How to Create a Trusting, Positive and Collaborative Relationship with Your Child’s School
My colleagues are often shocked to hear that I was a difficult student in elementary school, spending many hours in the Principal’s office. As the fourth child in a family of five children, I would do (almost) anything to gain attention. Throughout my behavioural struggles at school, I remember feeling frustrated that my mother always seemed to support the decisions made by my teachers and administrators. As an example, I have a vivid memory of a meeting I attended with my mother in the Principal’s office. As the Principal addressed my most recent inappropriate and disruptive language in class, I remember feeling as if the two of them were conspiring together and were “out to get me.” I wondered how my mom could be disloyal to her own son and why she always took the school’s side.
It is clear, even in retelling this story, that my mother and teachers were not working against me. When I began my career in educational administration, it did not take long for me to recognize that my mother was, in fact, collaborating with the Principal to support me and set me up for success moving forward. This is what I now strive to do in my own role as Principal.
Reflecting on my experiences, I would like to share the following four strategies and recommendations for how parents can create and solidify a trusting, positive and collaborative relationship with their child’s school:
- The importance of trust
Most schools, like Bialik, aim to earn and deserve parents’ trust. When, as parents, you choose a school for your child, you should feel confident that you can place your trust in the educators and administrators. They know that they have an important responsibility in caring for the young individuals who matter the most to you and they do not take this responsibility lightly. Since parents are not in the building throughout the school day, it is important to be able to maintain this trust. While we do not expect you to support every decision the school makes, it is important to remember that educators are driven by their passion for child development and come to school each day with your child’s best interests in mind. When educators feel trusted by parents, their passion seamlessly benefits the lives of their students in a stress-free environment.
- Keep the lines of communication open
Communication between parents and educators is a two-way street. Parents can expect to hear from their child’s teachers and administrators if there is a concern at school. Similarly, teachers and administrators hope to hear from parents if something comes up at home that could potentially impact their child’s health, mindset or emotional state. Educators are like detectives, working to crack the code of each child’s individual learning and social emotional profile.
When parents stay in touch and provide the school with important information about their child, teachers feel more able to provide differentiated care to meet their individual needs. Has your child recently received an out-of-school psychoeducational assessment? Be transparent with the results and share the details with the school. After all, we are in this together, and the more information we have about your child’s learning styles, the better we can help them to be successful.
In this vein, it is important to remember that your child(ren) also hold a piece of the puzzle to their own success. Children should feel empowered to communicate their needs and advocate for themselves. Teachers are responsible for creating safe and trusting learning spaces where children know that their feelings and opinions will be appropriately heard and validated. If a child has an issue in school, it is important that they develop the skills to communicate their concerns independently. These skills will be invaluable as they move on to high school, university and beyond.
- Ask the right type of questions
For many years, Bialik’s previous Head of School, Shana Harris, would joke to our SK parents saying, “As your children move into Grade 1, we won’t believe everything they tell us about you, as long as you don’t believe everything they tell you about us!” Although she was joking, we all know that every joke has an aspect of truth. When children come home from school and parents ask, “How was your day?” the answer will likely be a monosyllabic “Good.” If you follow up that question with “What did you learn?”, nine times out to 10, you will hear “Nothing.” As you will realize, it is unlikely that they actually learned nothing the entire day. It is important for you to continue asking positive, open-ended questions.
If your child reports a negative experience in the classroom or playground, ask follow-up questions and try to understand the entire situation. From our experience, children often report only half of the story, while there may be another perspective. We recognize how necessary it is to hear and validate your child’s perspectives, but parents also need to keep in mind that their children’s stories are likely just one piece of a much larger puzzle. If you are able to follow up with the question, “Tell me more,” rather than, “I’m calling your Principal,” your response may lead to a much better outcome to this and future situations.
- If you have a concern, “climb the school’s ladder”
If you have a concern regarding your child’s experience at school, it is important to reach out and ask for support. It is equally important to take care in the way you contact the school. It is always best to be respectful, asking questions rather than making accusations. Remembering that you are part of a team, together with the school, will help you to seek clarity and consultation before drawing conclusions.
In addition, it is helpful to follow the proper “chain of command” when seeking support from school. Your child’s teacher will know your child best and is usually the right person to consult first. Still have a concern? Speak with your child’s Vice Principal, then after that, the Principal. I know that at Bialik, both Branch Principals, Beverley Young and I, have an open door policy and we appreciate your feedback and questions. Many positive improvements to our curriculum, school policies and procedures have come from the voices of our Bialik parent body.
Everyone’s goal is the same – helping your child(ren) succeed
At Bialik, we feel that building a trusting relationship, open lines of communication, respectful interactions and positive collaborations between school and home are all key predictors of our student’s successful and happy educational experience. When parents are aligned with teachers and administrators and vice versa, your children, our students, are the beneficiaries of these supportive relationships. A well-known African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child” and this is something I believe in whole-heartedly.
If you ever want to discuss these topics further, you are welcome to reach out to me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.