By Megan McQueen
As an educator and a parent, I see the value from both perspectives in building relationships between families and school. Families know their children best and have valuable insights into their children’s needs. Educators’ experience working with children and families can help build a child’s developmental stages and learning styles. When families and schools communicate well, children benefit academically, emotionally, and in their long-term goals as a learner.
Here are some ideas to support a healthy relationship with your child(ren)’s school:
Recognize your past. Some of us had challenging experiences with school in our childhoods. We may have struggled academically or felt judged by the adults at school. You might benefit from acknowledging those feelings. Free yourself from them if you can or recognize that they do not have to be your child’s experience. Your child’s teachers and school were not the ones that hurt you, so try to assume they have generous intentions. They most likely have your child’s best interests at heart.
Notice the positive. The relationship between your child and their teacher is an important one. Speak positively about school staff in front of your child. If you have questions or criticism, center yourself, then try to engage your child in problem-solving. You can model this by asking a question (I wonder what your teacher meant by that? Maybe I should ask.) or acknowledging the difference between intention and impact (I didn’t like it when your teacher said this, but I know she meant well.) When you speak with the teacher, it may help to acknowledge their effort and intentions before bringing up concerns. Teachers care deeply about their students and their work. Feedback from you may help them support your child even better.
If your child is older and sharing complaints with you, help them reframe the situation. Empathize with your child and validate their feelings (“I can see why that feels frustrating.”. Share a story from your high school years with a similar teacher. Connect that with a later experience that you were better prepared for because of this high school situation. If needed, help your child navigate a respectful conversation with the teacher (“Do you want my help talking with your teacher about this or do you want to do it on your own? What do you think it would be helpful to say?”. The goal is to be a team and find solutions that work for everyone.
Gather information. When my child was young, she told me how her teacher treated another student unfairly. I was shocked. I considered trying to pull my child out of the class. Then, I remembered all the times I have heard exaggerated versions of stories from young children. I decided to talk with the teacher to learn their side of the story. After learning the truth, we had a good laugh. The takeaway: be sure you have accurate information! Also, consider your request or concern from other perspectives. Does it benefit other students as well if you speak up or ask a question? Would there be negative consequences for students? Asking the teachers for their thoughts may help you see the situation in a new way.
Advocate for your child. Because you know your child and their needs better than anyone, you have an essential voice in their education. You can be a cheerleader for your child and encourage school staff. Enter into a conversation with the mindset that you will create a plan that will work for everyone together. It helps to offer solutions and to spend time working on the partnership between home and school. Recently, teacher and parent Reiko Foster, shared an email template she uses when contacting her children’s teachers.
As an educator, I have learned a tremendous amount from listening to families. I am better because of these conversations. When partnering with my children’s teachers, I appreciate their experience with specific age-groups that has added to my understanding of my children. Advocating for my children has not always been easy, but entering the conversations with a curious heart for a collective solution has helped.
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.