Partnering with your child’s teachers: Part 1
When parents and teachers work together to guide education, children win. Learn how you can partner with your child’s teacher to improve their educational success.
March 6, 2014 - Author: Kittie Butcher, Michigan State University Extension, and Janet Pletcher, Lansing Community College
When we were in school, our parents took it for granted that schools took total responsibility for providing us with a formal education. Teachers were teachers and parents were parents and “never the twain shall meet” was the attitude in many homes. But education today is transforming. Changes in quality standards and teacher education mean that more educators are open to establishing working relationships with families. This means that teachers and families are both taking responsibility for guiding a child’s formal and informal education in a collaborative partnership.
Today’s teacher training includes strategies for partnering with parents in and out of the classroom. Teachers are expected to be competent to work with parents by adopting a wide range of professional skills. Teacher educator Carol Gestwicki writes, “Teacher skills in identifying and drawing out [that] parental expertise are part of these new professional skills.” With improved communication options, such as phones in the classrooms, email, texting, Facebook and web pages for each class, parents have a great deal of access to what goes on in their child’s classroom. We also have more access to the teachers themselves. It is a common practice for parents to contact their child’s teacher and teachers to contact parents on a regular basis, especially if their child is struggling with a particular aspect of school.
The roles of the teachers and parents remain essentially the same as they have always been. Parents are recognized as the expert on their own child, while teachers are the experts on development and learning in children in general. To support each child as an individual, parents and teachers need knowledge of both areas of expertise. It is part of the teacher’s role to reach out to families to inform and engage them in the classroom activities. As in the past, this may involve asking family members to volunteer in a classroom, participate in parent activity nights or attend a parent/teacher conference.
But, to address particular learning issues, teachers may also ask parents to help them design learning activities for children or choose a specific approach to working with their child. Recently, a colleague shared a story about a child whom she noticed was acting out in class. The behaviors were interrupting other students’ learning and our colleague worried the child’s own progress in school was suffering, too. Many teachers would have started a process of progressive discipline, hoping to stem the disruptive behavior, but our colleague immediately contacted the family to ask for direction and support. The child’s family was very receptive and they were able to investigate the reasons behind the behaviors as well as identify strategies both the parents and the teacher could use to help the child get past the problem behaviors. One positive outcome was that the parents and the teacher became partners to support their child’s learning.
One thing that struck us when we heard this story was that both the teacher and the parents demonstrated profound respect for each other. Both partners showed they valued each other’s point of view and set of skills. Both were willing to learn from the other and trusted the other to be sincere, authentic and committed to the best interests of the child. There was no blaming or suspicion of self-interest at work here. Both parties made use of many different types of communication to facilitate the collaboration and stay up-to-date on the process. The process was made easier too, because both parties shared the same perspective on the value of education.
When values are not shared between partners, it is more difficult to collaborate. But goals can still be met when partners show respect and are tolerant of other points of view. It may take a concerted effort for both partners to open up to new ideas and new attitudes but in the end, isn’t it worth it? To offer your child a team of supporters at home and at school can be a great gift for any child who is struggling.
This is the first article in a series on Partnering with teachers series. To learn more strategies for collaborations between teachers and parents, view Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. If you would like more resources on this topic, explore the Michigan State University Extension archive.