At some schools the philosophy of parent-teacher relationships is a simple division of power. Parents deal with home life for their children and teachers deal with school life for their students. The only time of connection between the two comes in the form of a confrontation when there is a problem at school.
As can be imagined, this modern phenomenon of the school-home divide causes problems for many parents and families. We aren’t divided people, and our children’s loyalty is often swayed between two or more conflicting paradigms, those of the home and those of the public school. This can create unnecessary challenges and inconsistencies when teachers and parents differ in how they approach growth, behavior, emotional responses, and even their fundamental worldview. Parents and teachers, far from being partners, can sometimes find themselves at odds in the modern school.
What would it be like if parents and teachers were fundamentally allies, were partners in the great work of education? That is a question Coram Deo Academy and other schools like us have tried to take seriously. Our belief is that the school and the teachers exist to come alongside parents as they fulfill their God-given duty to raise their children and provide for their education. And when parent and teacher are allies, the children are the ones that benefit the most.
As a parent, though, you may at times have experienced the challenges of really connecting well with your child’s teacher and forging that partnership before an issue arises. It’s so easy to fall back into the modern paradigm, what with the busyness of modern American life, and the changing of the guard in our children’s teachers every year.
As the principal of Coram Deo, I know that our teachers work hard to connect well with parents and share about what’s going on in the classroom. But they also have busy schedules and many students and families to care for. What can parents do to proactively build a partnership with their child’s teacher at the start of the year?
Here are a few tips that I’ve come up with from my years of experience as a school leader working with many parents and teachers. When parents do these things, they support the teacher well, and build a solid foundation that ultimately leads to increased growth for their child.
1. Proactively Communicate Your Child’s Personality, Strengths and Challenges
Sometimes parents can be hesitant to overshare about their child with a new teacher. And while it’s true that we can’t pretend like our child’s teacher doesn’t have other students to teach as well, one of the best strategies to connect and get on the same page with your child’s teacher is to share about your son or daughter.
Most teachers really value having as much background information about their students as possible. Of course, we never want to put a child in a box and assume that things they struggled with last year are necessarily still a problem. Sometimes students make leaps and bounds over the course of a summer. But knowing a student’s story only helps a teacher in forging a relationship and assisting that student through whatever challenges arise in the course of a year.
It can be helpful to prepare for an initial phone conversation with the teacher by jotting down some notes on your child’s personality, as well as some of their strengths and areas of challenge. Then email your child’s teacher to set up a phone call at a time that works for you both. Just 5-10 minutes can be enough to share the background on their new student and initiate a solid partnership.
2. Actively Seek Advice on Growth Strategies for at Home and at School
There are few things that teachers value more in a parent partnership than respect for their expertise and advice. Occasionally parents can be dismissive of teachers who are young or haven’t had children of their own or with their child’s particular struggle. While it is certainly true that your parenting experiences can carry with them a unique insight into children, it’s a mistake not to see the powerful vantage point that even a year or two of teaching can give. There’s really nothing like leading a group of students in a classroom for a year to stock a teacher’s mind with strategies and ideas for helping children grow and develop.
A great way to show honor and respect to your child’s teacher is to actively solicit their advice. You may think that you’ve exhausted all the good ideas for helping your child with this or that struggle. But it’s just possible that a teacher’s point of view will give you a strategy you need to try. And even if you’ve heard it before, perhaps it’s worth trying again in a different way! Our children aren’t robots, and sometimes persistence is the real trick, both for parenting and for teaching.
Either way, partnering with your child’s teacher reaches a new level when your strategies align with the teacher’s, and vice versa. So take the time to get on the same page about growth strategies for your child.
3. Lovingly Share Your Concerns with a Readiness to Listen
In any human community, sins and misunderstandings are inevitable. So I’m not suggesting that we should view our children’s teachers with the naive glow of a saint’s halo. But just as our teachers aren’t perfect, so we ourselves aren’t perfect and our students aren’t perfect.
There doesn’t even have to be a heart problem for misunderstandings and confusion to arise. In my years of teaching and school leadership, I can recall countless times where a student communicated home something that happened in school in a way that was very different from an adult perspective on the situation. Our children may be sincere but they are not necessarily equipped to be accurate messengers about complex situations that occur in a classroom or at recess.
That said, it’s important not to default to dismissing everything either. Parents tend to fall on a spectrum of either never wanting to bring up some issue they’ve heard about with the teacher, or trying to get an explanation or resolution for every little problem that comes up. I would encourage you as a parent to actively share concerns when they come up. Real problems happen at school, and teachers need to hear about them from you. They don’t always see or hear everything that happens in class, and they don’t know for sure how each student is processing the little blips of life. Share your concerns if for no other reason than to give the teacher valuable information about what students are seeing, hearing or feeling.
In cases where the teacher has made a slip up of some kind, they will want the opportunity to rectify it, and where misunderstandings have occurred they will want to clarify. Parents who do this right regularly come away with a stronger alliance with the teacher. Even if there are areas of conflict in approach or philosophy between the teacher and the parent, we can apply theological triage and assess what are major issues and problems, and where we are experiencing some of the inevitable disagreements of living in a fallen world.
If even Paul and Barnabas didn’t always agree about how to conduct their missionary endeavors (see Acts 15), we probably shouldn’t expect to agree perfectly about everything, even at a classical Christian school. But we can be ready to listen, “slow to speak, and slow to become angry,” to quote from the epistle of James.
4. Regularly Pray for Your Child’s Teacher and Class
The inevitable challenges of raising and educating our children deserve to be bathed in prayer. Pray for the concerns that you hear about from your children. Pray for your child’s teacher to be a godly example and mentor. Pray for the class to make the journey toward wisdom and virtue together. Pray for the light of the gospel to shine brightly throughout the school day of classes and subjects, Bible and chapel.
Building an alliance with your child’s teacher is easier if you cultivate a warm heart for them as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ by prayer. Ask your child’s teacher for prayer requests and share your family’s requests with the teacher. They are often leading their class in times of prayer and will delight in the opportunity to pray for you.
Again, in our modern world it can be easy to slip into the division of labor mentality. We simply fail to open up our hearts and homes to the school, because it doesn’t seem like the appropriate thing to do. But at schools like Coram Deo Academy, it’s our goal to break down the dividing wall of hostility between the school and the home, and to bring us all together into the presence of God as we rely on the Holy Spirit to bestow the riches of wisdom and knowledge on our children and on us all as a community.
Let’s work on making that parent-teacher relationship better than it’s ever been this year. And as we row together in the same direction, may the Lord bless and guide us in the education of our children.
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