Back to school: Connecting with your child’s teacher

Donna Henderson: Build a good relationship with your child’s teacher before problems arise.

During the first few weeks of school, parents often wonder how best to approach their child’s new teacher. Professor of Counseling Donna Henderson, a former school teacher and counselor who now prepares graduate students to become counselors, offers tips on how to get off on the right foot.

What are the best ways for parents to establish a good relationship with a teacher?

For parents, the three keys to establishing a good relationship with a teacher are: (1) actions that show you are concerned, open and cooperative; (2) emotions that are calm; and (3) positive and appreciative thoughts like “we can figure this out” or “let’s see how we can work together.” Trying to be as objective as you can about your child, while maintaining your commitment to the child’s best interests, is important. Take advantage of opportunities early in the school year to establish connections with your child’s teacher and pave the way for good communication throughout the year. If problems arise, confront them early. Parents should contact the child’s teacher at the first sign of slipping grades, changes in behavior or increasing school-related complaints.

Why is this important?

In today’s hurried world, taking time to know the people who are educating our future generation is more difficult, but more important than ever. Two people working together who have the best interest of the child in mind have a greater impact than if they work alone. Research has consistently shown that parent involvement contributes to school success. Discipline problems are reduced and attendance improves for children whose parents are involved. Collaboration with teachers leads to better outcomes for students.

What are the keys to successful parent-teacher conferences?

A good attitude and a spirit of cooperation make the most difference. Go in expecting success and with a mindset that everybody is working toward the same goal. Know what you want to accomplish. If you have requested the conference, have your questions prepared and any information you think the teacher may need, such as medical or testing information, available. Be ready to listen to the teacher. Be aware that teachers have to take care of all the children in the classroom, including yours, so frame your request as something that would be fair to everyone. Don’t ask teachers to make exceptions that interfere with other kids’ learning. If you are asked to come to the school, listen to the reason. Decide if there is other information you need and ask for it. Find out what the teacher wants to see happen and what ideas s/he has for accomplishing that. Ask the teacher what strengths your child has displayed and how both of you might build on those.

Remember, your focus should remain on your child’s success, not on arguing with the teacher. If you have a hard time connecting with the teacher, ask if the school counselor or someone else might be able to help you understand what’s going on and figure out possible solutions.

What are the dangers of not establishing a good relationship with a child’s teacher?

Your child spends the majority of his waking hours in school, so knowing that environment and the people there will help you know your child better, respond more helpfully to his concerns, and support the learning that needs to happen. Sometimes children may either exaggerate or understate things. The more you know about the school will help you put things in perspective and respond more effectively.

What are the benefits of volunteering at a child’s school?

Volunteering can open an important window into a child’s world and be a parent’s chance to feel the energy and see the amazing things that are being done at school. By volunteering, parents send a message that education is a team effort. One word of caution, though; parents should be involved, but not so involved that it interferes with rather than fosters the learning process.

What are the most common mistakes parents make regarding teachers?

Some parents start out with an adversarial approach. Conflict may exist, but using negotiation, listening and good people skills work better than yelling or being snide and disrespectful. Some parents assume teachers don’t know what they are doing. Teachers deserve the respect given other professionals. Because we have all been students, we sometimes assume we know what it means to teach, too. And, parents often forget to send an e-mail or make a phone call to share positive feedback with teachers.

Categories: Graduate School, Student