Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Dealing with a struggling student can leave you racking your brain for answers and possible solutions. And while your first thought might be to get a tutor or academic coach to help, there’s one thing that has an impact on school performance that has nothing to do with your student. That’s the parent-teacher relationship.
As a former teacher, I’ve had my share of parent interactions, and as an academic coach, I can see the other side, too. I can tell you there’s a right way and a not-so-great way to approach your child’s teacher. It may seem like no big deal, but how you interact with this important person in your student’s life actually has a big impact on their school performance. In this article, I’ll explain why it’s so important and tips for establishing and maintaining a great relationship with your child’s teacher.
Before we dig in, I’ve put together a pack of email templates that you can use to communicate with the teacher in a variety of situations. No more hesitation because you’re not sure what to say! You can grab the pack here (it’s free!).
The importance of the parent-teacher relationship
Putting effort toward the parent-teacher relationship has an impact in multiple ways. According to the Early Learning Network, “Research shows that when a partnership approach between parents and teachers is evident, children’s work habits, attitudes about school and grades improve. They demonstrate better social skills, fewer behavioral problems, and a greater ability to adapt to situations and get along. And parents and teachers benefit, too.”
Open, frequent, and empathic communication is crucial. Teachers are people, and if your approach to them is hostile, or you don’t show any interest at all, they’re going to be much less inclined to go out of their way to keep you informed. Additionally, talking negatively about the teacher at home can predispose your child to have a negative attitude toward school.
A good relationship with your child’s teacher means less stress at home (for you and your child!) and a better classroom experience for them. And that’s on top of better grades. Who wouldn’t want that?!
Tips for a great parent-teacher relationship
1. Start off on the right foot and show appreciation for the little things
It's a lot easier to communicate when the first private exchange is positive. It makes everyone more comfortable picking up the phone and chatting about something more serious. A note after an open house saying how much you enjoyed meeting him/her can go a long way. Or if your child raves about an activity in class, a quick email to let him/her know how much your child enjoyed is a great way to show appreciation. Getting to know your family can help to round out what your teacher already knows about your student for a more complete picture.
2. Be respectful of their time and workload & have empathy for their situation
Teachers are juggling a lot and the job can be very challenging. Trying to adapt to each student’s learning style, dealing with behavior problems, and following mandated school guidelines and policies are just a few of the things they deal with on a daily basis. Be respectful of them as individuals in the same way you want them to treat your child. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it would be like to handle 20+ kids at once. Not an easy task!
3. Do your part
There are so many ways that we utilize apps in our daily life that yet another app for your student’s classroom can easily fall by the wayside. But staying on top of whatever app your child’s teacher uses as well as the online grade book is essential to your student’s success and the parent-teacher relationship. Stay informed and know the expectations so you’re not creating extra work or effort for yourself or the teacher.
This may also mean following up on things your child reports. When our kids come home upset about school, it can be easy to get upset ourselves. Doing your part to reach out to the teacher to confirm what may be happening at school will keep the relationship positive. Be objective and keep calm for the best outcome.
4. Remember that you are a team!
Frame your communications from the standpoint of supporting the teacher's efforts. A simple, “How can I reinforce what you’re doing in the classroom?” is all it takes sometimes. You all have the same mission - your child’s success. Working together is always better than having an adversarial “us vs. them” attitude.
If you have time, money, or other resources, let your child’s teacher know!
If you are financially able to buy things for class, then communicate this clearly. Teachers often need supplies that the school does not provide, but they’re uncomfortable asking parents or putting them in an awkward situation. The best way to do this is to tell them the dollar amount you have to spend. (Example: "We had $50 leftover in our school supply budget, is there something you need that you don't have yet?”)
Want to volunteer your time? First, ask what the school/class policy is on volunteering. Some classrooms allow visitors and others do not, and part of this may be due to the presence of parents being distracting for students. Offer to do the volunteer work in the library or come during the teachers planning when there are no students in the room.
I’ll end this post on one last thought. Don’t overthink this! It doesn’t have to take the form of long meetings or weekly check-ins. Keep it short and sweet. The goal is to keep the line of communication open so that when issues come up they can be handled as a team with the teacher, avoiding the awkwardness of trying to reach out to someone you don’t really know. In a nutshell, establish a working relationship by making an effort to communicate all year long.