by Katherine Johnson, M.S., BCBA
Senior Director of Partnerships, LEARN Behavioral
Building a strong relationship with your child’s teacher can benefit everyone involved. In fact, studies show that parental involvement in a child’s schooling boosts their motivation and performance. Parents with positive ties to their child’s teacher can learn more about the school environment, which can help them better understand and support their child. Meanwhile, teachers benefit by having another person on the educational “team” who can provide helpful information and context about the child’s learning history and home environment.
How, then, can you nurture this valuable alliance? Here are some things to consider.
Communicate regularly and respectfully.
As with any relationship, communication is key. Reach out to the teacher early on, and be sure to connect consistently throughout the school year. Before you send that 50-page missive though, find out the teacher’s preferred method of communication. There are so many ways to be in touch these days: email, communication logs, phone calls, chatting before or after school. Some teachers even text with parents or ask that they communicate through special apps. With all of these methods, teachers can become overwhelmed, and your thoughts become less helpful and more stressful. So, however your child’s teacher likes to exchange information, respect their preferences. Share your goals with the teacher and make sure you understand their expectations. And as important as it is to be thoughtful about how to best share your own thoughts, the most important piece of communication is always: LISTEN!
Make sure your child’s teacher feels respected and appreciated. Whenever you have a chance to recognize their hard work, don’t be shy—reach out and tell them. Teacher Appreciation Week isn’t until May; make it your mission to offer words and gestures of appreciation throughout the year. Teachers are juggling a myriad of things: children, lesson plans, IEPs, and state regulations, just to name a few. Find out how you can be useful to them and help wherever you can, whether it’s sending in a few extra boxes of tissues or volunteering to come in and help with materials. You can also show your respect for their time by preparing for meetings, organizing your thoughts ahead of time, and adhering to the meeting times.
Handle concerns with respect.
No matter how great the teacher, there are often bumps along the way. When this happens, take your concerns to the teacher first. Don’t go over their head until after you’ve tried to resolve things first. Schedule a meeting to discuss your concerns, and arrive with an open mind and a collaborative attitude. Share your perspective, with the understanding that it is just that: your perspective. Ask for the teacher’s perspective and take the time to listen thoughtfully. Practice active listening by restating your understanding of the teacher’s important points. This will not only make the teacher happy but also help you listen more closely so you can better grasp their position.
Just as your child works to build a relationship with their new teacher, you can work to build a relationship, too, starting with these steps. Keep in mind the old adage, “communication is a two-way street,” and know that most teachers want to hear from you and consider you a partner in your child’s education. Although you may, at times, want to fire off a heated email, move forward with patience and respect for the teacher’s workload and preferred methods of communication, knowing that listening is a critical part of the process—and key to your success.
Looking for more advice on making the school year a success? Read “10 Tips to Transition Kids with Autism Back to In-Person School.”