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The relationship a parent has with their child’s teacher plays a big role in their child’s academic success. When a child has a developmental difference, a positive parent-teacher relationship is even more important — as the stakes are significantly higher. To learn more about cultivating a good parent-teacher relationship, we sat down with Jennifer Rosinia, a developmental differences expert at the Erikson Institute.
Why is a good relationship with my child’s teacher so important?
A good relationship between parents and teachers has been shown to improve a child’s academic achievement, social competencies and emotional wellbeing. And, as it turns out, parents and teachers benefit from a good relationship, too!
When parents have a good relationship with their child’s teacher, they develop a greater appreciation for the important role they play in their child’s education, learn more about the school’s academic programs and how they can incorporate them into their home routines. For teachers, a positive parent relationship enables them to focus more on teaching and meeting students’ needs.
What can a parent do to foster an effective parent/teacher partnership for a child with developmental differences?
Dr. Susan Sheridan of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers three “Cs” for good relationships: communication, consistency, and collaboration.
Communication with your child’s teacher should begin with the school year and continue throughout. Introduce yourself and let them know that you want to partner with them. Find out their preferred way of communicating, and then make sure communication is timely, and clear and open. Stay informed about what’s going on in school. Remember: The best communication in a partnership is two-way.
Consistency might also be called “being on the same page.” An effective parent-teacher partnership sends a clear and consistent message to the child that they are working together to support their success.
Collaboration between parents and teachers identifies and provides strategies to help your child achieve their optimal developmental and learning capacity. Share successes and concerns. Strategize ways to enhance and modify home and school environments. Collaboration means problem solving together, not blaming the other.
[Related: Your child received a diagnosis. Now what?]
My child has developmental differences. What is the first step I should take to ensure they will receive the support they need in the classroom?
Forming an effective partnership with their child’s teacher should be the first step parents take to ensure their child will receive the support they need in the classroom. If a child has significant or complex support needs, parents might also want to seek testing to identify them. Schools are required to address needs revealed through academic testing.
How should I approach conflicts I might have with my child’s teacher about services my child needs?
If parents have established an effective partnership with their child’s teacher, approaching conflicts should be relatively easy. The following suggestions might be helpful:
● Begin by talking with your child’s teacher. Starting with, “Can you help me with this?” can sometimes reduce the risk of a misunderstanding. Ask teachers for their perspective, opinion and suggestions, and try to avoid accusations.
● Remind yourself to listen. If you are focused too much on what you want to say, you might miss important information that could help resolve your concern.
● Schedule an observation. Spending time in your child’s classroom watching and listening could give you helpful insights about your child's relationships, activities and services.
● Seek creative solutions together. If you and your child’s teacher have established a good relationship and partnership, you are one step closer to working together to come up with a creative solution. Do not forget to include your child if they are old enough to participate.
● Respect boundaries. When in conflict, it’s easy to cross boundaries. Remember to schedule time to talk. If for some reason you dislike your child’s teacher, take care not to let your child know. You don’t want to disrespect the teacher’s authority.
● Still stuck? Speak with the principal. The principal will serve as a neutral party. They will listen to your concerns, gather information from the teacher, and then help resolve the conflict.
If a child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that their parents are afforded a legitimate, authentic opportunity to participate in the decision-making process for their child, and should be encouraged to be active participants in their child’s educational plan.
What other steps should I be taking with my public school district to ensure my child is getting the care they deserve/accessing all the available resources?
At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships. Get to know your teachers and administrative team. If you can, be active and involved: attend school board meetings, join the PTA, or spend time volunteering in your child’s classroom.
Additionally, if your child has a developmental difference, know your rights under the law. To learn more, visiting the Illinois State Board of Education is a good place to start.
Jennifer Rosinia is an occupational therapist and child development specialist. She is currently on faculty at the Erikson Institute as a senior instructor. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education and a doctorate in child development from Loyola University and Erikson Institute in Chicago.