Solving Teacher Parent Communication Problems

parent teacher communicationWhen Parents and Educators are on Opposite Sides:

As an educator I have been privy to some pretty dramatic conflicts between parents and teachers. There are times when the two cannot seem to communicate. One of the more remarkable episodes I witnessed follows:

When parents get it wrong:

Fifth grade students at this particular school switched from their homeroom for math and science. The students knew they were to bring their own pencil and book to class. This was part of the teacher’s goal in teaching responsibility. One girl constantly forgot her pencil. The teacher gave her several warnings to bring her own pencil to class before sending a note home to the parents.

Upon receiving the note, the mother followed her child into class the next morning, bringing with her a box of two hundred pencils. She slammed the box down on the teacher’s desk and stated, “Since you can’t afford to give my daughter a pencil, here is her supply for the rest of the year!”

As you can imagine, this conflict was only the beginning of a difficult relationship. Even worse, the child was sent this message by her mother, “I’m on your side, the teacher is wrong and you don’t have to be responsible.”

Why it Matters:

This problem in communication did more than drive a wedge between the teacher and parent. Due to the mother’s defensiveness, a teachable moment for the child was lost.

Rather than learning responsibility the child learned she does not have to follow the same rules as her peers, the concept of personal accountability was not important to her mother. The mother has left the child with the impression the teacher is not a valid authority figure, so mother trumps teacher.

She also has sent her child the message that anger and sarcasm are part of effective communication and last but not least she is teaching her child to disrespect authority and this will probably come back to bite her later in life.

Cooperation between parents and educators is necessary to model appropriate communication techniques. This is the best atmosphere for children to learn and will have the greatest and most immediate outcome.

When teachers get it wrong:

As a gifted specialist, I was often asked to sit in on conferences between the parent of the gifted child and the regular classroom teacher. I once heard a teacher state to a parent, “You know our day goes much better when your child is absent…”

Knowing this child, I knew it was a true statement; however, this kind of attitude from the teacher put the parent in a defensive state immediately.

Why it matters:

Although most teachers are parents, they are also human and they sometimes err in diplomacy. Teachers who use diplomacy are more likely to find a parent who will be a partner in working to help the child. The teacher who creates conflict with the parent will create a long lasting adversarial relationship because when provoked, mother lions are prone to defending their cubs.

A negative comment about the child feels to many parents as if the teacher is saying the comment not only about the child, but about the parent as well. Almost any strong negative comment by a teacher will be heard by a parents as, “Your child is not good enough; therefore, you are not good enough”.

In this instance the teacher is venting her own frustrations to the parent, rather than keeping the discussion professional. The teacher should describe the problem, as exhibited by the child. This should be done in terms that convey to the parent that they are on the same team to help the student. Although it may not seem like it to the parent, most teachers want what is best for their students, even though they may have left their diplomatic voice at home.

Parents are not mind-readers and must be convinced the teacher has their child’s best interest at heart before they are open to hear a list of teacher comments, preferably presented with tact.

What teachers can do:

Take the stance that neither you nor the child will benefit if you have an adversarial relationship with the parent. Imagine four components to the situation: the child, the parents, you, and the problem. Then imagine that you draw that famous “line in the sand” we have heard so much about.

Next, mentally move the problem to one side of the line and take your student and parents to the other side of the line with you. At this point the teams stack up like this: it is you, your student and the parents who are teamed up against the problem. Explain to all involved how you are working together as a team to solve the problem and it will take efforts from each person to be successful.

Having the parent and child on your team makes the likelihood of success more probable, it takes some of the pressure of you and it lets both the parents and child know they have responsibility and must contribute to have a successful outcome.

This is a powerful model that helps you to keep the focus on leading your team and fostering cooperation to help reduce or eliminate conflicts. Lose your focus, patience or professionalism and you dissolve the team and are on your own.

What parents can do:

If you feel there is a personality conflict that is harmful to your child, you may need to talk to the principal about moving your child to a different class. Otherwise, give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. Assume they have your child’s best interest at heart and are on your team. Usually you will be correct.

Put defensiveness aside and ask yourself one very important question, “Have I seen this behavior myself, or have I heard my child described this way before?” There is a saying I tell parents, “If one person calls your child a horse, laugh. If two people call your child a horse, take a closer look and if three people call your child a horse, it’s time to saddle up.”

