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Parent-Teacher Relationship: Collaborating to Help Students

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Parent-Teacher Relationship: Collaborating to Help Students

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Table of contents

 

  1. Collaboration with Families
  2. Families
  3. Strategies to Improve Communication with Families
  4. Important Skills of an Educator
  5. Conclusion

One of the worst actions a teacher can take in the classroom is to not collaborate with his or her students’ families. Parents are the first teachers in a child’s life. A parent understands more about their child than a teacher does. Teaching is not just done by teachers, but by parents as well. To have a student academically succeed, teachers and parents need to work cooperatively together. However, to do this teachers need to understand why collaboration with families is so important; family misconceptions, challenges, and resources; and strategies to improve collaboration. Lastly, we will discuss how these presentations will enhance our skills as educators.

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Collaboration with Families

Parents and teachers try to do everything to make their child/student succeed. The most important idea to consider is collaboration. Inserted below, is a picture of a triangle illustrating that a student needs teacher and parent communication to have a successful education (Developer, n.d). If either the student, teacher, or parent does not hold up their end of the triangle, then the triangle will break. To keep collaboration up between all parties, communication is an important factor. There are many ideas to consider when collaborating with families.

One of the categories in the triangle is parents. Parents can benefit from collaboration in many ways. According to the American Federation of Teachers, “The manner in which schools communicate and interact with parents affects the extent and quality of parents’ home involvement with their children’s learning” (“Building Parent-Teacher Relationships,” 2013). If the communication is alway bad news, parents will be less likely to be involved in their child’s education. They may also not volunteer to help the classroom or the school at all. Teachers who communicate to parents about positive things will have better parent involvement in the classroom and in a child’s education.

The next category of the triangle is teachers. Teachers decide whether or not they will promote collaboration in their classroom. Collaboration is in the hands of the teacher. Dr. Richard Curwin, director of the graduate program in behavior disorder at David Yellin College, states, that there are two main problems in dysfunctional collaboration in the classroom; Dumping and Judgement (Curwin, 2012). What many teachers do is judge the parents. If something is wrong with the students, then the parents are at fault. That statement is what many teachers believe is the truth. However, teachers need to put aside their judgements to serve each student equally. It is not their place to judge a parent on how they raised their child. It is up to teachers to take any child given to them and to educate them. Dumping is when angry teachers call a student’s parents about a problem. The teachers tend to “dump” the problem onto the parents, expecting the parents to do something about it. Parents tend to do this too. They blame teachers for their child’s bad grades or poor behavior in the classroom (Curwin, 2012). In the communication triangle, parents and teachers are just playing the blame game; they do not want to take responsibility for a student. To end this, teachers and parents need to collaborate with one another to help each other work with a child.

There are many ways to promote collaboration in the classroom to prevent blaming one another. Teachers and parents need to discuss problems with each other and work toward solutions. Parents can keep a teacher updated on their home life and situations that arise that may affect a child’s learning in the classroom (Curwin, 2012). Teachers and parents will become a team, to work towards goals together. Working together to find solutions is a way to work towards academic achievement. In a collaboration model that does not work, both parents and teachers play defensively and will not work the problems out together, because of a one-sided point of view.

A parent-teacher relationship can benefit a child’s education. Communication is the key to collaboration. There are certain ways to communicate with parents. Sandra Loughran (2011) explains in her journal article that, for proper communication,

Communicate succinctly and clearly. Organize your thoughts ahead of time, review written messages. Make clear to each one that he or she is respected and his or her participation is encouraged. Be flexible, encouraging working parents to participate actively and be involved when and where possible. (Loughran, 2011)

Respect is something that all teachers want. In other countries, respecting teachers is just what you do. In countries like America, teachers are not given as much respect as they should be getting. Yet, teachers need to understand that they have to earn people’s respect. Giving respect to parents will help teachers be able to gain a parent’s respect. Collaboration cannot happen without mutual respect between both parties. Parents will want to work with a teacher that respects both them and their child. Flexibility is also mentioned by Mrs. Loughran. She explains that flexibility shows that a teacher is willing to adapt to each and every one of their students. Collaboration requires flexibility. If a teacher is going to implement what a parents suggests, then they will have to be flexible on their lessons. Collaboration with families is so important because it can lead a student to success. The student would not be able to succeed without the parents or the teacher doing their part. Having a cohesive unit can help find the best possible way to teach the student, can act as a problem solving technique, and allow parents to develop a greater appreciation in the child’s education.

