Educators agree that the main influence on children’s success in school is their parents. But with teachers being the next most influential persons in a child’s education, it is vital that parents and teachers work together to help students succeed. Researchers at the University of Oregon noted that research into relationships between parents and teachers is limited. Nevertheless, they found that increased parent-teacher interaction is indeed associated not only with better student performance, but also with better behavior.
In their article, “Parent-Teacher Relationships in Elementary School: An Examination of Parent-Teacher Trust,” published in Psychology in the Schools last year, the Oregon researchers looked at five studies that showed increased parent involvement correlated with many important school success factors:
• Regular school attendance
• Higher academic performance
• Higher standardized test scores
• Improved behavior
• Higher homework completion
With so much at stake, it’s vital that parents and teachers develop good working relationships.
Experts disagree on how much ethnicity or economic status is a factor in parent-teacher relationships. But they agree that, regardless of their respective backgrounds, trust between parent and teacher is crucial to establishing a good working relationship.
Strategies for Success
Parents can do several things to build good relationships with teachers.
Cultivate mutual respect. A trusting relationship must be founded in respect. One way to do this is to approach your child’s teacher as a partner. Both of you are concerned with your child’s well-being and success. If your school offers a meet-the-teacher event at or before the start of the school year, use that as a way to build a good foundation and set expectations.
Honor your child’s relationship with their teacher. In a good student-teacher relationship, students will bond with the teacher. If your student sees their teacher as a friend or even a hero, encourage that. If they see the teacher as an adversary, work with the teacher to find out why.
Attend conferences regularly. Parent-teacher conferences are your best venue for getting to know your child’s teacher and collaborating on ways to help your child succeed. Although getting to the school early on a weeknight can be a challenge, making it a priority will benefit your child in the long run. Ask your child’s teacher what their policy is on phone calls and e-mails, and use those means of communication accordingly. Open houses and parent-teacher association events are other good ways to improve your relationships with teachers.
Request relevant information. The American Federation of Teachers advises instructors to keep parents informed about classroom activities, the child’s accomplishments, and ways parents can support learning at home. If your child’s teacher is not providing this information, it is reasonable to politely ask for it.
What to Do if You Struggle
Personality conflicts are bound to happen in any workplace, and schools are no different. If you find yourself in a difficult relationship with your child’s teacher, take a step back and try to determine why you’re not working well together.
In most cases, parent-teacher relationships break down because of a lack of communication. Often one party — or both — feels they are bearing sole responsibility for the student’s success, while the other is not. Yet parents and teachers both have heavy burdens. Comparing notes and discussing expectations — what teachers expect parents to do or not do and what parents expect from teachers — will help establish ground rules for negotiating compromise.
Positive feedback is as important as correction, yet sometimes parents only call teachers when things go wrong. Consider asking your student’s teacher for positive feedback on your student’s performance, and provide positive feedback to the teacher. Just like parents, teachers are often overworked and overstressed. A compliment can go a long way toward healing a rift.
If you’re having a contentious relationship with your child’s teacher, consider bringing in an intermediary, perhaps a member of the school’s staff or another parent who has a good relationship with both of you. An impartial observer can help clarify misunderstandings or rebuild communication breakdowns.
To settle a dispute, it’s best to meet in person. An e-mail exchange can be cold and impersonal, and even a phone call lacks opportunity for eye contact and body language. Meeting in person will help you make a connection with the teacher. There’s an important human impact to be had in a face-to-face meeting that can’t replicated in other ways.