In my first year as a teacher I was unaware of the nuances of talking with parents. One of my first challenging experiences was when I thought I was delivering good news to a parent. Their child had been in my Special Education school and was doing so well I felt he was ready to go back to his home school. When I proposed this to his mother, she became upset. I advocated for what I felt was in the best interest of the child and could not hear the parental concerns. In my mind, staying true to my recommendation was paramount because I was advocating for the best interest of the child. Wasn’t it in his best interest to be in a typical classroom? A day later I was called in to the Director’s office and diplomatically persuaded to change my recommendation because the parent wanted the child to stay. The Director explained to me that the parents’ voice was primary and they felt strongly that the student would lose all they had gained if he were placed back in his home district. It made sense. I could hear that from the Director (the hand that fed me), but not the parent.
Later in my career as a Supervisor of teachers, I was often caught in the role of mediator, trying to both hear the parent and support the teacher. I learned that this was one of the most difficult tasks to achieve. I have experienced teachers afraid to address their concerns for fear that the parent will become defensive and question their teaching ability. I have worked with parents, so discouraged by previous rejection or criticism from school professionals, that they avoid cooperation with the teacher and school.
Now that I have a 5 year old who just started Kindergarten, I am anxious for the day when the teacher might have to address any concerns with me. How will I handle it? Just thinking about it makes me defensive.
One thing I know, and clearly backed up by decades of research, is that parents, teachers and administrators who cooperate increase the likelihood that the children will experience more success- especially when it comes to social emotional development. As a result, challenging behaviors also decrease both at home and school.
Here are some critical components that can lead to teacher-parent-administrator cooperation and make the difference toward a good, healthy school to home partnership.
Be open to parent feedback. Ask them what works at home and be willing to try those things in your classroom.
Focus on giving parents ideas about how to teach strategies to their children rather than just giving them broad, general statements about your concerns. Offer a “parent workshop” where parents can come as a group and you can teach them what you know.
Give parents clear instructions about how to support what you are doing in the classroom so they understand what they can do at home. Only give one or two strategies at a time.
Demonstrate the instructions for them. Provide them with guided practice. This can happen during a parent-teacher conference, a parent workshop, or if they can come a little early to pick up their child.
Make and provide the parent with a checklist of the strategies you want them to use.
Be open to teacher feedback. Teachers experience your child in a completely different setting than the home or community. The skills they identify for your child to work on are skills they need to be able to demonstrate at school. The more you can have similar expectations at home, the better off your student will be.
Be open to teacher feedback. You may not experience the concerns that the teacher has while your child is home, or you may be ok with those things at home. School has its own set of requirements and rules. It’s ok for them to be challenged with expectations that may be different. Your job is to help them understand the difference between expectations at home and expectations at school.
Give rewards at home that are contingent. The only time your child should be rewarded is when they demonstrate the behavior you want to see.
Participate! Negative experiences that may have occurred in the past don’t have to be future experiences. Ask the teacher to show you what they are doing in the classroom and commend them for the hard work they do.
Ensure that school psychologists are empowered to provide teachers with support in teaching to social/emotional learning.
Give teachers emotional support. It is highly stressful for teachers to give feedback to parents. Facilitate group discussions that allow teachers to problem solve these interactions.
Help teachers' broaden their knowledge about approaches to giving parent feedback. Give teachers' the time and training to build competence.
One idea, employ a long-term consultant who has expertise in this area and can do ongoing consistent work with the teacher(s) on how to develop positive interactions with parents. Teachers can hear things from a consultant that they may not be able to hear from a supervisor.
For Administrators, Teachers and Parents
Engage and include the student. No matter the age, toddler to teenager, I'm not sure we give kids enough credit for their ability to come up with solutions and ideas. In any case, including them in problem solving around ways to make family to school connections in a great way to teach self-help. You must find a role for them so they can take ownership.
1. Crone Regina M. and Shukla,Smita. (2016). Parent Training on Generalized Use of Behavior Analytic Strategies for Decreasing the Problem Behavior of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Data-Based Case Study. EDUCATION AND TREATMENT OF CHILDREN Vol. 39, No. 1, 2016 Pages 64–94.
2. Oregon State Dept. of Education, Salem. (1990). Parent Involvement: The Critical Link.
3. Kourkoutas Elias, Eleftherakis ,Theodoros G., Vitalaki, Elena & Hart, Angie. (2016). Family-School-Professionals Partnerships: An Action Research Program to Enhance the Social, Emotional, and Academic Resilience of Children at Risk: Education and Treatment of Children, v39 n1 p64-94, April 19, 2014 Accepted: June 29, 2015 Online Published: August 11, 2015.
4. Nermeen E. El Nokali, Heather J. Bachman, and Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal. (2011)). Parent Involvement and Children’s Academic and Social Development in Elementary School. Child Development, 2010. May-June 988-1005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2973328/