The relationship between parents and teachers is both unique and important – and it has a big impact on the child.
There is a lot parents can do to establish a successful parent-teacher relationship. To help, school administrators from across Chicagoland offer their tried-and-true strategies and suggestions.
1 BE PROACTIVE SHARING INFORMATION
“Share as much information as possible about your child,” advises Debbie Mytych, director of early childhood programs at Resurrection Lutheran Preschool in Chicago. “It can be uncomfortable, but it is in the best interest of your child.”
Karen Meskill, principal of Saints Peter and Paul School in Naperville, encourages parents to share what may be going on at home and any social concerns, and to do so as soon as possible. “I can’t think of a situation where it didn’t help a child to share information with the teacher in a confidential manner. If teachers know ahead of time, they can have strategies off the bat to help that child be successful and comfortable.”
Meskill also advises sharing any information about what has worked well for the child in previous classrooms. “We want to keep that consistency and progress moving forward.”
“By establishing open communication between parents and teacher, there’s a partnership that’s formed with both sides working for the benefit of a little human being who depends on both sides,” says Alejandra Valera, director of advancement at Alcuin Montessori School in Oak Park.
2 MODEL GOOD COMMUNICATION AND POSITIVITY
Communication is vital to making sure the parent-teacher relationship is positive, and that includes not only what parents communicate, but also how.
When talking about teachers in front of children, Mytych encourages parents to be positive and joyful. “Children pick up vibes and they know when things are good,” she says. “We want children to pick up the positive at an early age.”
Phillip Jackson, executive director of Chicago Grammar School, also emphasizes that parents need to model good communication for their children. “The tone of voice and how you convey information is very important,” he says.
3 VOLUNTEER IN YOUR CHILD’S CLASSROOM
Spending time in the classroom can benefit not only your child, but it can strengthen several relationships. “When parents bring their talents and skills into the classroom, it helps them bond better with the teacher and the class, as well as their own child,” explains Jackson.
“Volunteering in the classroom is a great way to build relationships,” agrees Valera. “I always tell parents to find a niche that works for them.” For instance, she says one father who was unavailable during the school day started an after-school running club that teachers also joined. “It was a great example of a parent sharing something he loves with our school community.”
4 HAVE FAITH IN YOUR CHILD’S TEACHERS
“Chances are your child’s teacher has valuable insight of situations. Younger students are often not able to recall specifics or give an accurate overall interpretation of events,” says Erika Camerena, director and founder of Mi Sol Academy, an early childhood Montessori center in Orland Park.
“Teachers, especially Montessori teachers, have a unique perspective and oftentimes see social behavioral aspects that the parent might not be aware of.”
That faith and confidence benefits the adults as well as the students. “When children know that their parents trust their teachers, it puts them at ease as well,” Valera says, noting that it is true for all ages. “As kids get older, it is important that a positive parent-teacher relationship continue because kids are more aware of the relationship and capable of looking at the depth of it. If there’s no communication between parent and teacher, they will wonder why.”
5 REMEMBER NO ONE IS PERFECT
Parents need to allow teachers to be human beings, and Jackson says that giving the grace to make mistakes from all parties involved is important in having a successful relationship. “No one is perfect. No students, parents, teachers, or administrators get everything right every single time.”
“Most people have good intentions all the way around,” he adds, noting that maintaining a sense of humor can go a very long way toward good communication.
6 DON’T ALWAYS RELY ON EMAIL
“All communication that revolves around specific concerns or more complex issues should be communicated in person or by telephone,” suggests Camarena.
“Emails and messaging are not appropriate because misunderstandings in meaning and intentions cannot be clarified in the moment and the participants are left to speculate and assume, oftentimes in error.”
Jackson adds: “It is hard to show empathy in an email.” He notes that while email is fine for housekeeping issues, for anything else teachers would prefer a one-on-one meeting.
7 TRUST YOUR OLDER CHILDREN TO TAKE THE REINS
As children enter high school, parents are a part of the high school experience but their role does change. “We interview both parents and students because in many ways parents are an integral part of the institution with both their role and level of involvement,” says Jeff Bell, head of school at Beacon Academy, a Montessori high school in Evanston.
“While parents are partners in their child’s education, we very much want to create a situation where the student is driving the bus and taking responsibility for his/her own education and learning,” Bell explains. “Give high school students the opportunity to take the reins.”
8 DON’T FEAR COMMUNICATION FROM SCHOOL
While many parents cringe when they see the school information pop up on caller ID, parents should not always be afraid when hearing from their child’s school.
“Often parents fear communication from school, but sometimes it is very positive,” says Bell. “Our teachers reach out to tell parents they were impressed by something their child did. We give positive feedback and hope to give the parents a sense of the life of their child at school.”
Kathy Irvin, director of the Early Childhood Program at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, adds that parents should read everything that comes home from school, whether in an email, letter or newsletter.
“Open up that backpack. The answers might be there.”
9 LET THE TEACHERS TEACH, BUT SUPPORT LEARNING EVERY NIGHT
Parents are always asking Irvin what they can do at home. If they want to extend
the love of learning at home, reading is a huge area, Irvin says. “… Read to your child every night for as long as they’ll let you read to them, even when they are readers themselves.” Snuggle together, read for pure enjoyment, fall in love with stories and characters, she says.
Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.