivation to work on difficult assignments.

So what can parents do to establish and maintain a working relationship with teachers? PBS.org has some suggestions:

  1. Be collaborative. Don’t walk into a meeting and confront the teacher about his or her mistakes. Instead, attempt to brainstorm  with the teacher to find solutions to the problems.
  2. Allow the child-teacher relationship to develop on its own. I can’t think of very much that could destroy a child’s motivation to comply with a teacher than a parent who verbally attacks a teacher in front of the child. If you disagree with something a teacher has done, listen as calmly as possible to your child’s feelings about what happened. Validate their feelings and comfort them, but try to avoid negative statements about the teacher. Later, when you feel calm, speak to the teacher about what happened; don’t do this in front of your child, though. More than likely, your child will spend several hours per day, five days per week with that teacher. Regardless of your feelings about the teacher, your child is the one who has to work for him or her. And remember, you’ve only heard your child’s interpretation of what happened. There are two sides to every story.
  3. Communication is essential, but how and when you communicate is important. If you write the teacher a note, keep it to the point. If you need to speak to the teacher, set up a meeting or a call when they’ll have time to talk to you. Prepare for meetings by listing your questions and concerns. Try to make specific statements about your child’s difficulties rather than general ones. Provide clear observations and describe what worked in the past. Even if you don’t see eye-to-eye with the teacher, finding out how you can help your child meet the classroom goals might reduce his or her stress in the long run.

Parents, we’d love to hear how you’ve handled difficulties with teachers. Teachers – what’s helped you to improve relationships with parents?

You can read more about the study here.

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6 Responses to Three tips for maintaining the parent-teacher relationship
  1. Janet Shepard
    April 6, 2009 | 8:53 pm

    For kindergarten or pre-k students and families a better title might be forming strong parent teacher relationships. Our Missouri school districts are required to have a written transition to kindergarten plan. Practical Parenting Partnerships offers a one day training on writing and implementing the plan. Goals include 1) children ready for school 2) families ready to support learning 3) schools ready to receive the students and 4) communities supportive of all of the above. Clearly communicating expectations, finding common goals and working from the perspective of what is right rather than what is wrong are ways to foster and maintain healthy parent teacher relationships.

  2. brianmacdonald
    April 6, 2009 | 9:19 pm

    Wow, Janet! It sounds like your students and their families are well-prepared for starting school. Both of my sons participated in a “Ready to Learn” program in the spring before starting Junior Kindergarten at 4 years old. They spent an afternoon per week for 10 weeks in the class where they’d be going to school, meeting staff and getting used to the routines. The staff worked hard to connect with parents, and they said from the start that the program was as much about preparing moms and dads as it was about getting the kids ready.

    Research has shown that successful transitions are an important part of maintaining a positive attitude toward school. Does Missouri have similar programs for the move from elementary to intermediate/high school?

  3. Janet Shepard
    April 7, 2009 | 7:15 am

    Is everyone well prepared? Of course not, but at least the conversation is there and steps toward achieving are positive just as you described with your own children. The staff you describe is doing what I would hope teachers around the globe would understand and practice. In working with parents, just as in working with children, we get what we expect — if we believe parents will be involved at home and school, they will. If we expect angry, uncoopeative parents, that’s what we get. No, we do not have training for other transition points yet, but it is on the to-do list.

  4. [...] schools to declare war on parents April 15th, 2009 by brianmacdonald // Hot on the heels of last week’s story about U.K. teachers who believe that parents are failing to provide their kids with basic skills, [...]

  5. Agnes
    April 24, 2009 | 12:51 pm

    Such an important relationship. We asked hundreds of schools across Canada how they ensure positive parent relationships… here’s what they said: Family camping weekends, parent breakfast clubs, staring parents and students in school plays…. read all the responses and advice here: http://www.dialogueonline.ca/article.php?id=145

  6. [...] Nurture the parent-teacher relationship. Researchers have found that the interactions between parents and teachers can have an effect on kids’ school performance. It stands to reason that teachers who have a positive relationship with the parent may be more likely to have a good relationship with the child. I wrote about this issue last April, with some suggestions for parents. [...]