Before the night began, my administrator told me that Jacky’s* mom would not be able to make it tonight, and she had left something in my classroom. My brain went over tens of scenarios before I made it to my classroom door. I could see my desk from the doorway and there was a small box on it.
As I approached my desk, I began to make out a label on the box that said “Teacher Survival Kit.” Inside the little kit was a sewing kit, a Tide pen, a pack of gum, chocolate, chap stick, highlighters, magnets, sticky notes, an energy drink, and other things that would soon become very helpful in my teacher life.
Now in the world’s best case scenario, both teachers and parents would have enough time in each day to effectively build positive relationships for a child’s education and well-being. But teacher plates are overflowing, and so is each parents’ plate, and it can be difficult to find 5 minutes to breathe – let alone give your child’s teacher a call to ask how it’s all going and how you can help at home.
But having a good relationship with your child’s teacher is imperative to your child’s education. The benefits far outweigh the negatives, even when there are disagreements. And it can happen, in as little as 5-10 minutes each week. Now I’m not saying that you need to make your child’s teacher a survival kit every single year, but all it takes is a little effort to make a big impact, from both parents and teachers.
Education is a joint effort and teachers cannot fulfill our duties without you, the parent.
Being a special education teacher in multiple classroom settings over the years, I’ve had the privilege to work with many families from all different walks of life. Each family has its own dynamic, but there is one common denominator in all of the parent-teacher relationships I’ve held. The more effort you put in, the easier it is to navigate the good stuff and the hard stuff.
I’ve Got Your Six : Encouraging and Supporting Parent-Teacher Relationships
Here are 6 simple tips for parents from a teacher that encourages and supports a positive parent-teacher relationship:
Ask how you can help at home, ask questions if you’re unsure or concerned, ask if your child needs anything for school, ask for help or training, ask what a grade means, ask for clarification, ask for the data, ask.
As professionals, teachers sometimes forget that we may be speaking in jargon, like “Jose’s FBA is being conducted, and once that’s ready we will have an IEP meeting to write the BIP”. And we want you, the parent, to ask questions! We want to help, we are here to help you navigate the school world, and even if we don’t have the answer right away – we will find the answer.
Here’s a secret that teachers don’t really share out loud: we actually love when a parent asks questions! Yes, our teacher plates are overflowing, but we will always make time to collaborate with parents and help you help your child.
Communicate often by staying in touch, communicate openly, and communicate directly with the teacher before escalating a disagreement or going to a higher up. And know that communication methods can vary. With all of today’s technology, there are more ways than ever to reach out to someone – a phone call, email, a letter in your child’s backpack, a note in your child’s agenda, texting through an app, a quick chat in the car pick-up line, an in-person or video conference. There are so many ways to get in touch with your child’s teacher!
Here’s another education secret: teachers walk a fine line between advocating and getting fired for advocating. We want to help, but a lot of the time our hands are tied… and not because we don’t want to help, but because we don’t want to lose our job. But – if you have a positive relationship with your child’s teacher, we will often guide you with other options you may have. Think of it as a loop hole.
Support the relationship your child has with his or her teacher, and don’t speak ill of your child’s teacher in front of your child.
This isn’t to say you are not allowed to be upset or frustrated about something said or done at school; you are allowed to feel your emotions and work through them, but try your best to do so out of sight and sound of your child.
Children are like sponges. They soak in everything! And they are always listening, even when we think they may not be.
Encourage your child to read, encourage your child to complete his or her homework or work on a skill at home, encourage your child to socialize outside of school, encourage your child to participate in extracurriculars, encourage your child to complete a task or finish a project they’ve been working on, encourage your child.
All of these encouragements enhance your child’s overall well-being and in turn, your child’s education. When you encourage learning and growing at home, not only does it build confidence in your child, but it promotes a positive school value in your home. Studies have also shown that children who receive encouragement at home and at school are more likely to finish high school and pursue college degrees (source: eduweek.org).
Offer your suggestions for how to help your child, offer your concerns, and offer your gratitude.
Here is an example. If your child is experiencing a behavior in the classroom that she does not exhibit at home, you as the parent have great insight that can help your child and your child’s teacher and team in the classroom. Any trick that you use at home to get David to turn off his video game and transition to come eat dinner at the table is a strategy your child’s teacher can try and use in the classroom to help David succeed. Your trick may or may not work, but it is a great starting place.
A simple “thank you” also goes a really long way in building the parent-teacher relationship (and yes, it works both ways teacher friends!).
Understand that teachers have a lot of different responsibilities throughout the school day. Understand that in our greatest moments of collaboration, and even in our moments of opposition, teachers want what is best for your child too, and we will do as much as we can to help your child succeed and grow. But please also understand that we need your help. No one knows your child better than you do, and we want to be a team with you!
And together with the families I’ve worked with, we’ve gotten to see the kids thrive, make progress on IEP goals, make friends, and enjoy school.
If you’re feeling slightly overwhelmed at thinking of all of these new avenues you may be curious to walk, start with one. Choose one number from this article, and do that. Maybe it’ll be you sending an email to Ms. Winters asking for clarification on the math progress report. Maybe it’ll be reaching out to the football coach for Jesse to be on the team in the fall. Or maybe you will encourage your child to tell you about his day at school.
All baby steps lead to big milestones – especially when working to build and foster a positive, and collaborative parent-teacher relationship with your child’s teacher.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stephanie is a dual-certified special education teacher, Master IEP Coach®, children's book author, and teacher mentor. She has a passion for creating engaging, adapted resources for teachers and students with disabilities, and is self-proclaimed #datanerd. She understands that not everyone will love IEPs as much as she does, but it is her hope that with the appropriate training and resources, teachers will not only advocate harder for student services and supports, but also bridge the gap between teachers and families to foster a true IEP Team. She also provides professional development for teachers. You can connect with her at www.mrsdscorner.com and www.theintentionaliep.com. Stephanie is also a huge mental health advocate, sharing her experiences and struggles to let others know that you can survive the dark seasons and thrive in life and teaching with a mental illness.
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