Once you identify and acknowledge the issue with your child, you are in a more powerful position to deal with it effectively, along with your new partner–the teacher.

Unfortunately, there are those people who enjoy a good fight and there are those people who are wound so tight they tend to communicate more strongly than is productive. If you find yourself in either situation, it may help you to take a copy of this article to your next parent-teacher meeting.

There may be a time as a parent or as a teacher, where regardless of the other person’s behavior; you have to take the high-road for the sake of the child. It is not always about winning, but rather doing the right thing.

See Also: Gifted Psychology and  Support and Free Resources for Parents of Gifted and Creative Children

Parent teacher communication issues

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5 Responses to Solving Teacher Parent Communication Problems

  1. Paul Kwong says:

    Good, the article is very useful. It is inspiratiional when the article says there are four components in the situation, viz., the student, the parents, the teacher and the problem. That takes me to Spillane et al., (2004)`s distributed leadership model. In the situation, the teacher, as an expert in teaching, is the instrutional leader, the child and the prents are the followers, the problem is tha situation aspect of the model. The communication is the interaction.

    • Carolyn H says:

      Hello. I love what you said. I went through that already n it was only the second day.the teacher said that all the kids will share their school supplies. I tell her that I would have liked to be notified and asked about it not told that my kids schools that I provided. Automatically she was not working together with me but against me; she said because that’s her classroom and what the teachers agreed.she did not care about anything I said. I told her I understand your classroom rules but at the same time I don’t agree and as a parent I provided her school supplies; I should have a say. she stated kids play with the school supplies so on and so forth. So before she even said I’m going to pack up her school supplues, she’s telling me that’s how she runs her classroom not even putting out any kind of resolution to address the issues because it’s her classroom. She had the opportunity to come to speak with me about sharing, not telling me. I am an adult and expect to be treated that way N not told because she is the teacher; thus abusing her power of authority. She had the opportunity to be professional just like i spoke with her professionally. If she cannot deal with compromising professionally to having my daughters school supplies,that she nor the school provided, given back to her then I don’t feel comfortable with her as my daughter’s teacher. I put my idea out there and didn’t just come off by saying I want her school supplies back because I just don’t want to come and tell her what to do because that’s unprofessional and come off rude.but then I was forced after she told me that’s her class rule about things she nor the school provided; no way she will just make decisions on things she nor the school didn’t provide witjout because its her classroom. That shows her character n not a good display of character that a teacher should have with a parent that provided those items. I had to put my foot down after that so she didn’t have a choice to tell me that she was going to pack her school supplies. She clearly stated that she marked all Kinaras school supplies. But yet everything was not returned anf the items didn’t have her name on it; why I guess the things returned were not hers. Now i have to see if she lied to me. I do feel good that I read this article and I see that I’m not the only one thinking like this. It was obvious that she was not being part of the solution, but a person on the outside looking in not working with me and my daughter but working against us. Its so clear it wasn’t the teacher, the student, the parent, and then the problem; it was the the parent, the student, and the problem with the teacher on the defense, thus clearly showing that she was not partnering with me. So how comfortable will i feel with the future of my daughters educational experiences with her with concerns like tests, grades, etc? Her attitude exhibited does not give me that security that she will be too open or collaborative to such concerns. Attitude is everything and my daughter cannot speak for herself. Thus I am requesting a class change.I was so excited about her new teacher, But I’m glad she was not able to hide that she couldn’t be diplomatic over my daughters school supplies that she nor the school provided. Instead of owning to the problem as a teacher that other students may do without and even ask for me to contribute “other than my daughters”or more or even ask for now for her to share some things instead of regulating things she didn’t provide then I would feel comfortable. But yet, she put the problem on me and said the kids needed it, which may be true but I feel as a teacher that its not my business to know that, unless she is trying to come to a resolution not a dictation on something she didn’t provide because it’s her classroom. There are ways to do things with ones profession, that’s being professional, and not all do know which is ok, because we all learning, but her attitudes clearly shows that her power of authority or just her character is a hindrance. Whatever the case is; I don’t want a person with such attitude teaching my child. I am open to other thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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