Education experts from the Westchester 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?
"We highlight parent/teacher communication at our parent orientation at the start of school. It is a very important issue and vital to the success of the relationship between the school and family.
We ask parents to please remember that drop-off and pick-up are not the ideal times to have a discussion about their child. The teacher will be happy to call them at a mutually convenient time or meet with the parent after school hours if that is preferable. The teachers prefer to have a real conversation and will not communicate by email on a substantial topic. They will only email "business"-type info, such as when to come in to celebrate the child's birthday. Speaking in person communicates tone and meaning in a way that email never can, and helps to avoid misunderstandings. The teachers are also very clear that they will not talk about a child in front of the child. Young children should not be privy to the adult conversations that may be taking place about a classroom incident or behavior.
A parent should always go to the teacher first if they have any question or concern about the classroom. The teachers are the ones who witness and experience firsthand everything that goes on in the classroom. And don't wait to address a concern. Small problems or misunderstandings only become bigger with the passage of time if they are not addressed early on. If a parent is dissatisfied with the teacher's response, she should then have a conversation with the director or principal. At that point the director will speak to the teacher and suggest a meeting with all parties to come to an understanding and hopefully resolve the issue.
It is our goal to ensure a successful and happy early childhood experience for both the children and their parents through meaningful and mutually respectful communication."
- Nancy Isaacs, director, JCC of Harrison Early Childhood Center, Harrison
"As educators and certified teachers, we work to help each student reach his or her full potential in all aspects of education, not solely on exams. Doing so involves three partnerships: one between educator and student; another between parents and educator; and a third between parents and their child.
Parents always contact us when their children do not perform as well as they had hoped, yet they seldom contact us when their child succeeds - most often, the tutor must initiate contact to learn how a student performed on a class test or standardized exam.
Good communication between parents and teachers or tutors is paramount. Candid communication between all parties avoids difficult confrontations, especially when the participants remember there are three sides to every story: yours, his or hers, and the actual facts.
Although a parent expects a child's teachers to notify him or her immediately, and in a forthright manner, when the child's work falls below standard or the child fails to hand in homework assignments, the parent may not be made aware of such problems until a report card arrives. At that time, communication between parent and educator becomes essential. The easiest way for parents to initiate contact is via email. Emails work well until they become long, cumbersome documents. When that occurs, phone calls or meetings generally work more efficiently.
A primary requirement for successful communication is honesty and understanding on the part of both parties. A parent must be aware of his or her child's abilities, and be willing to accept the child's failures as well as successes. The educator, on the other hand, has a responsibility to both the child and parent to communicate his or her expectations and explain clearly how those expectations are not being met.
Once an interchange begins, parents must choose their words wisely, curbing their emotions as they communicate their worries or dissatisfactions. Parents have expectations for their child, which may differ markedly from the teacher's. Importantly, both participants must remain open-minded. Parents must listen and hear the teacher's words, respecting the teacher's expertise. The teacher, too, must listen and hear the parents' concerns. A parent must understand that not all children have equal learning abilities - some are better learners than others, and not all children can receive A's. Conversely, the teacher needs to understand that not all children learn at the same pace, so expectations may need to be modified, as well.
Intervention by a department chair or principal may be required if a parent feels that his or her concerns are not being addressed. The child should not be present during any of the parent-educator discussions or meetings. Once a resolution is reached, then - and only then - the child may enter the conversation to learn how his or her performance issues can be rectified.
One last word of advice to parents: In most instances, arguing over a grade is a battle not worth waging. Teachers follow specific guidelines to determine cutoffs. If 89.5 percent is the cutoff for an A, and your child has 89.4 percent, accept the fact that that 89.4 percent falls below the cutoff. Consider this situation: If a higher-taxed income bracket begins at 90 percent and you are in the 89.4 percent range, you certainly wouldn't question, let alone argue, to be in that higher tax bracket. So, why second guess your child's teacher? Arguing over one-tenth of a percent is crossing a boundary that never gleans the best results for your child. So, parents, choose your battles wisely."
- Judy Suchman, director, Chappaqua Learning Center, Chappaqua
See more advice from other area experts.