Reach Out! Tips for Building a Strong, Positive Parent-Teacher Relationship

By: Michele Timmons

Take a minute to watch the video below. Then, ask yourself: Is this “me” at the beginning of each school year? (Hint: This isn’t a trick question. Most parents will answer yes!)

Now fast forward to mid-February, when the weather is dreary, and your child is making you – and his teacher—crazy. Are you still as giddy as a toddler on Christmas? Again, this is not a trick question (wink, wink). What the heck happened, and how can you keep that from occurring again this year? Consider these back to school tips to help you build a strong, positive relationship with your child’s teacher—right from the start—so that when challenges occur (and they will) you and the teacher can present a united front to overcome the challenge and keep your child on the right track.

Reach Out!

Before the first day of school, schedule a 15-30 minute conversation with your child’s teacher. If you can’t make a time work, shoot over a quick, introductory e-mail. I’m not sure about you, but my middle son is exactly like ME! I am a pretty successful adult, but I was definitely an ornery child. I find that starting the school year with an apology to the teacher works wonders. I introduce myself and share a little bit about who I am and what I do – to show that I am a good human being and a fairly successful adult. Then, I drop the bomb by saying, “I just want to apologize up front because my son is exactly like me. He is a funny, caring and charismatic young man with great leadership potential. However, he is also ornery, talks constantly, tends to exist in his very own little world and struggles to use his powers for good instead of evil.” Note: I don’t have to apologize for all of my children, just this one! The others are more like their father ; )

Being honest and upfront about your child’s behavior—good or bad—helps a teacher understand where your child fits within family dynamics and gives him or her little insight into what to expect. It also sends the message that you are an engaged parent, and are willing to work with your child’s teacher to build a positive support system for both your child and his teacher.

Create a communication plan that works for you and the teacher. Communication between parent and teacher is only as effective as the communication tool. Some parents are not permitted to take personal calls during work. If this is the case, make sure the teacher knows this and offer another method of communication. One year, a teacher and I communicated daily using my child’s school agenda book. The teacher would make a note and I would comment. This way we both knew that the other person saw the note.

Build a relationship with your child’s teacher. Attend the open house or meet the teacher night. Introduce yourself and set up a time to talk to them personally. Rather than trying to meet in person, you may find it easier to connect on the phone or through Skype or Google chat. Find out if there is anything in common between the two of you, or between the teacher and your child. Relationships matter. The stronger the relationship between you, your child and his teacher the more successful your child will be.

Stay connected.

During one of your initial conversations with the teacher, ask this question: “If there was one thing I could do this year to help make this a great year for you and my child, what would it be? “ An elementary teacher might ask you to read for 20 minutes with your child. A middle school teacher might ask you to help on a project. A high school teacher might ask you to come in to school one day to talk about your job. Now, do your best to make this wish a reality.

Throughout the year, keep working on building the relationship. Send the teacher a note on her birthday. Make a call to the principal letting her know something the teacher did to make your child’s day.

Address Concerns in a Positive Manner.

Nothing puts me on the defensive faster than when someone needs me to do something for them but is mean, crabby or pushy when they ask. The old adage “you catch more bees with honey” still holds true. Regardless of my concern, the way I introduce the topic has a direct impact on my outcome. Sam Horn a veteran teacher, trainer and author of, Tongue Fu® at School! provides great positive strategies for addressing concerns.

  • Ask vs. Accuse: Rather than telling the teacher how he needs to solve the problem, use phrases like “how can we work together to make sure this problem doesn’t occur again” or “could you please review this assignment again”.
  • Disagree vs. Discuss: This is where you switch from "but" to "and," says Horn. "If we use the word 'but,' we will come across as disagreeing," she says. So "I know you have 30 students, but my child needs more attention" becomes "I know you have 30 students, and how can we arrange things so my child can get the help she needs?"
  • Punisher vs. Partner: Avoid starting a conversation by blaming the teacher. Instead, ask the teacher to share with you his perspective on the situation and LISTEN without interruption. Careful word choice makes a huge difference. For example, rather than saying “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me my child was failing.” A parent could say, “How do we work together to make sure my child is progressing appropriately.” This avoids blame and focuses on solutions.
  • Most importantly, take it all with a grain of salt. At my oldest son’s first meet the teacher night, his kindergarten teacher told all parents “I promise to only believe 50% of what your children tell me about you as long as you promise to only believe 50% of what your children tell you about me.” This has become the guiding principle in my role as a parent. Another way to look at it is, there are three sides to every story: my side, your side and the truth, which lies somewhere in the middle.
  • The bottom line is to remember that relationships matter. By focusing on creating a strong, positive relationship with your child’s teacher, everyone wins – you, the teacher and most importantly the child!

  • For more ideas on how to connect with your child's teacher, check out this e-newsletter.
  • Tell Us: ----> We would love to hear what you do that helps you build strong, positive relationships with your kids teachers.

    ________________________________________________________________________ Sources:

    1. Maureen Fitzgerald, Build a positive relationship with your child's teacher in 5 easy steps. (Milwaukee Parenting Examiner, September 15, 2010).

    2. Toni Klym McLellan, How to Talk to Your Child’s Teacher (Disney Family.Com, 2011).

    3. Schaffer Publications. How to Develop a Relationship With Your Child's Teacher. (Disney Family.Com, 2011).

    4. Sam Horn. "Tongue Fu® at School!" (Taylor Trade Publications, 2004).

    5. ParentFurther.com E-newsletter: Connecting With Teachers.

    6. Image via knittymarie on Flick'r.

    5

    Nicely done

    5

    I’m new to all of this. Thank you for the great information.

    5

    All so very true and important. Whether child is special needs, average or gifted, parent/teacher communication is critical and the key to a successful year for all involved. I find email to be very helpful for us. Thanks Michele.

    5

    Excellent tips with humor mixed in. All that with resources to boot. Nice job, Michele!

    5

    Great insight about how to support such an important relationship in your child’s life! Good practical advice.

    5

    GREAT ARTICLE!!!!

    For my new parenting handout, Texting and Children, see

    http://www.kellybear.com/ParentTips.html

    Post new comment