What Parents Wish Teachers Knew
Recently, I had the exciting opportunity to be interviewed by Katie Couric in the ABC studio in New York City for her weekly online video series, Katie’s Take. The topic: “What Teachers Wish Parents Knew.” While getting ready for the interview, I found myself thinking about a related topic: “What Parents Wish Teachers Knew.” That’s because it takes a two-way conversation, with both parties understanding where the other’s coming from, to build a strong relationship with parents—not always easy, given the busy lives of both teachers and parents.
I know from my own experience as a parent of school-aged children that parents often cannot visit school as much as they’d like. Recently, when I was traveling for work and had to miss both my children’s back-to-school nights, I was thrilled when one teacher sent me the PowerPoint presentation she used that night and asked my daughter to help me understand it. When parents can’t make it to school events, they often feel guilty—just as I did!—and appreciate teachers who reach out to offer other ways for them to connect.
Many problems between parents and teachers stem from misunderstandings and lack of trust and connection. We can help avoid this by reaching out to parents early in the school year to start building a true partnership.
This partnership begins by getting to know one another and opening the lines of communication. Recently, my colleague Margaret Wilson posted some great ideas about how teachers can communicate better with parents. Here are three more things to keep in mind about parents.
- Parents can share important knowledge about their children. As children’s first teachers, parents know what makes their children light up, what discourages them, their passions, their worries, what helps them learn. Reaching out throughout the year to gather this information makes us more effective teachers, builds and maintains trust, and shows parents that we see them as valued partners.
- Parents are busy! When soliciting parents’ expertise, avoid overwhelming them with long questionnaires or jargony language. Begin early in the year with just one or two brief, open-ended questions and offer various ways to respond (send in a note, email, voice mail, text message, or in person). Two questions I find particularly useful:
- What’s a hope you have for your child in school this year?
- What should I know about your child or your family that will help me teach your child?
- Parents need to share positive news, too. Just as it’s important for you to share good news about students with parents throughout the year, it’s important for parents to know you welcome their sharing whenever they notice something going particularly well for their child, whether academically or socially. These tidbits can give you valuable insight into the child (as well as the parents) and build common understanding.
When it comes to working with parents, we really need to let parents know we’re all on the same team working toward the same goal: students who succeed academically and socially. When we build—and maintain—shared understanding and trust, we can truly be partners, celebrating progress and working together to solve any problems that arise.
Carol Davis is a professional development designer at Center for Responsive Schools.
Tags: Back to School w/ Families, Family Connections, Working with Families