A guest post by Frankie Wallace
From notes, calls, and personal meetings to full-blown parent-teacher conferences, there are many different ways that parents can get involved in the education process. While this can often be for the better, it can also cause quite a bit of friction at times.
That’s why it’s crucial that educators are aware of the dynamics of the relationship between teachers and parents and understand how they can affect classrooms. Learning how to foster these relationships can take potential causes of stress and conflict and turn them into productive tools that can help everyone involved, especially the students themselves.
Getting Onto the Same Page
It’s no secret that parents and teachers don’t always agree. But the issue doesn’t always revolve around incompatible differences nor diametrically opposed opinions — even if they can often feel that way when we’re talking with our student’s parents. If you can step back and look at the bigger picture, it becomes a lot easier to stop pointing fingers and begin to understand where each party is coming from.
Chances are you’ve been in that uncomfortable situation where your teaching methods clash with the opposite party. This can be on a broader scale, such as a teaching style based around serenity versus one of passionate intensity, or it can be on a smaller scale, such as the specific way you approach a subject or the amount of homework you expect students to be assigned. Either way, it’s perfectly normal that disagreements will arise from time to time over how students should be taught everything from tying their shoes to algebraic equations.
The Same Goals
While differences are a normal part of the parent-teacher dynamic, an oft-overlooked piece of the puzzle revolves around the goals of everyone involved. Often a heated discussion over methods can completely obfuscate the fact that everyone genuinely wants the same results. This consistency of goals should always be looked for, as it can prove a common point from which to ground the conversation.
Communication Is Key
While finding common ground to work from is a critical factor in healthy parent-teacher relationships, doing so doesn’t necessarily resolve the issue of meeting the goals that are agreed upon. That’s where communication comes into the picture. The benefits of proactive and comfortable lines of communication between parents and teachers cannot be overstated. Research has directly linked positive communication (along with the relationships that it fosters) between parents and teachers to better prosocial behavior as well as academic success in students.
Of course, being aware of the benefits of good communication doesn’t automatically make one skilled at the craft — and it is indeed a craft. Teachers can benefit tremendously from taking the time to study the different forms that communication can take. For example, even within the business world, a communications degree can be specialized for various roles, like communication pioneers and communication coaches.
Not only is it helpful to understand various forms of communication, it can also be immensely beneficial to know how to address conflict resolution. In the same way that a foreign diplomat needs to understand things like active listening, mediation, leadership, and relationship building skills, a teacher should be equipped to recognize a conflict with a parent and address it with the same ability and understanding.
Meeting Parents Halfway
Of course, the need for communication is two-sided, with parents needing to show a willingness to participate in the conversation as well. While parents must find their own ways to approach their children’s’ educators, there are some things that teachers can do to initiate a more positive relationship. Teachers often feel that we’re being pulled in a million directions, and it can be easy to allow the stresses of the job to creep into our communications with our students’ parents.
As teachers, it can be helpful to show respect to the parents by creating a structure for them to regularly communicate with us (even if it doesn’t mean you’ll drop everything to talk with them the second they send you a message). Simply provide a way to email, call, or text. Also, remember to treat parents as teammates rather than obstacles that won’t go away.
Lightening the Load
Finally, it can be helpful to keep in mind that a healthy relationship between parents and teachers, while time-consuming in the moment, can often end up lightening your load down the road. Good communication can help you understand your students better, help your students thrive, and allow you to focus on teaching more than anything else in your classroom. At the end of the day, the relationship is worth the time and effort.
So, the next time you’re feeling stressed out about a parent butting into your classroom — even if they vehemently disagree with the methodology that you’re using — remember that anger and frustration are simply symptoms of a deeper issue. Try to prioritize that all-important parent-teacher relationship and make an honest effort to communicate with one another. Put yourself in the other’s shoes, try to see things from their perspective, and work together to find an acceptable solution that fosters that classroom-family dynamic and keeps what is ultimately best for the student at the forefront.