Families

It is the responsibility and duty of future educators to, first, inform themselves and be aware of any misconceptions and challenges the families of the students, in their classrooms, might be facing. Then, in turn, they can provide resources necessary to help and support, not only, the child, but also the child’s family. One misconception educators must be aware of is the dynamic of the nuclear family; a pair of adults and their children. This concept has vastly changed in modern society. How a family is defined has changed to include anyone who is responsible for the care of a child, such as, single-parent families, a family with more than two parents (step-parents), larger extended families (grandparents), and even caregivers. Another misconception teachers must be aware of is that just because parents are not attending school functions, parent-teacher conferences, IEP meetings, and so on, does not mean that they do not care about their child. In modern society, there is a growing increase of single-parent families or families where both parents have to work in order to make enough just to scrape by. Due to this, parents often work odd hours and are unable to attend meetings and be actively involved in their child’s education, not because they do not want to, but because work simply does not allow them to do so. A final misconception is that, just because a child cannot communicate verbally, does not mean that they do not understand. Modern society is multicultural and made up of several different kinds of diversity, including: cultural, linguistic, lesbian and gay families, and students with disabilities, just to name a few. These can all create barriers to effective communication. Therefore, it is the job of the teacher to find other means of communicating with children that best meet their individual needs, in order to, check their understanding and provide appropriate help where necessary.

A challenge teachers face when communicating with families and students can be nonverbal communication. For example, in the presentation with Harshita, Sahil, and his intervention specialist, they explained how even though Sahil does not communicate verbally he can communicate beautifully through typing. This is how they checked Sahil’s understanding. He showed them how he could grasp higher levels of concepts that many other people would not be able to even understand. He also enjoys writing short stories and utilizes typing to answer all the questions asked by students in our class. This shows that typing may be one way to effectively check the understanding of a child who is nonverbal. Teachers must also educate themselves about other cultures, in order to, communicate effectively with parents and students. They need to be aware of other cultures values, behaviors, and even minor details such as, eye contact, so they know what they may be interpreting as disrespect or a lack of caring/paying attention, may just be a cultural difference. Another challenge when communicating with families may be a language barrier. All of the students or parents of students in a teacher’s classroom are not going to always speak English. Additionally, there is not always going to be a translator provided by the school to help aid in this communication. In this scenario, the responsibility falls on the teacher to communicate with the parent as effectively as possible. A final challenge educators face is working with a working parent. This could include, scheduling conferences or IEP meetings at times that better fit the parent’s schedule, and communicating through phone calls, emails, or text messages to keep parents informed. Doing this allows parents to have a say and offer their input about their child’s education.

Educators need to make the move from asking families what they can do for the school, to asking families what the school can do to help them. Some ways educators can work towards more effective communication when facing some of the misceptions and challenges listed above include: looking at the child strengths, instead of, just their weaknesses; showing that they genuinely are concerned, care, and want to help both the child and the family; not just punishing a child for misbehaving, but instead, finding the problem and coming up with a solution; and always most important, advocating for the child and the family.

From Lynda and Karie’s presentation, we learned it is important speak to the child not just about the child. This can be done by addressing them and listening to their input, as they, oftentimes, know not only where they are struggling, but also, what helps them best. For example, something that really helped Karie with learning was color coding things. Educators should also hold high expectations for the child, foster discussions, and have family-centered intervention to best work with families from diverse populations, and to build culturally responsive relationships. Jennifer Keys Adair (2012) conducted a study at an elementary school in Mesa, Arizona, that focused on the elementary school’s preschool program, which mostly included Mexican mothers (Adair, 2012). She found that, if educators took more time to consider the experiences and concerns through communicating with immigrant parents, teachers, and children, then the early childhood education system would improve greatly (Adair, 2012). Repeatedly, she stresses the importance of building reciprocal relationships between immigrant children and their families with the teacher, and how they are key to addressing their parents’ thoughts and ideals about their children, as well as, engaging the community (Adair, 2012). Another idea presented in her research is to eliminate commanding and replace it with inquiring (Adair, 2012). Some suggestions she presents to go about applying these to ideals include, conducting family interviews to gain parents expertise about their child, having a diverse parent panel, instituting reciprocal relationships in which learning goes both ways, seek opportunities for urban and bilingual colleagues to share with other teachers, and always inviting immigrant teachers to share their knowledge with other teachers when possible (Adair, 2012). All of these suggestions, presented by Adair, work towards making educators more self-aware and provide ways to improve communication with parents from various other cultures. Furthermore, when communicating with families, educators must make sure to always use person-first language and be empathic.

