By Todd McFliker
Parents and teachers don’t always see eye-to-eye. As youngsters get used to new classrooms, classmates, texts, and teachers, their success in school, especially during elementary years, may hinge on the partnership parents form with school professionals who will have a lasting impact on their lives.
The Sun-Sentinel’s Ariel Barkhurst offers useful advice in “How to Talk to Teachers.” She says parents should form a relationship with their children’s instructors. They should ask about the curriculum, their kids’ attentiveness, and what they can do to help. Working as team, moms and dads, as well as brothers and sisters, can make exceptional contributions to a child’s education.
“As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous,” Ginott wrote. “I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.”
With 20-30 students in a typical classroom, teachers can be hard-pressed to make time for regular parental interaction. Many use blogs, e-mail and other tools to keep moms and dads informed of classroom activities, homework, and their child’s progress.
Face-to-face meetings can benefit from the structure couples learn in PAIRS relationship and marriage education classes, known as the Daily Temperature Reading, DTR. The process was originally developed by pioneering marriage and family therapist Virginia Satir and modified by PAIRS Foundation in classes taught to tens of thousands. PAIRS Trainer Seth Eisenberg, who has been training students and teachers in South Florida for more than a decade, says the five steps offer a valuable agenda for successful parent-teacher meetings.
- Appreciations – Start with the positive. Let the teacher know specific things you appreciate about his or her work with your child. Be sincere and generous in acknowledging good things. Educators hear lots of complaints and criticisms. Jumping on that train in a Parent-Teacher conference won’t help your child. Beginning with Appreciations helps you build a lasting foundation of good will by focusing on what you’re happy about from the outset. For teachers that don’t know the structure of the DTR, fill them in and ask them to also begin by sharing what’s going well for your son or daughter.
- New Information – Talk together about what’s happening with your child in the classroom. Share anything important you think the teacher should know about your child and ask for an update on how things are going in school.
- Puzzles – If you’re wondering something, ask the question. Don’t beat around the bush. Ask about whatever is puzzling you. Assuming you know an answer without first checking it out can lead to misunderstandings. Invite the teacher to ask you anything he or she may be wondering. Remember, although you have different roles, experiences, and perspectives, you share a mutual interest in your child’s success.
- Concerns with Recommendations – Let the teacher know you welcome a chance to hear any concerns along with specific recommendations for what you or your child can do better or differently. If you have concerns, communicate them specifically, together with a clear recommendation for what you want instead. Be open to hearing each other without defensiveness. Few things are more important than your child’s education and experience in school. Listen to understand. When you talk, be sure you’re clearly getting your point across without attacking, blaming, judging or criticizing.
- Wishes, Hopes and Dreams – Always end by expressing your wishes, hopes and dreams for your child and asking the teacher to do the same. Whether you’re hoping little Johnny aces the next test, makes a new friend, or gets on top of his homework, say it. Pay attention to the wishes, hopes and dreams the teacher shares with you, knowing you have a mutual responsibility to help those dreams come true.
Whether it’s a conversation over morning coffee, driving home from school, dinner as a family, or a parent-teacher conference, following the five steps of the Daily Temperature Reading, in sequence, nurtures relationships, opens the lines of communication, and helps everyone pull together as a team.
Last year, the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation released a free iPhone app, PAIRS DTR in English and Spanish, to help couples, families and teens make a habit out of the Daily Temperature Reading.
“I see how critical parents’ involvement is in their kids’ education every day,” said Beth Falk Levy, schoolteacher and mother in Palm Beach, Florida. “If a parent is too busy to work with teachers and take part in their little ones’ education, there is something wrong. If there’s no time, make time,” she urges.
And when you make that time, make the most of it. Your child is counting on you.
Todd McFliker is an award-winning reporter and the author of All You Need is Love to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. He earned his Masters in Communication from Lynn University.