Bright Ideas From Our Readers: Parent-Teacher Ties

GreatSchools readers share their insights about developing good relationships with their children's teachers.

By GreatSchools Staff

Thanks to GreatSchools' readers for sharing their experience and advice about fostering good working relationships with the teacher. Here are some of the highlights:

1. Visit the school.

Woody Allen said that "90% of life is just showing up." Many of our readers felt it was at least a powerful first step:

The most important thing is to be visible in any way possible. I have found teachers will communicate smaller details of my daughter's performance or behavior because they happened to see me that day."

This active parent volunteer concurs:

"My son is in the third grade this year. We are at a brand new school (it just opened this August)," wrote Laurie Gahan, an elementary school PTA officer. "Ever since he was in kindergarten, I have been really involved with his school. I volunteered every day. I made copies, decorated bulletin boards, laminated things...whatever his teacher needed me to do. ....

Most schools welcome volunteers with open arms. The teachers really appreciate the help. I don't know how they ever have time to make copies or anything without having volunteers. That is how I have established wonderful relationships with my son's teachers. Not all moms can volunteer as much as I do, but maybe the ones who do work might ask their child's teacher if there is anything that they can do at home to help. Like grade papers, put games together, etc...you'd be surprised at the things the teachers would send home for parents to do. But the main thing is that the teachers need the help and they really do appreciate it."

This working mom of a first-grader told how she has managed to work volunteer time into her schedule:

"I was able to build a relationship with my son's teacher by volunteering in the classroom; I am a single working mom and although the volunteer time for parents was 11:00 to 12:00, I explained that I would like to be involved and she was very accommodating and allowed "story time" to be at 8:30 on Fridays.

"It was also a great way to get to know the children that my son spent his days with!!"

2. Communicate regularly.

Taking the lead in communicating with the teacher, by email or phone, is a great way to demonstrate your interest and give the teacher valuable feedback on her teaching and your child, readers wrote.

"For me, fostering a positive parent/teacher relationship is my goal every September," Rachelle Haga wrote. "Asking questions is great, showing up at school events is wonderful, and going that extra mile proves worthwhile to all involved in the education process. I like to write the teacher little notes of feedback and appreciation. We all like a little pat on the back for all our hard work. I try to visit with the teacher about how I can be involved in the classroom in the best manner - whether it is reading a book to the class once a month or coming for lunch at school or just helping with homework and encouraging what happens in class at home too. The relationship I can establish with my children's teachers benefits all of us."

"When my child comes home I ask what he did or what happened in school," a Georgia mother wrote. "If they worked on book or did a project, I will go in and share what my child told me with his teacher, especially what he learned in class. Teachers love hearing that their children are learning and taking it back home."

Georgia dad Rick Rosenthal says parents who don't live in the same household as their children have to take extra steps to establish a relationship with the school. Here's what he advises:

"Being an out-of-town non-custodial divorced dad is entering the playing field on an uphill battle, but the field can be quickly leveled if you have established a past with other teachers your child has previously had. The word of mouth is still the best method of establishing credibility. Have the new teacher talk with your child's old teachers to find out that you are totally committed to your child and those helping to educate and raise him. Be as supportive as possible and utilize whatever means you can to 'be there' either by phone, email or in person.

"Just because you are not the custodial parent, is no reason to take a back seat. I really believe that my son's school knows that my son's daddy would do anything to help them help my son."

Some parents expressed concern or frustration that not all teachers were eager to communicate:

"I found that it's easy to strike up a relationship with them by starting off sending notes to them with my child with whatever question or comment I might have. By volunteering my time in the class or on field trips, my son's teachers knew I took his education seriously and that I wasn't just some crack-pot giving advice or asking questions.

"This approach has worked for me for three out of four of my older sons' teachers, but I'm having a hard time with this year's third-grade teacher. I've sent notes in and have had no contact from her at all. I like to know what's going on in my son's class (but I wouldn't consider myself to be an annoying busybody) so I'll keep plugging away... sometimes that's all we can do."