Lastly, it is the responsibility of the educator to be aware and make parents aware of the resources available to them for help and support. This may include doctors, support groups, food banks, or services that help a variety of families such as, immigrant families or socioeconomically disadvantaged families. These services could vary from state to state, county to county, or even city to city. One resource, that is fairly close to home, is the Hartville Migrant Center in Hartville, Ohio that provides services for immigrant families and provides additional information about each service at their website; https://hartvillemigrantministry.org/. This website also can be translated into Spanish for ELL (English Language Learners), whose first language is Spanish. There is also a website, “Special Education Guide,” which lists supports and resources for parents and teachers to help the families of children with disabilities; https://www.specialeducationguide.com/pre-k-12/tools-and-research/support-and-resources-for-parents-and-teachers/. Some of these resources include: Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights (PACER), National Information Center for Handicapped Children and Youth (NICHCY) , Parents Helping Parents, etc. Finally, to help those at a socioeconomic disadvantage, there is the Incredible Years Parenting Program, as a resource for these families; https://www.incredibleyears.com/. It is important to send these resources home with every child, so one family does not feel singled out. We can also make parents aware of their legal rights such as, right to due process, and family workshops by laws in Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and so on.

Strategies to Improve Communication with Families

From here, educators turn to strategies to improve their communication with families. Some of these strategies may include weekly letters home to the families, follow-up meetings, progress reports, notes back-and-forth, immediate contact (such as phone calls or emails), an open house, and listening to each others ideas and revising plans accordingly.

The National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program (n.d.), talks about how practices educators can utilize to strengthen communication and partnerships with families will then start to build a sense of welcoming, during the first interaction they have with families (“Collaborative Partnerships with Families,” n.d.). Schools must let parents understand that they are eager to know what the parents wishes and goals are for their child. Next, schools must make sure, in their procedures for enrollment and orientations, that communication is a message that is constantly being communicated. From here, educators can offer several different ways for families to be involved or contribute their services, if they would like to. This, in turn, leads to a reflection on how that involvement contributes to the partnerships. It is also critical that educators reflect on and are self-aware of any prejudices and biases that they have that could potentially interfere with partnerships. It should be a goal of all teachers to create a physical environment that is welcoming to all and has evidence of lives of all the families’ of their students. In order to build positive relationships with families, it is vital that teachers share anything positive they can think of, about their child. It should always be encouraged for families to contribute their own thoughts and ideas to their child’s curriculum. Lastly, the teacher should work to develop any strong connections they can with other organizations and services, then help show families how to access these, if necessary (“Collaborative Partnerships with Families,” n.d.).

Some good ways to build two-way communication between families and schools, include: parent conferences, parent-teacher organizations or school community councils, weekly or monthly folders of student work sent home for parent review and comment, phone calls, and e-mails or school websites. Communication strategies for schools to create effective communication with families include:

Parent newsletters, annual open houses, curriculum nights, home visits (where applicable), phone calls, annual school calendars, inserts in local newspapers, annual grandparents or “special persons” days, Board of Education spokesperson or communications officer at PTA meetings, homework hotlines, annual field days, notices and handouts in local markets, clinics, churches, mosques, temples, or other gathering sites, website for the school, workshops for parents, communications that are focused on fathers as well as mothers. (“Building Parent-Teacher Relationships,” 2013)

Lastly, effective communication involves initiation, timeliness, consistency, follow through, and clarity and usefulness of communication (“Building Parent-Teacher Relationships,” 2013). Contact with families should be initiated, immediately, once teachers figure out who is in their classroom. Then, the family should be contacted as soon as a problem and identified to avoid further problems and to come up with a solution. Next, feedback with parents should be often and consistent. Then, both teachers and parents want to see that the other one is going to follow through with what they said they were going to do. Lastly, both teachers and parents should have the information they need to inform one another, worded in a way that each can understand (“Building Parent-Teacher Relationships,” 2013).

