By Chumi Millman, SHEMESH Special Education and Support Consultant
As a parent, I am thinking about how I can foster a good relationship with my children’s teachers now that a new school year has begun. I thought I would find an online resource to help myself and also post it on the SHEMESH Facebook page. However, I was quite surprised when I found lots of research on the benefits of strong parent-teacher communication, many ideas and resources for teachers on communicating with parents, an article about how to complain to your children’s teacher, and no resources whatsoever on parents initiating and maintaining communication with their children’s teachers. Maybe it should be called teacher-parent communication and not parent-teacher communication!
So sprouted the idea for this SHEMESH blog post.
As someone who has been a teacher and is now a parent, I’ve come up some tips and suggestions of my own and I’m hoping you’ll share yours in the comment section.
- Be gentle when speaking about your child, his/her strengths, needs and past experiences.
As a parent, I think it’s difficult to be non-emotional when discussing my children, especially their needs and past difficult experiences. As a teacher, I might think that the needs or situations a parent is telling me about are likely not as significant as they sound when the person telling me about them is in an emotional state. It’s also uncomfortable to speak with people in an emotional state and the goal here is to develop positive communication.
- Be proactive and reach out first if need be.
As a teacher, I was often both happy and scared when parents reached out to me first. On the on hand, it gave the immediate feeling of having someone looking over my shoulder. On the other hand, the conversation was often extremely helpful and positive. It’s so much easier to be positive when nothing significantly negative has happened yet. Oftentimes, the parents were simply being proactive and that was always a pleasure.
- Be thoughtful about all the pieces a teacher must manage.
Teachers are being pulled in so many directions all the time. It’s essential to remember this and to be mindful of this whenever you contact a teacher. Try to find out the teacher’s preferred mode of communication from the office staff or from the teacher and try not to expect an immediate response. When speaking with the teacher, let him/her suggest solutions before bringing up your own. Most likely, they’ll be able to think of those solutions most manageable for them and therefore won’t feel overwhelmed by more difficult suggestions. They’ll also be more likely to put into practice the ideas they came up with themselves.
- Be helpful and use your communication as a helping tool for the teacher.
I think teachers do appreciate having key information about your child that will help them be successful in teaching him/her effectively. Be sure to share information you think is pertinent about your child before difficulties start and do so in a way that shows that you believe in the teacher’s competence to meet your child’s needs and do what he/she feels is best. Be helpful in your communication, but not demanding.
- Be goal-oriented: Request end-goals and not specific means.
This really relates back to tip #3. When making requests or discussing concerns, stick with talking about the end-goal you are hoping for. As the manager in the classroom, the teacher will likely do best when he/she is given leeway to do what he/she feels is best. Your primary job is to develop a shared sense of responsibility with your child’s teacher and to settle on a very specific end-goal together. For example, you may want your child to be reading solidly on grade-level this school year. Discuss this goal with the teacher and check in to see if he/she thinks it is attainable. If there is agreement on the end-goal, ask how you could help the teacher in getting your child there. Leave the day-to-day reading decisions to the teacher by checking in periodically to ask about progress and gently reminding him/her of the end-goal you agreed on. It may be enticing to request a specific reading group for your child, but in my experience teachers and administrators are more likely to put your child in the best possible situation when they share your goals for your child and are simply doing what they can to get him/her there (and you haven’t made an outright request).