Parents and teachers are working toward a common goal: helping children grow and succeed. If they work together, they can create the ideal learning environment both at home and in the classroom to help children thrive throughout their educational journeys.
Research backs this up: Studies indicate that parent-teacher relationships benefit children’s development, showing that children whose parents have a positive relationship with teachers exhibit less behavioral problems, a more positive disposition for learning and have an easier time transitioning to new school situations.
In my own experience as an educator and a parent, I’ve found that trust between parent and teachers creates a strong relationship, which is critical for student success. Establishing trust opens the door for more transparent, honest conversations about students’ strengths and challenges and helps students feel more comfortable stepping outside their comfort zones and taking risks.
“A positive parent-teacher relationship helps your child feel good about school and be successful in school,” said Diane Levin, Ph.D., professor of education at Wheelock College in an interview with PBS. “It demonstrates to your child that he can trust his teacher, because you do. This positive relationship makes a child feel like the important people in his life are working together.”
So how can parents help establish a partnership with their child’s teacher? Below are four tips to help open the lines of communication and build a trusting relationship.
Stay in touch through small, casual interactions
It’s all too easy to lose touch with your child’s teacher after the quarterly conference — if there’s no pressing issue that needs to be addressed, scheduling a meeting just to check in can fall further down a long list of to-dos. However, having regular communication is critical to building new relationships and maintaining ongoing ones.
It doesn’t have to be a formal, scheduled meeting. If your child is in preschool, checking in can be as simple as taking a couple minutes to chat while signing them in during drop-off.
Looking for a conversation starter? Ask about something in the classroom. Teachers are intentional about the activities in the environment and welcome questions about a child’s experience with materials. For example, you could open with, “Danny loves the sensory table. How do you think he’ll respond to the lavender water?” Sharing a story about the commute to school is another way to begin the conversation: “Bethany, tell your teacher about the song we sang in the car.” Or, “Yesterday, Peter couldn’t stop telling us about de-construction with the blocks, help me understand what was happening.”
If your child is older or you’re not involved in pick-up or drop-off, try keeping in touch via email. Many teachers send out weekly newsletters to parents, which offer an opportunity to quickly check in by commenting on an update or photo in the newsletter.
These don’t need to be formal, lengthy interactions; a quick one- or two-sentence email is enough to show you care and are paying attention to what’s happening in class. At St. Thomas School where I work, teachers send out a weekly slideshow of pictures with short captions describing each one. It’s a great way to give parents insight into what’s happening in the classroom and offers an opportunity for them to stay in touch.
When necessary, make time to talk in-person
If there’s a specific issue you’d like to discuss with your child’s teacher, schedule a time to talk about it in person or over the phone. Any conversation about a child’s progress can be emotional for a parent, and it’s always better to have difficult conversations face-to-face. When conversations take place over email, we miss out on important communication cues like facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures. Without these clarifying cues, we often interpret messages differently than the sender intended.
If you need to discuss a sensitive issue, schedule an in-person meeting so your child’s teacher can set aside enough time for an in-depth conversation. Bringing up a serious issue during pick-up or drop-off can leave both parties feeling frustrated because neither has time to delve into the issue and the issue remains unresolved.
Prepare for parent-teacher conferences
Conferences are an excellent opportunity to get a more complete picture of your child’s strengths, interests and challenges. How children act at school can be very different from how they act at home, and teachers can offer valuable insight that will help you complete the full picture of your child. In order to make the most of your parent-teacher conference, come prepared with a list of questions to help you stay on track. Ask about things that won’t show up on a report card, such as:
- Who does my child play with the most?
- What activities excite my child the most?
- When does my child appear frustrated?
- When does my child seek adult support?
- In which areas of the class does my child put forth his/her best effort?
- What can I do at home to support what’s happening at school?
Use teachers as a resource
Teachers are experts on child development and they spend several hours a day with your child. Given this, they can offer valuable parenting advice. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of their knowledge! Teachers can offer a helpful perspective on everything from potty training to sleep issues, from navigating playdates to the appropriate disciplinary actions to take based on where your child is developmentally.
Building a successful parent-teacher relationship requires time, trust and honesty on both ends. It can be challenging at times, but if things get tough, remember that teachers are your teammates, and they want your child to succeed as much as you do.