From the presentation by Lynda and Karie, we learned an important strategy can be to address the child and utilize them as the expert to figure out what works best for them. This allows them to have an active role in their learning and education. For example, Karie communicated something that helps her to learn the different material. She assigns a color to vocabulary words she is studying and color codes her notes. It also helps her to come up with phrases to remember how to spell each word and their meanings. Additionally, in the presentation about Sahil, we learned that there are other ways to communicate effectively with students to check their understanding. For example, with Sahil, this was typing. We also learned that parents just want to love their children and leave the education to the teachers. It is an educators responsibility to fill their role of helping the child be successful in education, and only send home work for the parents to do with their children if the parents ask for it.

These strategies all work towards building mutual trust, respectful communication, an open-mind, empathy, sharing thoughts and ideas in decision making, shared goals, and so on. All of which are vital to effective communication with families.

Important Skills of an Educator

After learning about what collaboration is and how important it is to collaborate with the families of our students, we can enhance our skills as educators accordingly. From presentations, to speakers, to class discussions, we have retained knowledge of plenty of valuable skills that a teacher must possess to communicate and collaborate effectively with families. Some of these skills include: learning about families and students, communicating on a regular basis, listening to families, openly communicating with students, strategically planning instruction, providing resources for families, being a strong advocate for families, and creating equal relationships with families.

One skill that a teacher should possess is the ability to learn about their students and their families. This can be done through activities that let your students tell you and express who they are, meeting with families, observing how students act and perform in the classroom, and many other ways. In class, we learned that, in our future classrooms, we will have many diverse families. As discussed above, this diversity can include: cultural diversity, linguistic diversity, different family structures, different socioeconomic statuses, etc. In order to know the diversity of our classroom, we need to learn about our students and their families. When communicating with a family who is culturally diverse, we have to remember to be sensitive about their customs, inform ourselves about their culture, and be aware of our own subconscious biases. When communicating with a family who is linguistically diverse, it is important that, if they do not speak English, to have a translator sit in on the meeting, so they can understand what you are saying and so you can understand what they are saying. Every family is different, and they all have their own struggles. Some families might have different family structures and different socioeconomic statuses than the typical norm of society. So, we need to know what kinds of families our students are coming from. Do they have parents, or are their grandparents taking care of them? Do they have a mom and a dad, two moms, or two dads? Are their parents divorced, or widowed? Are their parents strict or overly lenient? Is their family struggling financially? Is their family homeless or living in a shelter? Along with so many other questions that we should consider about all of the students in our classroom.

Another skill that will be important for us to possess as teachers will be to communicate with families on a frequent basis. Families should know how their child is performing in school, and, in order to do that, we need to communicate to them through various ways that were talked about earlier in this paper. We need to communicate to families about their child’s performance, whether they are performing very well or struggling in some areas. We need to let parents know how their child is progressing throughout the year; if they are improving or not. We need to communicate to parents about their child’s behavior. Also, it is important to communicate to parents about opportunities they have to help out with their child’s education, whether at home or at school.

Along with communicating with families, we also have to be good listeners. It is important to talk with families, but it is also extremely important to listen to what they have to say; their ideas, their questions, and their concerns. In class, we talked about not just telling parents what to do and not just talking at them, but how it is important to let parents know that they can come to us and we will listen to them. While it is important to talk to them about advice or important information, parents sometimes just need someone who will listen to their concerns, struggles, and feelings, especially our families who have a child with a disability. When a family has a child with a disability, they will have been through alot. We learned that these families can have a range of emotions, on the grief cycle (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance), at any point in time. When Lynda and her daughter Karie were speaking to our class, Lynda gave us some advice as teachers. She told us that, when parents come to us with questions and concerns, we need to listen to them, because they are talking from experience, and they need help. Often times, no one has listened to them and they are getting more frustrated and feeling more hopeless.

