Are parents the enemy or the ally? That question has hovered in the back of every teacher’s mind at one time or another. When you feel frustrated dealing with certain children’s behavior and their parents seem to be making things worse, it’s easy to focus on placing blame. Instead, see the situation as an opportunity for both you and the parents and caregivers to grow and learn together. When you are on the same team, everyone wins.
Discouragement affects parents and teachers as well as students. When parents feel discouraged they can become entrenched in the four mistaken goals, just as children do. Listen for these clues:
“What you’re doing isn’t working. You need to try something else to help my kid!” The parent pesters the school nonstop for help with her child. The teacher groans to see yet another message on her desk from this parent. (The parent is seeking undue attention.)
“I’m in charge! You can’t tell me what to do with my child! Nobody knows what’s needed better than I do. I have more degrees than you, teacher!” (The parent is seeking power.)
“I’ll get even.” The parent vows to sue the school district, to go to the principal about something a teacher did, or to go to central administration about something the principal did. (The parent is seeking revenge.)
“I give up. There’s nothing I can do. You have the degrees and education, so you take care of it.” (The parent has given up and is seeking to be left alone.)
Parents are pursuing these four goals because they’re discouraged. Teachers and administrators can encourage parents by supporting their efforts to help their children and by giving them a sense of belonging – showing them that parents are an integral part of the workings of the educational system. Communication is essential to build trust between parents and schools. When trust is established, parents and schools will work cooperatively for the good of students.Positive Discipline A Teachers Guide, Nelsen, Escobar, Ortolano, Duffy, Owen-Sohocki
- Listen and respond to parents’ requests and concerns. When the attitude is that the parent and the teacher are learning together, both feel less defensive and more open to possible solutions to a problem.
- See problems as opportunities to involve parents. Finding a win-win solution can be a learning opportunity for all involved. Begin with the attitude of “Were in this together with the same goal of encouraging your child.”
- Document problems as they occur so that you can clearly convey the nature of a problem and its frequency: “Juan hit Margo three times before lunch.” Contrast that to telling a parent, “Juan’s behavior is out of control!” Which message is more likely to make the parent want to work on a solution? Which message is more likely to make the parent feel discouraged and defensive? (It’s important to inform parents of misbehavior without expecting them to solve problems that occur at school. Assure parents that you are teaching students to solve problems and to help each other through class meetings.)
- Try to look at a problem from the parent’s perspective. How would it feel to be a parent in this situation? What might you feel? Cultural differences sometimes affect this answer. One school discovered that its policy of sending parents notes detailing problems as they occurred was doing considerable harm in one home. This Asian family’s cultural belief was that a child’s behavior reflects upon his mother. Both parents were suffering and humiliated. When the teacher instead began to send home information about their son’s successes, the parents were encouraged.
Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
Provide clear guidelines for how parents can contact you. Give them phone numbers and times when you are most accessible. Respond to parents’ messages promptly.
Provide parents with information. Periodically send home overviews of upcoming study plans and advance notices of special assignment due dates. This allows parents to feel involved and to support both your efforts and those of their children. In response to a notice, a parent may schedule a timely trip to the library or enter the due date of a report on the family calendar.
Invite parents to participate in class meetings. When a problem occurs, welcome a parent to join the students in seeking a solution. Suggest to students that they offer to teach their families how to hold family meetings based on the class meeting process.
Help parents make connections with their children and with other parents by sending home articles on child development or notices of special children’s events taking place in the community. Periodically issue invitations to speakers who can share parenting information with your students’ parents.
Provide school-wide and classroom information on a weekly or biweekly basis. Some schools and some individual teachers send each parent a large envelope filled with schedules, sign-up forms, and notices; there is a lined page in front that parents sign and return. This is a means of regular two-way communication. If a particular family never returns its signed sheet, an effort to discover the problem may result in the school or the teacher reaching a family effectively for the first time.
Offer parent-teacher-student conferences. (Refer to “Conferences.”) One or two parents, a teacher, and a student can become a team that works toward encouragement and improvement.
Remember that a child may have more than one household. Be sure to send home copies of information to both parents or guardians.
Help set up parenting classes at your school with child care provided. Strive to make these family times with special activities for all the children, such as pizza nights or group art projects.
Meet families in their own settings through home visits. Offer parents this option, so that you and the family can spend some relaxed time getting to know each other.