education series: building bridges between parents & teachers
I am a teacher.
I am not a parent.
So now we've got my qualifications, or lack thereof, out of the way, let's get started:
As a teacher, I work with thirty new sets of parents/guardians each year. With each conversation at dismissal, each evening phone call home, and every morning text, I notice more about the patterns of communication between parents and teachers.
Parents & teachers are coworkers. We don't work the same shift, but we pass by one another at the time clock each day.
Punch in, punch out. One of us gets paid, one doesn't.
We share the work: the huge responsibility of growing a human. Nurturing, disciplining, & loving.
We could say a lot about the problems in the education system, or talk about need for higher quality parenting... but the bottom line is that both sides have to work together if we are to meet the needs of the children we love.
Too often the "bridge of communication" between parents and teachers looks like a rickety wooden rope bridge - like in a cartoon - swaying ominously across a wide "lack of communication" gorge! Not a pretty image. Each side must work to build a sturdy connection of trustworthy stone and open and honest rails. If we each build from our side and meet in the middle the relationship we grow can support the weight of love and heavy traffic of education. This sort of "bridge" will lead to continuity between parents and teachers and help children see and feel stable and grounded. Children will feel accountable to what they hear from parents and teachers at all times. As a team, parents and teachers unite in moral development, reading, writing, & math mastery, creating social opportunities and skills, forging creativity and problem solving, and most of all in loving the child deeply and truly.
In pondering some of my experiences with different parents' communication styles, I've noticed a few key effective attributes that increase teachers awareness of their children and help them more fully address their needs. Likewise, in observing other teachers and taking notes on my own strategies, I boiled it down to certain methods that work better to establish parents' trust and willingness to put in work at home towards school goals.
Here are four communication methods that are useful for constructing an effective bridge between parents and educators (and ps: in most communication situations). If each side works to develop these habits, we can grow these little humans in the best of ways, TOGETHER:
1. Assume the best of each other
You know what happens when you assume...? We know the old saying, but I want to make a case for positive assumptions. Assuming that others are largely well intended and are trying their best (eeeeeven when you suspect this may not be the case) gives people "room" to grow into. Negative assumptions are limiting and force people into boxes of your mind. Assuming the best of each other is sort of the golden rule applied to our thoughts. If you would like others to give you benefit of the doubt and cast you in a positive light, do the same to them! (I promise it will take a weight off your mind too, because passing judgement on others is always mentally taxing & ultimately hurts you!)
What does this look like parent to teacher or vice versa? Well, parents - try to start the year by assuming your child's teacher is working hard, and will do his or her best for your kiddo. Don't be quick to critique or judge. If possible, spend time in your child's classroom! You will certainly see the difficulties of the job and walk away with a respect for the work being done with your little ones. Teachers, likewise, from first handshake and hello, do not be hasty to profile, judge or otherwise assume things about the family or child. Open your arms to each family equally, you will be surprised at the relationships you can grow (and even "reputations" you can help contradict!)
2. "Glows then Grows"
We use this phrase in my 4th grade class when we are giving feedback on a writing assignment before we make final drafts. Feedback is useful in fourth grade, and it's certainly useful in "adult grade!" When talking with each other, parents and teacher often need to address difficult situations: from "your child was bullying others" to "he's failing in math" or "we don't like the way you handled this situation..." to "my child's needs are not being met in these ways..." We've got to use those bridges again and again. Rather than leading with the problems, start with what you see that is working. Here's an example conversation from both sides:
Teacher: "I was so proud of Theo today when he gave his share to the class! It was so creative, and he was incredibly confident! He shows a lot of interest in reading and has been working hard in class, however since he is not growing reading levels, he is in danger of not meeting 1st grade benchmarks. We need to leverage time at home and your help to make this possible!"
Parent: "I loved going on the field trip last week! It was so fun to see them go crazy over those monkeys! Oh and by the way, thank you for that extra practice you sent home with Sara yesterday! We've been trying to work on those math facts! Sara mentioned to me yesterday that some of the kids were being rude to her at lunch. She said she tried to talk to you about it but you were busy and didn't hear her..."
3. Meet in the Middle
"You start walking my way, I'll start walking yours!" Remember this Diamond Rio song? Please go listen to it if you don't - that's basically the sound of my childhood. Trying to understand each others point of view is always an exercise in empathy! The reality is, when working together in such an important area - with many schools of thought and different methodologies - parents and teachers are very likely to have disagreements or misunderstandings at some point. Conversations should work to seeing each other's perspectives and coming to a compromise. If you enter the difficult conversation arena without being willing to have your view changed or shifted, you're not going to be successful. Like the song says, "We gain a lot of ground, cause we both give a little." (again, one size fits all for this advice - sure helps in my marriage too!)
Nothing too crazy or profound here. But it's easier to work together not just when you respect each other, but when you really value each other as friends. I have been pleasantly surprised to feel a kinship with so many of my scholars parents. It's not that we hang out on weekends (although I do get invites to birthday parties occasionally ;), but we can laugh together over funny things their kids do, unite when kids need to be disciplined, and most of all enjoy the experience of working together to help the child.
Have any parent/teacher thoughts to add? comment below :)