Not only do we have to openly communicate with families, but also our students. We need to be a role model for our students. We need to show them that we are a safe haven for them to come to with anything. We also have to be straightforward with students and let them know that we hold high expectations for every single one of them, and we need to let them know exactly what we expect from them. In order to do this, we need to build trust with our students. With that, we need to treat our students with respect and show them that we care about them and their education. During Sahil Mahajan’s presentation, we learned about how important open communication and trust truly is to a child, especially a child with a disability. Sahil, a teenager with autism and who is nonverbal, had an interpreter tell the class that people would talk to him as if he could not hear or understand him, even though he very well could. He said that most people would talk about, him instead of to him, and that is one of the reasons he is not close with many people. He said that trust is one of the biggest values to him, and if he does not trust someone, then he will have a hard time conversing with them. He said that he needs trust so that people will understand that he is an intelligent human being and to treat him as so. Just because a child has a disability, does not mean that they are any less of a person. We still need to treat them with respect, and communicate with them as we would with any other child.

Another skill that we must possess as future educators is the ability to strategically plan instruction based on our students and their needs. This goes back to getting to know our students and assessing and observing how they are performing in the classroom. Through various forms of assessment and observation, we can learn what needs our students have and we can see the different ways that they learn material best. With this knowledge, we can form our instruction around these needs and abilities. In class, we learned that it is important to plan our instruction around the needs of our students, to ensure success in the classroom. This means that we also have to be open to change, especially when we see that a student is struggling or if a student comes to us with struggles. This ability to change will also be helpful when parents come to us and voice their concerns for their child; we should be able to try our best to meet the needs of their child. As teachers, we should not be afraid to constantly be working on our instruction; no instruction can be perfect. Every lesson is a learning experience for the next.

Along with planning our instruction around our students needs, we also have to provide helpful resources for our students and their families. Many families, especially those with a child who has a disability, are coming to us blindly without any clue of what to do and places to go for help. We have to provide these families with many resources or ideas of resources that can assist them in their situation. Unfortunately, not all families can afford to provide all of the helpful resources their child needs, so we need to help them find solutions and resources that can be available to them. For instance, during Chris Brouse’s presentation, he told us that they could not afford extra resources. No one would provide him with options that he could have available to him, and he had a working mom who could not be there every minute to help him through everything. Then, we found out during Sahil’s presentation, that Sahil was provided a lot of resources, and his mom was able to stay home and take care of him anytime he needed it. They were able to afford someone to come to the house and work with Sahil, a good portion of the day, to accommodate his needs and get him through school, whereas, Chris was thrown into multiple schools that treated him horribly and did anything but help him.

Caring for our students and providing them the instruction and resources they need to succeed, also comes with being a strong advocate for our students and their families. During all of the speakers that we had, every speaker mentioned how teachers need to be an advocate for their students. Parents can still be an advocate for their child the rest of their lives, however, they are still just seen as parents. As teachers, we are professionals. We need to recognize problems and we have to use our professionalism to help our students get the help or assistance they need to succeed in their education and life.

Finally, one of the most important skills of a successful teacher is the ability to create equal relationships with the families of our students. During Lynda and Karie’s presentation, Lynda was explaining how one of Karie’s teachers had Lynda sit in a student’s desk, and talked down to her, during a one-on-one meeting. Lynda said that she felt so inferior, compared to the teacher, and she knew that he was not going to listen or take her concerns seriously. This instance, shows us the importance of treating parents as equals. It is important to let our families know that they are just as important as we are. When we talk to them, we need to sit on the same level, hold eye contact, talk to them and not at them, and never blame them for anything. Equality is one of the most important aspects of collaboration and communication.

All of the skills above, are skills that a teacher, who wants to effectively communicate and collaborate with families and students, needs to possess. These skills show that a teacher is willing to do all that he or she can to help families when they need it and to help students succeed in their education. As teachers, we are constantly learning, and enhancing our skills, so these are not the only skills a successful teacher should possess, but they are many of the important ones.

Conclusion

Collaborating with families is extremely important to a child’s education. Effective communication must occur between the teacher and the parent, in order for collaboration to be successful and benefit the student and their academic needs. No two families are alike; they all have their differences and their unique characteristics. This means that teachers need to get to know the families of his or her students and educate himself or herself on the families’ individual backgrounds. Teachers must be knowledgeable, accessible, and sensitive to his or her families and their students. They must provide families the help that they need and be good listeners when families need to communicate to him or her. There are many ways to communicate with families on a regular basis, teachers just need to make it a priority to do so. Finally, teachers are constantly learning and growing, enhancing their professional skills. Through collaboration and communication, teachers can only grow and learn more and more every day.

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