Decoding Parent-Teacher Relationship: A 'Leap' of Faith
Dealing with a parent could be a teacher's nemesis or a teacher's delight, based on the circumstances of the meeting. While this article would focus on the parental involvement, the issue is addressed from an educator's perspective. Thus it would serve a dual purpose of helping a teacher decode a parent at school, as well as a map of a parent's interaction guidelines with the school.
The golden rule in parent management is that - An Angry parent is better than an Absent Parent. I speak from my personal experience both as an Academic Head of the International School while also share my emotions and concerns as a father of three daughters.
As an Academician, I understand the fury and concern that an irritated parent brings in. There is a popular maxim in the local culture, that we seek refuge from three authorities - police, lawyers and doctors. Having faced the brunt of parent’s rage, I add the fourth dimension: an irate parent. Yet, I also acknowledge how helpless, the parent community can become. From irrational circulars to managing holidays or getting an appointment with the Principal, these can be a huge hassle and a deterrent for a keen and eager parent.
So, let's decode this holy grail of parent - teacher relationship. The most important element is effective communication. As in any good and sustainable relationship, a proper channel of conveying each other's concern as well as grievances would not only reduce tensions but also ease the process of parent involvement.
There are four cardinal rules wrapped in the acronym LEAP. After all a parent - teacher relationship is a ‘LEAP’ of faith. A leap towards better future where both the parties are stakeholders. The growth and nurturing of the student is a collective responsibility. We are stakeholders, collectively, in their success and as well would hold blameworthy together, if the student does not develop to their potential.
Here is LEAP: Listen, Empathize, Ask and Problem-Solving.
a. LISTEN: Listening is perhaps the most effective and simplest of all the skills to mend any relationship. By being an effective listener, we not only understand the opposite person but also have greater chances of being heard and being accepted.
As a rule of nature, we are equipped with one tongue and two ears which imply very evidently that we ought to speak less and hear more. So when a parent approaches you always be ready with a notepad and a pen. Once a parent home is allowed to spell out all his or her concerns, they would always feel more relieved and would be more secure with the student in the school. To not be eager to answer all their concern with a counter challenge. This puts most parents off and would derail a decent conversation. It might lead to arguments and bad faith as most ill-equipped conversations tend to digress to.
Remember every parent loves their child and this is the origin of their concern. If we approach a parent-teacher relationship through this lens, we would have a greater understanding of a parent’s concern and then we could offer genuine solutions based on our experience as educators.
- carry a notepad and pen
- do not interrupt a parent
- do not offer a solution immediately
b. EMPATHIZE: We have all heard the old saying with regards to empathy about putting yourself in someone else's shoes. While that holds good even today, we would like to get a more refined definition of empathy.
Empathy would actually mean using positive words to describe a child's behaviour. Remember to always focus on the child's behaviour and not on the individual child.
For example, Jason is a student in your school. It is better to suggest his parents that Jason should be involved during the school’s lunchtime duty, instead of complaining that Jason has a habit of eating other students’ lunch boxes. I love mentioning this every time we speak of empathy, always use ‘Honey before Vinegar’.
We can do a world of good to our parents by being positive in approach towards the child's behaviour instead of showing displeasure in a particular child. Keep the focus on the child and connect the child's learning with his behaviour. Parents truly appreciate the teachers' concern when the behaviour is directly connected with academics instead of classroom management.
- focus on the child's behaviour, not his habits
- use 'honey before vinegar'
- connect behaviour with classroom management
c. ASK: Advices are free and perhaps that is the reason everyone offers you one. A good conversation is about striking the right balance between speaking and listening. Most of the solutions to the problems we seek are from within.
A parent knows his/her child better than a class teacher who is assigned the role for perhaps less than a month to begin with. Thus it is always smarter to ask a parent for the suggestions to the very problems that you are seeking answers to.
'Be the first story home' - this is very important in context of a school. This implies that you mention any behavioural change to the parent before it comes from the peer group of other parents. In today's world of technology, rumours spread faster than facts. One misleading WhatsApp message can lead to a far greater miscommunication which would need the involvement of higher authorities to be resolved.
Thus, if you find a child's behaviour to be inappropriate or you wish to report a particular problem with a specific child, be the first one to inform the parents. The parents would appreciate when the problem is stated in a polite and respectful manner. When you see a disturbed parent, state your challenge through their emotion. For example, you can always suggest to a parent, "I can see you are angry, I would also be too if I were in your place. Let us work together to resolve this problem".
This would reassure a parent that the child is not only their concern but is also your concern and you are equally worried about improving the child both academically and behaviorally.
- most of the solutions are from within
- bring the concerns of the parents early on
- involve the parents in finding a solution
d. PROBLEM-SOLVING: Key to any solution to a crisis is to break it down into manageable parts and approach each of them individually. There is poor management joke, with great effect - 'How to do eat an elephant?' The answer is simple, piece by piece. In other words, by breaking it down.
I am a great fan of Test Cricket. Once the great master Rahul Dravid was asked how does he plan and concentrate such long laborious innings. His reply was 'session by session'. In the same way, when confronted with a problem with a parent, break it down.
The problem which might appear huge would easily be understood if categorized into a specific category. For convenience, here are four broad school management categories.
iii. Health and Behaviour
iv. Classroom Management
Thus, if the problem is with regards to homework not being done, then the core category would be Academics. The approach would be thus sought academically. If the child is performing well in other subject or it is pertaining to one single subject. It could be a teacher related issue or the level of understanding is lacking. This is a common occurrence in teaching second or third languages in school.
Issues with regards to uniform, books or school van are an administrative one. Similarly, discipline and personality development is associated with Health and Behavioural aspects. While all categories are inter-linked, it would help immensely to break it down into a more manageable task at hand. Remember, our core goal to seek a solution to the problem and enhance child's learning at school.
- divide the problem into different manageable categories
- seek a solution in the relevant category
About the author:
Dawood Vaid is an educationist and trainer. Working with scientists as a Patent & Trademark Analyst, in Moscow and Switzerland, he observed and compared different education pedagogy and created 'fun-learn' approach to learning. A voracious reader and an avid horse fan, Dawood loves to conduct quizzes and enjoys his sessions with teenagers. His book 'The Education Riddle' is a result of decade-long school visits and teachers' training workshops.
He holds an Engineering degree and has completed Post Graduate diploma in Business Administration from Symbiosis, India. He lives in Mumbai, India spending time telling stories to his three daughters and creating curriculum.
He can be contacted at [email protected]