How to Effectively Communicate with Your Child’s School
Recent literature suggests that parents become involved with their children’s education for three primary reasons: 1) their personal understanding of the parental role; 2) their personal sense of responsibility for the academic success of their children; and 3) their perception that children and the school provide parents both opportunities and demands for interaction Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler state that for good school-parent relationships to occur certain events need to happen.
The social construction of parental roles, means that parents and the group most pertinent to children’s education, the school, should work together to define parents’ roles…teachers should be enabled…to spend at least a portion of the work week interacting with parents. Some of this time might be well spent creating a feasible, mutually constructed set of expectations for the parent’s role in relation to the child’s schooling: some of it might be similarly well spent in devising specific ways for parents to offer limited but academically useful help to their children…
However, the same authors are careful to point out that, …(w)hile the literature suggests strongly that parental involvement in general has positive effects on children’s educational outcomes, it is important to note that parental involvement may also have no consequences or even negative consequences for some children. For example…if parental involvement is either developmentally inappropriate…or constitutes a poor fit with school expectations for involvement…(then) children, parents, and teachers may experience negative outcomes.
It appears that if parents are to be actively involved in helping schools work with their children they must be encouraged to understand the relevance and importance of their contributions. Most teachers have long recognized the value of the contributions that parents can make. Past experience relates that parents are much more effective helpers if they are viewed as people who can contribute more than in just a mundane fashion, for example, serving only as chaperons or room-mothers, and without regard to the “learning” experience itself. Involvement means much more, but parents often wonder how they can ‘best’ help. Teachers generally welcome parents who want to be a part of their child’s learning, as long as what they do, or request, is congruent with overall classroom decorum or best educational practice. The key that unlocks the door to parent and teacher team teaching is personal communication, with an emphasis on the personal part. The following steps will enhance that communication.
Develop a Good Personal Relationship
The first step is the development of a good personal relationship, what Steven Covecalls building an “emotional bank account.” Most communication problems come about as a result of feeling misunderstood. The best way to effectively communicate is to seek first for understanding rather than to be understood. When we are able to understand why someone thinks the way they do, then we are much more likely to solve a problem. This requires much more listening than talking.
Have you ever watched any of those political talk show programs on television? You know the kind, Cross-fire, Hard Ball, etc. They are frustrating because no one listens. Participants continually interrupt, shout, and are quick to point how wrong others are in their opinions and outlooks. Seldom are solutions explored with civility and good will. These shows are examples of how to divide and alienate, not find solutions to problems. Participants don’t ponder on statements. In fact, the dialogue moves at such a quick pace that one gets the idea that the only people who listen are those in the audience. Participants are so busy formulating their next statement or replying that they seldom hear the reasoning behind another person’s thinking. If you really want to be understood, seek first to understand. Try to understand why others are thinking or acting the way they are.
Covey tells about the time he was on a subway and a man boarded with several children in tow. The children were loud and rambunctious, running about even to the point of knocking about peoples’ papers. This continued for several minutes with Covey getting more and more internally agitated. Finally, he spoke up and asked whether the man was aware of his children’s’ behavior and how it was bothering others. The man looked up wearily from his downward gaze and replied that, yes, Covey was right. He (the father) should have been more attentive to the behavior of his children. But, they had just come from the hospital where their mother had died just an hour before, and he, and they, were still not ready to deal with anything else. Covey’s perceptions abruptly changed. He now felt great empathy for the man and asked what he could do to help. You see, now he understood. That is what understanding does for us. It makes us aware of others’ needs and predicaments.
By listening first, we build that emotional bank account. We are really saying to the other person, “I value you. I believe you have something important to tell me.” When you have a concern with the school, the teacher is the person who should command your attention and understanding, before anyone else.
Let me share with you an experience of one teacher. She was a primary grades teacher and noticed that one little boy was having problems. She asked him if something was bothering him since he seemed unable to keep his mind on his work. The lad confessed that he was worried. His mother’s live-in boyfriend had jerked the boy’s mother around by the hair the night before and had created a terrifying scene. For that teacher, this was not an isolated incident. Many children come to school from highly dysfunctional families. Yet, a teacher is supposed to somehow guarantee that all children learn, and at the same pace. Teaching is a hard and demanding job. Teachers must deal with many children from many situations.
Think about your own work. Isn’t it refreshing to hear about how good you are doing? We love it when people build emotional bank accounts with us. Good marriages are built on strong emotional bank accounts. The more you deposit, the more you can draw out when you need to. Make large regular deposits. Investments in people pay off. The less you put in, the less support you will get when you need it.
Approach your child’s teacher like you would a loved family member. Find something that is going right or that looks good. Compliment a learning center or the way an activity is conducted. Then be proactive and ask what you can do to help. Say something like, “I know that teaching is demanding. Is there something I can do? Is there something I need to know about my child so that I can help him/her learn? Teach me how to teach my child at home, how to help them.” Then follow through.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Effective Parenting. © 1998-2004 The Center for Effective Parenting. All Rights Reserved.
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