Seeds of School Success: Pre-school and Elementary School Nurturing the Parent-Teacher Relationship

from North State Parent, February 2016 Volume 23, No. 5    article by Ashley Talmadge


Kids are notoriously reticent when it comes to divulging details of their school lives. Questions from parents often receive a single-word response–or a shrug. The first indication of a problem may come via an unexpected note from the teacher, or an unexpected comment at your first parent/teacher conference.

Want better insight into classroom dynamics? Research shows that a solid working relationship between teacher and parent can lead to fewer behavioral performance and better academic performance for the child. Teachers pay more attention to students whose parents are involved and are more apt to identify problems in the early stages when intervention is more successful. Starting as early as pre-school in nurturing parent-teacher relationships gets you in practice for when the real fun starts. This is an on-going process even up into high school with some kids. I wouldn’t want the teacher to hesitate talking to me if they have concerns regarding my child.

Here’s a list of building blocks for that all-important parent-teacher relationship:

  • Introduce yourself. Face-to-face contact is best, but a brief email or handwritten note works, too. You want the teacher to connect your child specifically to you. (Karen–most, if not all, schools have a Back-to-School night 1-2 weeks into the school year, and first parent conferences about the end of the first quarter. Make sure you go to these, and take your kids with you. That way they hear it from the teacher, and not second-hand from you, if there are any issues. At one spring parent-teacher conference, my son’s teacher asked, even before my butt had hit the oh-too-short chair, “Has there been anything …. different …. going on at home in the past week?” As I looked at my son, who was now squirming and looking at the ceiling, I responded, “No…. Why?” “Because he’s been acting out a lot in the past week.” Still looking at my son, I said, “Well, it won’t happen again. Here’s my phone number and my email address. If you have further problems, let me know, and it will be dealt with at home.” Always support the teacher. She is never going to lie to you about your child’s behavior in the classroom, especially if it is disruptive. Your child, on the other hand, will lie until the sun freezes over because he doesn’t want to get into trouble. Too many parents back their kids in today’s world, and that makes for classrooms where it is hard for the teacher to teach, and the children to learn.)
  • Define communication. Some teachers prefer to correspond via email. Others like a quick handwritten note, and still others prefer an after-school phone call. Pay attention to specifics. Don’t send an important email before school starts in the morning–some teachers may not have time to read it. (From Karen–be aware that handwritten notes can “disappear” into a child’s backpack. A lot of notices that were sent home by teachers never came to my attention because they were never handed to me by my child. Make a habit of emptying your child’s backpack on a weekly basis to see what is missing–notes, undone homework, etc.)
  • Describe your child’s interests. Help the teacher understand what motivates your child, without bragging. For instance, “Katy enjoys figuring out how things are put together and is involved in a robotics club,” will be better received than, “Katy was chosen ‘Most Valuable Member’ of her robotics club last year.” (Karen–my son has always been an “out-of-the-box” thinker and learner. He’s been in the Gifted program since 3rd grade. I think all the places we’ve lived and vacations we’ve gone on has lead to a more open frame of mind for him, so he can see several ways of doing things instead of just one. I like to let teacher’s know this so they won’t ding him on an unconventional way of doing something to some up with the correct answer. He’s led some pretty interesting class conversations, or so I’ve been told.)
  • Identify challenges. Approach the teacher as a partner, rather than relieving your child of responsibility. Instead of, “Danny has trouble keeping track of things, so don’t be surprised if he loses his homework,” try, “Danny has difficulty with organization. Here’s what has helped at home, and I’d be happy to hear your suggestions.” (Karen–when my daughter moved from the Deaf Education classroom to fully integrated with an ASL teacher, I had multiple discussions with her teacher on how to help her flow better in the classroom. For example, when the teacher read aloud, the other students read along in their books, but my daughter watched the ASL interpreter. When the class went to answer questions about the story, using their books, Katie was taking twice as long to finish. We figured out that because the other students had been reading along, they knew exactly where to find the answers in the text, whereas Katie now had to actually read the story for the first time. It was the same way with tests. So, Katie was just given more time to complete things. She’s now fully mainstreamed with an FM unit, no interpreter, and making all A’s, but that first year of mainstreaming was a lot of figuring out how to connect one way of learning to another. Lots of face-to-face and talking on the phone!)
  • Connect. Show an interest in the teacher’s life outside of school. Is she a birdwatcher? Quilter? Fan of a professional sports team? Try to get to know them, to find something in common, and even better, find something your kid and teacher have in common or can talk about. I want the teacher endeared to my child. (Karen–Several of both my kids teachers were Star Wars fans, as are my kids. My daughter’s Deaf Education teacher was the same religion we were, and attended the same church until she got married, so my daughter had already met her when she started Kindergarten.)
  • Volunteer. Let the teacher know if you have particular strengths, interests, and preferences. Do you like working directly with the students? Or would you rather prepare materials? If your schedule doesn’t allow you to be in the classroom, can you chaperone an occasional field trip?
  • Help without helicoptering. You can volunteer in the classroom without being your child’s personal assistant. Look for opportunities to help other students or prep materials while observing your child. If your presence distracts your child, perhaps you can assist in the library, lunchroom, or another classroom.
  • Keep the teacher in the loop. Convey circumstances likely to affect your child’s classroom performance. A recent illness, lack of sleep, side effects from medication, and impending move, a death or divorce in the family–all can impact a child’s behavior and achievement. A heads-up allows the teacher to be proactive. Because time has been spent building a relationship with the teacher, it’s much easier to approach her when difficulties arise. Instead of having a personal conversation with someone you don’t know, you are talking with someone you have a rapport with. (Karen–when one of my children had something devastating happen in the 5th grade, I had a meeting with the teacher, the principal, and the school nurse and let them know what had happened. They then knew that if a melt-down occurred, to send the child to either the nurse or the principal for some quiet time, and if that didn’t work, to call me to pick up. One flash-back involved several other children, and the teacher met with them to let them know what had been said by my child wasn’t to be repeated.)
  • Respect the teacher’s time. Remember how many other students are in the class, and understand that the teacher simply doesn’t have time for extended daily conversations with parents.

It’s important for a child’s success to see that his parents are involved in the school and interested in his education. An added bonus? When you’ve established a solid parent-teacher relationship with the teacher, it’s easier to trust your child and teacher to work through many classroom issues on their own. And students who have highly involved parents tend to do better in school and have a higher graduation rate that those students whose parents don’t care.