Partnering with your child’s teachers: Part 2

Taking an active interest in our child’s educational programs is beneficial to our children. Learn how you can better support your children, even when you are not with them.

Parents play an active role in schools at every level. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Parents play an active role in schools at every level. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Parent involvement in education is a ‘given’ these days.  Educational institutions expect families to be connected and involved at schools from preschool to high school, and parents expect to be consulted and heard.  When we take an active interest in our child’s educational programs, our children are the ones that benefit.

Dr. Joyce Epstein, a noted parent-teacher-school researcher at Johns Hopkins University, has developed a model for family involvement in education and many schools follow this model, from early childhood education facilities to high schools.  One of the critical elements in her model is ensuring the school is communicating with families on a regular basis.  As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, many forms of communication are available today including more immediate forms such as email, text-messaging and phone calls to and from the classroom.

Today’s teachers are trained to focus on two-way communication skills so teachers and parents share information back and forth.  It goes beyond one partner informing the other of events or reports on behavior.  The important element of two-way communication is that each partner, parents and teachers, share information about the child and their home and school environment.  In this process, a dialog takes place in which both partners exchange information.  Both partners are learning from each other, rather than one partner trying to dominate or educate the other.  The process of dialog often results not only in learning, but also in a consensus about outcomes and strategies for the child, school and family.  These outcomes and strategies, arrived at by dialog and consensus, are often more effective because they are founded on the authentic thoughts and feelings of both experts in the situation; the parent as the expert on the child in particular and the teacher as the expert on children in general.  

Beyond sharing information, dialog can also place an emphasis on encouraging families to share in the decision-making process of the school. Today, parents and teachers share in the decision about what action will be taken on behalf of the child. Parents and teachers can support each other’s actions at home or school and the consistency will help the child achieve the goals set out for them.  Research shows when families are involved in decisions about their children in school, children benefit in a number of ways. These include a having a better attitude about school, achieving better grades and adjusting to schools more smoothly.

This collaboration between families and schools is particularly important for young children.  Their first experiences with school can affect their attitudes about school, themselves as learners and ultimately, how easily they negotiate formal education.  Young children need to feel secure in order to focus on learning.  This sense of security can be built and enhanced when parents enter into a positive relationship with their child’s teachers.  Open communication and sharing in the decision-making process are a large part of this relationship. 

Some young children spend 10 hours each weekday in an early childhood education program, so it is imperative that teachers and parents communicate frequently and candidly.  Young children cannot speak for themselves, nor can they understand and interpret their day in order to explain it to their parents or teachers.  If nothing else, for safety purposes alone, parents must share with infant, toddler and preschool teachers on a regular basis.

Furthermore, many early childhood programs, are organized so family members have important decision-making authority in the program. The organization may be run by a parent-led board of directors or there may be parent-led advisory committees.  Parent involvement is critical for these organizations.  In fact, in some publicly-funded early childhood programs such as Head Start, parent involvement in decision-making is mandated by the government agency that funds the program.

Whether we become involved by talking with our child’s teacher every day, join a committee to improve the playground, or help make decisions about the financial health of the organization that operates our child’s school, parents play an active role in schools at every level.  Learning how we can better support our children, even when we are not with them, is an important task for every parent.

This is the second article in a Michigan State University Extension series on partnering with your child’s teachers. See also: Part 1, Part 3 and Part 4.

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