Winning Over Those on the Front Line
By Sheryl Knapp
Developing collaborative, non-adversarial, mutually respectful relationships with your child’s teachers is fundamental to his success in school. But oftentimes that’s easier said than done. Following are some tried and true strategies to help you establish a parent-teacher relationship that will ensure his success throughout the year.
Request a get-to-know-each-other meeting. The school year begins with teachers having only rudimentary knowledge of your child, if that. It is critical that his team—general and special education teachers, classroom aides, and other team members—come together early in the school year to discuss pertinent issues, including his learning style, strengths, challenges, temperament, etc.
As the semester goes on, plan, plan, and then plan some more. There will always be unforeseen situations that arise, but you can minimize these surprises—and give teachers the knowledge and tools they need to respond when the unforeseen occurs—if you take the time to proactively plan for them.
Establish a vehicle to facilitate regular parent-teacher communication. Options such as email and texting are good for quick check-ins. The more traditional bound notebook (pages can’t be ripped out) that travels in your child’s backpack is a better option for more extensive exchanges that might involve sending materials back and forth.
Agree in advance on the anticipated frequency of exchanges (e.g., twice a week for general and special ed teachers, monthly for related service providers). But also use the communication tool for getting information as needed. This enables you to get valuable feedback, including activities to reinforce at home, progress reports, etc., while also offering you the opportunity to respond to specific situations as they arise.
Allow space and time
Give teachers time to work out problems on their own before you intervene. Teachers need time to get to know your child (as well as the other children he interacts with), develop routines, address unforeseen challenges, and seize unexpected opportunities.
The amount of time required depends upon the situation, but typically is at least a few weeks. Resist the urge to intervene immediately. It’s better to err on the side of waiting too long; interjecting yourself before a team member has ample opportunity to work out solutions on her own is likely to result in resentment and jeopardize long-term collaboration.
Address issues directly
Never report a teacher to her supervisor without first trying to resolve the situation with her. No one likes to have someone go over their head, and the consequences of doing so may be irreparable.
Support classroom efforts
Do not focus exclusively on your child or his disability. Teachers are always in need of parental support—particularly in the earlier school years—and it will not be viewed positively if you always have time to micromanage your child’s program, but rarely volunteer to help with class activities. Moreover, such participation provides an invaluable opportunity to interact on an informal basis with teachers without the pressure of having to discuss your child’s program or performance.
Keep a professional distance
Remember that the teachers are not your friends. That is not to say you can’t have a friendly, open relationship, but take care not to cross the professional parent-teacher line. The more friendly you become, the more difficult it is to objectively evaluate your child’s program and to question it or the teacher should the need arise.
Developing a positive, professional relationship with your child’s teacher may take extra time and effort on your part, but the payoff is a parent-teacher collaboration that will serve your child better than if you’re working at cross purposes.