Education experts from the Rockland County, NY, area weigh in on how parents can establish a positive relationship with their child's teachers, thus ensuring their child's long-term success in school.
School experiences for children and parents alike can run the gamut from "the time of my life" to dread and avoidance. Generally, the better the communication that exists between the parents and the school staff, be it administrators, teachers, or aides, the healthier (and happier) all parties will be - most notably, the child.
"Good communication between parents and teachers or tutors is paramount," says Judy Suchman, director of the Chappaqua Learning Center. Often "parents can have expectations for their child that may differ markedly from the teacher's," she adds.
Bridging that divide - and doing so positively - is one of the most beneficial things parents can do to ensure their child's long-term success in school. As Gail Doroff, director of Robin Hill School in Suffern, observes: "It sets the stage for future education." With that in mind, Robin Hill School has a particularly inclusive perspective, where parents are always welcome; they are even encouraged to observe their children through two-way mirrors on each classroom door.
Many schools have policies and cultures such as this in place that promote good communication, and it is important for parents to keep that in mind when deciding where to place their children. No matter where you send your child for his education, though, there are things you can do to help you make the most of the parent-teacher relationship.
We asked local experts:
What advice can you give to foster better parent-teacher relationships?
"Parents are partners with teachers as we work together to raise, broaden, and deepen the skills and knowledge of our children. I often sit next to, instead of across from, parents to emphasize that we have a common interest - i.e., what is best for the child.
Good listening skills are important for teachers as well as parents. Asking clarifying questions and seeking areas of agreement can usually foster a feeling of partnership. When there are areas of disagreement, there are often alternative solutions that can provide mutually satisfactory outcomes.
I advise parents to visit school often to develop a comfort level with the faculty and staff. Then, when a problem occurs, there is already a relationship that will foster honest communication and an effective solution.
I also advise parents to call or send a note when there is a small problem or concern - before it becomes a large one. Be proactive. When we know about any mistakes early on, we can move quickly to find a solution, to develop a strategy for improving the situation.
The best way to start a conversation about a concern is to describe what you observe. Focusing on the facts first instead of judgments and conclusions can open the door for clarifying questions, extensions that will add other perspectives, and greater understanding of the causes of the problem. Beginning with judgments and conclusions often leads to an adversarial stalemate that results in blame rather than on solutions. All teachers, students, and parents have made mistakes at one time or another. Extending an honest apology is a good way to take a first step towards a solution."
- James Burger, headmaster, Tuxedo Park School (pre-K through 9th grade), Tuxedo Park
"In our school, parents should always have close contact with teachers. This is their first school experience, which sets the stage for future education. Teachers should be accessible to parents either before or after classes. If there is a specific issue with a child, parents should set up a meeting with the teacher and if need be, have the director present. E-mail is not acceptable in our situation. Words and messages can be misinterpreted. For elementary or older, we believe parents can find it comforting. Always have facts and documented information to present if you are unhappy with the teachers responses if you plan to go the director or principal. Do not get into confrontational situations with the teacher as nothing is accomplished. The most important advice is that you are your child's best advocate. If you have concerns, it is very important that you make the teacher aware and resolve it to your and your child's satisfaction, no matter what age your child is."
- Gail Doroff, owner and director, Robin Hill School (toddler and nursery school age), Suffern
"Life has gotten to be very hectic, and parents today are under a lot of pressure to get more done than they have time. It seems as if everyone is in constant motion. Because of this, the most important opportunities for parents to connect with their child's teacher are often not taken advantage of: that is, when they drop off and pick up their child from school. While written daily sheets, white boards, and newsletters help to convey concrete and general information about children's experiences in school, they don't really give the parents a sense of their child's specific experiences, nor do they help build the relationship between parent and teacher - and this relationship is critical, we know from research, for a child to reach his or her full potential in school. Thus, my advice to any parent is to give yourself the time, at least a couple of times each week, to slow down, spend a few minutes in your child's classroom to get a sense of what the 'climate' is like, and to spend some time chatting with the teacher. You'll find that everyone benefits. The teacher will have a better understanding of what your goals are for your child and therefore will be better able to help you meet them. You'll have a better understanding of how your child is spending his or her day and what is being provided to your child. And your child's experience will be enriched through this increased partnership between you and your teacher."
- Kyle Miller, M.Ed., director, Campus Fun and Learn Child Development Center, Suffern
See more advice from other area experts.