Parents and teachers: A potential dream team

The child benefits most when parents and teachers bridge the gap between home and school.

Teacher with students (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Teacher with students
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Teachers judge the parents of their students all the time. They judge them based on students’ language, hygiene, dress and social skills. Parents judge teachers too, based on comments from their children. “What did you lean in school today?” is usually followed by “nothing.”
Sometimes children accuse teachers of being unfair, picking on them, acting out of prejudice or a myriad of other questionable treatments.  So parents and students constantly judge one another, and the source of their judgments are kids, who often have a vested interest. Good kids want their parents and teachers to like each other. Troubled students want the opposite. Many children can, in their eyes, benefit from animosity between parents and teachers and play one against the other. This is a dysfunctional form of communication.
Ineffective communication between parents and teachers can be a major obstacle when trying to solve problems with students, but fortunately it can be improved.
A second form of communication dysfunction is “dumping.” When ineffective, frustrated or angry teachers call parents about their child, they tend to “dump” the problem in the parent's lap. They tell what offense the child committed, and that the parent must do something about it. This is no more effective than a parent calling a teacher about a problem at home and asking the teacher to fix it. Parents “dumping” on teachers are also common. They claim the teacher is responsible for a child’s bad grades, bad behavior or bad attitude. They demand that the teacher must change. When parents and teachers blame each other and make unreasonable demands, the one who suffers the most is the child. Blame creates no winners and lots of losers.
Parents and teachers have the same goal, and therein lies the remedy for these problems. Both want the best for the student. Removing the child from the communication process between parent and teacher can alleviate much of the communication dysfunction. I don’t mean that children should be left out totally. They certainly can play an important role in the process. But there is also a place for teachers and parents to build a relationship of their own. Both need to talk directly to each other.
I suggest the three-call method for teachers. As early in the year as possible, teachers need to call as many parents as possible -- hopefully all of them if their load is small enough. The purpose of the call is to welcome the parent into the learning community and to establish a positive communication line.
“Hello Mr. Curwin. I’m David’s teacher. I just want you to know how happy I am to have David in my classroom this year, and to let you know that if any problems should occur, I’d be happy to talk with you so we can work together to make things better,” is an example of the type of call I suggest.
The second call is to tell the parent something good the child has done. Stay away from superficials like dress, and focus on behavior, improvement and quality of work. These calls are not meant to be a calculated strategy, but rather to open communication and show the parent that the teacher notices good things as well as bad. Only after these calls have been made, should the teacher call about a problem; not before. In this way, parents and teachers have already established a trusting, workable relationship that significantly diminishes blaming.
Parents, too, can help communication. Alerting teachers of disruptions at home such as a pending divorce, serious illness, birth of a new baby, a change or addition of a medication, or a parent on an extended trip can clue teachers in to the root of a student's behavior. Children who strongly object to going to school, hate a certain subject, face bullying or have too much homework are other helpful things to discuss with teachers.
The second major change in communication is to stop dumping and blaming on both sides. These tactics help no one, make the other party defensive and prevent finding possible solutions. Say things like, “Since we both care so much about David, let’s work together to find a way to improve things.” Become a team, not adversaries. Share your perceptions honestly. Tell the other what works at home or in class and what doesn’t. Work out a plan of action to try, and be flexible enough to change it if it doesn’t help. Deflect accusations by not taking them personally, “I understand why you might feel that way, but what we really need to do is find some solutions that we both can agree to. I’d like to hear your ideas,” is better than, “That’s not true, and your son is not being truthful. I’ve never done that.”
Setting up effective communication and forming a team are very powerful tools in helping children be successful in school. Children spend most of their time in home and school. When teachers and parents are allies, their combined influence on children is very powerful indeed.
The writer is the co-author of Discipline with Dignity and author of Meeting Students Where They Live, and a professor of education at David Yelling College in Jerusalem.