Partnering with your child’s teachers: Part 4

Teachers and parents must make the effort to work together if we expect the partnership to succeed.

Teachers and parents must make the effort to work together if we expect the partnership to succeed. Photo by jdurham at Morguefile.com.

Teachers and parents must make the effort to work together if we expect the partnership to succeed. Photo by jdurham at Morguefile.com.

As society changes, so do the major institutions, including our educational programs from preschool to university.  Parent involvement in schools has gone from the “hands-off” policies of the early 20th century to parents as decision-makers and policy-makers in the late 20th century.  Educators today are trained to empower families to help shape policy and practices in schools that go “beyond the bake sale.” While it is recognized and confirmed by research that parent/teacher partnerships are beneficial to children, there can be challenges to establishing and maintaining these partnerships.

In her article Parent-Teacher Partnerships: A Theoretical Approach for Teachers, researcher Carol R. Keyes discusses several issues that can be barriers to the formation of parent/teacher partnerships.  One barrier she addresses is cultural differences and values between parents in the community and teachers in educational programs.  Our culture and values are expressed in many ways in our lives and directly affect the ways we raise and educate our children.  When teachers don’t share the values of the community in which they work, parents feel alienated or pushed-out of the classroom and it is the children who suffer the consequences. 

Teachers may try to be more tolerant and open-minded but it can be difficult for them because they are products of their own culture, just like everyone else.  Today, teachers receive training in cultural competency to help overcome cultural stereotypes and bias.  Strategies that will help teachers identify and reflect upon their cultural biases can be a very worthwhile exercise if parents find there is a mismatch between the values of the classroom and the values of the community.

Another issue that sometimes plagues the relationship of parents and teachers is the rapid changes in families and society today.  There are many different constellations of families, and this may mean there are many different people for teachers to form bonds of partnership with.  Families are under the stress of time pressure, financial obligations and work expectations that seem to multiply yearly.  There is often less opportunity to spend time building a relationship with their child’s teacher because so much must be accomplished in so short a time frame.  Of course, teachers are under these same pressures, so there are constraints at both ends of the relationship.  Since there is less time for face-to-face meetings, many teachers are utilizing phone calls, email and classroom web pages in an attempt to stay connected with families.  Using these types of communication can be harder for some families to negotiate. Parents who make an effort to utilize many types of communication and respond promptly to teacher communications have more success in staying up-to-date and involved in their child’s school activities. 

Because we are aware of the distinct benefits children gain by effective partnerships between parents and teachers, educators emphasize the importance of working with families as part of the teacher education curriculum.  It is considered part of a teacher’s responsibility to open lines of communication with families, invite families into the partnership, and continue to take action to maintain partnerships.  But, partnerships are a two-way street and parents must also reach out to schools and make a choice to become involved. Teachers and parents must make the effort to work together if we expect the partnership to succeed.   In the end, it is always our children who will be the winners.

This is the final article in a Michigan State University Extension series on partnering with your child’s teachers. See also: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

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