Well the school year might be over but school is still on my mind. As summer seeps into our families, thoughts of next year’s classes and teachers may creep into your mind. We may wonder which teacher our child will have next year, what their experience will be like. Will they excel? But more importantly, will they BE happy? Parent Voice is key to understanding these questions. Voice requires a partnership between two parties—parents and teachers.
I am reminded of this each year as my own boys head back to school. It wasn’t long ago that my eldest began Fourth Grade. He was thrilled to be moving up in the ranks and we were, as parents, looking forward to the year and to the excellent team of teachers who’d be working with him. However, as the days passed our son was less than excited about his new grade. For the first few weeks, he came home grumpy and was not the happy Fourth Grader we had hoped he would be. We realized that our first instincts—to blame our son, blame the teacher, or blame the school—ultimately would do nothing to solve the problem.
My husband and I, both teachers, were concerned that what we both loved as a profession, was causing so much concern in all of our home lives. We went into problem solving mode. We asked him to explain. What didn’t he like? Was he getting bullied? Was it too hard? The questions were productive to a point, but then he just stopped or got angry. We’d never seen this as parents and were getting more frustrated in not being able to “fix” it.
We decided to take the crucial step of reaching out to the teacher. Trying to solve the problem without using our voice wasn’t working. Many times parents spend a great deal of time trying to figure out what is or isn’t the problem on their own. This choice can result in the child tiring from the barrage of questions, creating new problems in that the child now doesn’t want to tell you anything. So we reached out to “Mrs. Smith” via a short email. We asked her how she thought he was doing, explaining what our son had been communicating to us at home. Surprised to hear that he was complaining about school as he was working well in class, she noted that he had failed to complete some homework assignments. We decided that meeting with her would be the next step, and that as parents we could talk about his performance and see what we could do together with her help.
This is where our partnership began with his teacher. The parent-teacher partnership is an interesting dynamic when it comes to child development. Some parents feel intimidated by teachers, and some teachers might feel defensive towards parents, or even teachers who feel compelled to educate the parents on what they believe their roles should be. Regardless, I have found it best to envision the interaction as a partnership—a cooperative relationship that has, at its core, what’s best for the child. A partnership where every voice matters and no voice is better than the other.
This partnership will get the conversation started—it will let you as the parent convey your goals and insights for your child while listening to an objective viewpoint with recommendations for your child’s development. For the educator it’s a chance to get information about what’s happening at home and to assure the parents that the goals you have as the teacher can be accomplished in conjunction with those they have as parents. For the parent it can offer an angle on a problem that simply creates perspective.
That day, as we met in my son’s Fourth Grade classroom, a partnership began. By establishing a line of communication with Mrs. Smith, we took an important step. We showed that we valued what this educator was doing for our son and were looking for help and to help in his development. In a time when email is our primary way of communicating with teachers, often the heart of the message is lost. Often the best way to use your voice is real people meeting in real time.
When parents and teachers meet, they create a partnership. They:
- set goals
- solve problems
- see more sides to the individual child than just our own.
This collaboration is what happened on that day in September. We discussed our son’s lackluster reaction to Fourth Grade, and Mrs. Smith shared her observations and expectations. From this simple conversation a plan to address his frustrations and to move forward was hatched.
As a parent, I seek out the advice of an adult who sees my child each day and has identified his strengths and his needs. It makes my relationship with him that much stronger. As a teacher, I welcome a chance to meet with families. I encourage them to initiate these meetings when they need more information, or if something just isn’t working effectively. I know that my viewpoint, together with their input, will help to give their child and my student common ground upon which to build a successful school year and to grow into more effective and happy kids.
This effective partnership not only strengthens the parent and teacher relationship but also sets the model for others to follow thereby building a positive school community. Giving voice as a parent not only makes you an advocate but builds a crucial relationship.