How to Effectively Communicate with Your Child’s School (page 4)
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.
Show Simple Kindness
This brings us to the second step in developing highly effective communication. Show simple kindness. This seems like it ought to be evident. Yet, it often isn’t the case. Reflect back to the talk shows. How many of those people are kind to each other? The Golden Rule is still good advice. As Covey says, love is a verb, which results in a feeling. Simple notes of appreciation and words of encouragement will work wonders. In fact, the results will be so appreciated, that you will realize a rebound effect. People will go out of their way to help you, because they see you as a helper and encourager.
Be Honest and Keep Promises
The third step involves honesty and the making and keeping of promises. Do the right thing. If there are problems outside of school, the teacher needs to know. It is tremendously difficult to know what to expect from a class. Research tells us that nearly half of the children in school come from a broken home. Many of them are processing feelings of anxiety and grief, and they simply have a hard time meeting the school’s expectations. There are also students who face, at home, an almost daily experience of abuse and neglect. They come to school angry and disruptive, if not hungry, and will oftentimes require a disproportionate amount of the teacher’s time. The teacher needs to know which students need special help or attention. It would also be of great help to make the school counselor aware of any student who is in grief or distress. These children especially need their emotional bank accounts built up.
Always keep promises. The teacher should always be able to count on a child getting the help promised. Talking about what ought to be done will not suffice for what is done. The bottom line is that a child will not work for work’s sake. If you tell your teacher that you want to know how to help your child, then do your best to do what you are asked. If you can’t do what you are asked, then be honest and say so. Unfulfilled promises only make the problem worse. Complaining to the teacher, or principal, when you have broken your promises and failed to follow through will only create disappointment and disillusionment, and will bankrupt the emotional back account.
Consider the following two cases. One highly educated researcher tells of the time that he was in school and having trouble with math. He didn’t like it in the initial stages and would battle with his parents almost every night when it was time to do homework. A family fight with shouting and sometimes crying would ensue. In spite of the rough times, though, his parents were persistent, and for three long years. He looks back on those days, now that he has his own children, and is grateful that his parents never gave up even though he ruined many an evening. Another man, a retired Air Force pilot, expressed the same sentiments. He had trouble with reading, and many a night, his parents battled with him to do his homework. “He would have quit working and failed if we had not stayed with him over the kitchen table,” his mother related.
Often times, homework is harder on the parents than the kids. However, remember that if you persist now, eventually they will get good jobs and leave you in peace in your old age.
Define Roles and Expectations
The fourth step to good communication is the defining of roles and expectations. This is probably the most important of the four steps. When people don’t define well what it is they expect of each other, it becomes too easy to play the blame game. Actually, students need both teachers and parents playing their separate roles in the teaching process. Meet with your child’s teacher and find out how you can tutor and encourage. It is not your job as a parent to run the classroom, any more than it is the teacher’s job to run your household. If the child feels unsafe at school, tell the teacher. If the child expresses that he feels unsafe at home, the teacher needs to tell you. Your child has a right to a safe, friendly and responsible environment at both home and school. The teacher is responsible for the classroom; you are responsible for the home.
A teacher recently shared this experience. Two or three students in the class would never put their names on their papers. The teacher, after a few days, announced that any paper without a name would not be graded and would be thrown away and would have to be redone or the student would receive a zero. Rules about this were posted. Never the less, there were always papers without names. One day, the teacher passed out graded work and ended up with three papers without names. She told the class that she was throwing them away and deposited them in the wastebasket. One girl went to the wastebasket and retrieved her nameless work, went home and cried to her mother about the teacher giving her a zero. The mother called the teacher and angrily berated her, calling her a poor teacher for not searching out the persons to whom the unmarked work belonged. This was a poor communication process at best. She completely missed the point that children have to learn to accept the consequences for repeatedly not following directions. Children have to learn to be responsible. One way to ensure that your children will still be living with you at age 35 is to prevent them from learning that lack of responsible behavior results in undesired consequences. Nobody wants to hire an adult who has never learned to be at work on time or complete work properly. This mother failed to recognize that her child’s teacher was doing what a responsible teacher should do.
What the parent should have done was communicate. Find out why the child got a zero. Explore with the teacher what she, the parent; could do to make sure that her child understood the importance of identifying her own work. Seldom do we get by in life with being ignorant about other’s expectations of us. You have to define your role in life and live up to it. Otherwise you will be unemployable. Children have to learn this at school. School is a microcosm of the adult world. It prepares students for work. This is what parents and teachers have to talk about. When your child’s teacher demands responsibility from your child, support it. She’s doing you and your child a favor.
One young lady, let’s call her Jill, is a successful marketing agent and buyer for a large retail chain. Her job involves world travel and a hefty salary with lots of stock options and benefits. When she was in school, she was a hard worker. She took all the math she could get and worked hard to hone her written communication skills. She knew that getting a job in the highly competitive marketing industry would be hard. Her hard work and delayed gratification paid off.
Her friend is quite envious and, in fact, resentful of Jill’s success. But Jill’s friend was not a worker. She liked to cruise Main Street on school nights in her Mustang, and preferred MTV and boyfriends to homework. She was uninvolved in school routine and considered it a hassle. Half-done homework and doing merely enough to get Cs was OK with her. Her parents were happy that she was making Cs. Ten years after high school, she blames the school for not helping her see the need to prepare for a lucrative career. “They should have known I was an irresponsible adolescent, and made me see how important my schoolwork was. The schools don’t teach responsibility”, she says. Her parents agree. Yet, her parents seldom called teachers to ask for progress reports; and when six weeks grades were posted, they complained that the schools expected too much for a girl who wanted only to be a normal teenager. Business said, “send us the best educated, most responsible students you have. We want them working for us.”
Whose parents do you suppose were the ardent supporters of the school? The ones who made school visits regularly and requested that teachers keep in contact? Which parents do you suppose were always asking, “Is there anything I can do to help my child?”
Occasionally, there will be times when parents and teachers just cannot agree to settle their differences without a third party. In this case, the principal can be a real help. Ask for a meeting of all parties, parent, teacher, counselor, and principal, to see if an amicable agreement can be found. Always assume that all parties have the best interest of the student at heart; because generally they do. Never badmouth a teacher to the principal. If you have a complaint, make it to the principal with the teacher present. Be nice, but firm. Find a way to say something positive before pointing out a fault. Remember, someday, somewhere, you may be in the same position, since none of us is perfect.
Last, what you have heard today, is shared often with teachers in various formats. They too, are being trained in the art of communication, how to how to develop good personal relationships with parents. It takes a team effort to teach a student.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Effective Parenting. © 1998-2004 The Center for Effective Parenting. All Rights Reserved.
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