Carol Gooch, M.S., LPC, LCDC, LMFT
As a former school teacher and school counselor and currently a mental health professional, I know the importance of teachers and parents working together to foster the success of their students. Communication is the key.
Parents and teachers have a common goal: to facilitate the best educational experience possible for students. When parents and teachers communicate with one another, they are able to work together towards this common goal. Technologies like texting and e-mails have made communication between home and school more efficient, and improved in both quantity and quality. Parents and teachers alike would be well served to seek out opportunities for communication with one another on a regular basis to ensure that all students have their physical, emotional and intellectual needs met. We know that the best educational outcomes occur when each of these needs are met.
A partnership implies that all parties work together — as equals — with specific rights and responsibilities toward a common goal. Each party contributes their own specific skills and knowledge toward meeting the objectives. Unfortunately, much home/school communication is one-sided and school-directed. Information is shared… but power is not shared. This approach is not conducive to creating a genuine partnership. The great majority of home/school crises are a direct result of poor communication.
The Beginning Stage requires teachers to establish their credibility as competent and confident professionals. They must set the tone for ongoing collaboration and outline the specific goals, roles and responsibilities of each member of the new partnership.
The Maintenance Stage requires teachers to use ongoing conferencing and communication to continue and enhance the partnership.
The Ending Stage brings appropriate closure to the partnership by creative and effective and well-planned transition to the next step in the student’s academic progression. Teachers must provide the family with encouragement as they face this new step.
The final stage can be difficult for teachers and parents at certain academic levels. Especially with very young children, parents often develop a dependency on a teacher and are reluctant to end the relationship. Teachers must communicate to the parents that they will communicate with the student’s next teacher and that they will be involved in the transition.
Neither teachers nor parents should become defensive or argumentative with each other when faced with a challenging situation. Do not attempt to construct a defense with a series of excuses or rationales. This approach only serves to anger the person and weakens the partnership.
Merely apologize for the error and express your regret for the situation. Outline steps that will be taken to prevent a re-occurrence. Even the most upset person will generally respond well to this approach. Sincere apologies are not a reflection of weakness or incompetence. Rather, they reflect strength and confidence.
In any effective, functioning partnerships, the power is shared equally and appropriately.
In the teacher/parent partnership it is important to remain mindful that both parties have areas of unique knowledge and skill. The parents are well versed in their (child) student’s long-term developmental history (physical, medical and social), interests and lifestyle. The teacher has knowledge of teaching and assessment strategies, school policies and procedures and the student’s school performance. Parents and teachers should share this knowledge and perspective in a collaborative manner.
The teacher’s knowledge and understanding of the student would be very useful to the parents as they work with the student at home. Parents should speak positively about school and teachers… show an interest in the student’s schoolwork… review school assignments… praise the student’s efforts… encourage independence… establish a specific time and place to do homework… and provide occasional learning games and activities at home… provide the child with a warm, supportive home environment… minimize the use of disappointment and punishment at home and encourage and nurture the student’s peer relationships.
Research shows that students who are overly stressed are not able to learn efficiently because the release of the stress hormone, cortisol, interferes with memory formation. Likewise, when a student’s home and school environments are calming, the student’s brain is able to learn efficiently. This is why it is important to create strong support systems for students both at home and at school to increase learning. One way to facilitate this approach is to ensure regular communication between home and school. Parents can send teachers an email or call them to let them know when the home learning environment may be (temporarily or otherwise) holding back a student’s progress. For example, if the student has been sick or is dealing with the death of a loved one, sending the teacher a short email or making a call to let the teacher know that the student is undergoing stress or is having a difficult situation can make it easier on both the teacher and the student. Teachers should likewise let parents know if issues arise at school for their student, such as noticeable changes in behavior, new stressors at school or deficits in academic performance. Teachers can send an email or make a call to the student’s parents so that together they can determine whether the student needs extra support.
Together, as a team, parents and teachers can work to create the best possible environments to foster physical, emotional and intellectual well-being for students. I wish you an awesome school year.