A new school year, new teachers, new students, and new schedules – it's an opportunity to forge positive, new relationships - including the relationship with your children’s teachers. Let’s consider ways to establish the most positive, productive relationships with teachers.
The key ingredient to effective communication is empathy and interest in the feelings and experience of the other participant. We know that when we feel understood, we are better able to receive information. When we feel misunderstood, we are likely to become defensive and direct our energies toward self-protection.
Let’s examine further the perspectives of the parent and teacher in the interest of empathy and understanding:
As a fellow parent, it is easy to imagine the many thoughts and feelings you may have about your child’s upcoming school year. As a loving parent, you want to know that your child will be liked, understood, challenged, supported and encouraged. You want to ensure that your child will be treated fairly, and that your child will be appreciated, accepted and valued by the teacher. Your thoughts and feelings are reflective of your love, care and investment in your child. Your feelings are valid, understandable and important to convey to the adults with whom your child will be involved.
Being a teacher is a bit like conducting a three ring circus. Teachers must simultaneously respond to the demands of their students, parents/caregivers, as well as the school administration. Despite these demands, teachers will always be appreciative of parents’ attempts to consider teachers’ experiences and perspective.
Education is a teacher’s area of expertise. Teachers want parents to share important information about their children and they want to collaborate with parents. As one would expect with an expert in any field, teachers wish to feel respected for their professional experience. Parents are an integral part of the child’s educational team, but they are not the sole drivers of it. Although it may be difficult to relinquish this control, it is important that parents view themselves as a member of the child’s educational team, of which there may be many members.
How can these insights guide our communication with teachers?
· Before approaching the teacher, remind yourself of your motivations. Then, try to consider the teacher perspective within the context suggested above.
· Try to verbally acknowledge one or some of the complexities of the teacher’s position. This conveys your consideration and respect of a perspective outside of yourself.
· Ask teacher what is his/her preferred method of communication (email, written note, phone message, face-to-face appointment) and request a time to speak that does not interfere with their interaction with students. (Drop off and pick up times are often disruptive to teachers’ interaction with students)
· It is useful to convey your positive observations or anecdotes relayed by the child to the teacher. We all benefit from feedback, positive reinforcement and acknowledgment of others efforts.
· Try to approach conversations using “I statements” – take ownership of your feelings and avoid making accusations or demands (e.g., like “you need to…).
Finally, remember that parents and teachers have a common goal: to help your child make progress and build confidence in school and in life. It’s often helpful to reiterate this during communication with teachers. Our kids are indeed raised by a “village” of parents, teachers, coaches, and caregivers. Each team member has an important role to play, and effective communication among the members of the team is critical for success!