3. Work to be part of the same team.

A parent's perspective is different from a teacher's, and that makes sharing information important, this New Hampshire mother of a seventh-grader wrote:

"I have found it is very helpful to let the teachers and appropriate staff know right up front that my daughter takes an extra three steps longer to do most things than other children. Letting the teachers know students' strengths and weaknesses helps the teacher communicate with a student.

"Also, remember that we may know our children very well and certain things they do might not bother us. The teachers may interpret it differently. If your child is more sensitive than others, I would let them know that right up front. It is also helpful to tell them anything that your student has had problems with in the past, that way they know what they are in for!"

"My suggestion — take away recess privilege until she starts to get her work completed — worked. The teacher knows I'm concerned and has helped us work through other issues with my daughter.

"My daughter has improved. She feels that mom and teacher are one team and she is not getting any notes from teacher. We now communicate through emails."

4. When there's a problem, calm down, then be ready to listen, as well as talk.

"If you have a difference of opinion with your child's teacher, do not come out swinging, in other words do not go on the offensive," advises a California mother of a 13-year-old. "State your problem, let the teacher give you his or her full explanation and then state your opinion. Try to engage in a sensible conversation and perhaps you can come to a happy medium. There must be a give and take."

Mom Marcy Foster advises: "Be precise in your thoughts and never be intimidating. Map out what you are concerned about and what you believe the steps to resolution require. Always remember you are in the teachers' territory. Let them feel you respect them as educators and embrace their advice.

Also, I know with me, sometimes I have to remind myself that we are a threesome and the grades come from the classroom, therefore the teacher really needs to be in the lead with the understanding you are in charge at home.

It also works when I get an initial rush of anger to write it down as I actually feel it and then immediately tear it up. Then, it seems the real situation is allowed to shine through (just be sure to tear it into little pieces.), and I can address the real needs of my child. After all, that is what it really is all about."

Another parent writes:

"I like to try and model my relational approaches with Steven Covey's work with the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

"One of them says, 'Seek first to understand, then to be understood.' If I stop and ask why and try and understand the thinking of the teacher/other, it gives me time to think over and understand the true meaning/intentions with the individual and there is a better chance that the interaction will be positive!"

A California mom said teaching children to establish constructive relationships with their teachers is the most important goal:

"I am a California mom of three, ages 14, 10, and 8. My best advice is to not worry so much about the relationship YOU establish and worry more about the relationship that is established between your children and their teacher. Our goal is to raise generations of self-reliant children. Teach them that it is better for them to communicate their feelings. Obviously, adult conversation is sometimes necessary, but encourage your child to build that honest and trusting relationship with their teacher.

"I have had to confront three teachers in my lifetime because of inappropriate things they have said or done. Each time I have gone in very nervous. Only one time did the teacher respond defensively. The other two teachers were very humble and thanked me for bringing it to their attention. If you go in with the, 'I am sure you would want to know how this affected my child' attitude instead of the 'I am mad as h---' attitude, you will be heard AND respected. Sometimes a 'preview' of what you need to talk about in a note makes the appointment with the teacher a little more comfortable — just remember that you want their help. You don't want them to be annoyed by you before you even get a chance to talk."

5. Show teachers you appreciate the hard work they do.

"The way I have been successful at establishing a rapport with my kids' teachers is by being understanding of their work load and daily demands," one mom wrote. "I recognize that my child is only one of probably 30 kids she's responsible for."

A Virginia mom wrote: "I try to support the teacher any way I can. I buy a small but pretty gift after the first week of school (aromatherapy hand lotion this year) because I know it is a week s/he is working a lot of extra time."

"Cookies. Bake some cookies for the teacher," one reader wrote. "Chocolate chip are the best. That will start your relationship off on a positive note."

And finally, from another:

"Forget flowers and apples, send chocolate in."

Enough said.