Parenting educationAt the center of parental involvement in children's education is a working parent-school partnership that includes positive parent-teacher communication.

Today, parents play an integral role in schools, particularly public schools. Parents' participation in their children's education is driven by financial dictates, by legal mandates in the form of school councils and by research showing that parental involvement makes a difference in children's educational successes. Assisting in classrooms and the school library, supervising children on the playground and organizing supplemental educational activities have been added to the more traditional PTA/PTO functions.

However, despite increased parental involvement, parents' roles still are not clearly defined in many schools, and parent-teacher relationships often remain challenging for both parties. Here are some steps you can take to build a positive working relationship with your child's teacher:

  • Set the stage. Introduce yourself to your child's teacher as soon as possible.

  • Tell the teacher whatever you believe is important for him or her to know about your child. Teachers usually welcome this information.

  • Let the teacher know that you are available and open to talking about your child and any issues that may arise. Find out the best time for contacting the teacher if you have questions or concerns.

  • Attend school functions, such as back-to-school gatherings and curriculum presentations. This lets teachers know that you are interested and that you care about your child's education.

  • Offer to help the teacher on a regular basis, with a special project or on a field trip. This supports the teacher, involves you with your child's educational experiences and gives you a chance to see 'education in action.' With a bit of creativity, working parents can carve out a role for themselves, supporting classroom activities outside regular school hours.

  • Be aware of the many challenges teachers face today as they manage changing educational practices, full-inclusion models and increased parental involvement. Be open-minded and learn about new educational practices. Ask questions, attend school-sponsored informational events, talk with other parents and do some related reading. This allows you to have informed opinions and connect with your child's learning experiences.

    When there's a problem:

  • Address concerns as they arise.

  • Set aside a mutually acceptable time to discuss concerns. Try not to solve problems that deserve careful attention 'on the run' (such as at drop-off or pick-up time).

  • If you request a meeting, briefly state your reason to the teacher so he or she can prepare. You should expect similar consideration if the teacher raises a concern.

  • Express yourself clearly and calmly, using 'I' messages (rather than accusatory 'you' messages) when talking with a teacher. Describing situations and being specific often lead to mutual understanding and clear strategies for moving ahead.

It is common for two people to have different perspectives on the same situation. When this happens, it is important not to give up. Remember, in most cases, your child's teacher is trying to do the best he or she can. If necessary, the school principal or guidance counselor should be available to assist you.

These few steps can go a long way toward fostering open and respectful parent-teacher communication and enriching your child's education.

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