An Ounce of Communication is Worth a Pound of Yelling

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The first nine weeks of school arrives and the report card comes home. Mom opens her child’s report card to find that her little Einstein is failing a class and barely passing a couple of others. When she shows the report to the boy, he says, “My teacher is horrible. She never explains anything and just says I should get it!” This is all that it takes for Mom to spring into action.

First, Mom makes a phone call that there must be a mistake regarding her son’s grades. Next, Mom sends an e-mail that demands a meeting at once. If there is not an immediate response, the Mom calls the principal. By the time a meeting is scheduled and held, both the mother and teacher are fed up and tensions are high.

This is no way to start a relationship between the home and school. The above situation is an example of how home-school relationships can quickly spiral out of control if a positive working relationship has not been established early in the school year.

Fortunately, school is just under way and there is still time to establish good communication between your child’s teacher and you. One of the first actions you can take is to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher by calling, stopping by, or e-mailing. In that first communication, let the teacher know that you are interested in what’s happening in the classroom and ask if there is anything that can be done at home to help your child succeed. This type of message underscores that you and the teacher both want your child to do well.

Continue to follow-up with your child’s teacher after the initial communication. One possible way is when teachers send home weekly classroom updates or newsletters. Read the newsletters and send an e-mail about your child’s response to some of the activities. This can continue to establish a positive working relationship with the teacher. It also can give you opportunities to highlight any issues that arise. Once you send an e-mail or leave a message, give the teacher at least a week to respond.

Occasionally conflicts will arise between parents and teachers. If this happens, try not to get discouraged. This is where a positive working relationship established early on can pay off. There are several strategies that parents can utilize that will lead to more successful resolution of problems. One strategy is to block blame by emphasizing that you are not trying to blame anyone but trying to solve a problem. Another strategy is to reframe by providing a positive point of view when approaching a problem. A third strategy is to ask questions by looking for specific information to clarify the situation that has led to the blaming. A fourth strategy is to give specific examples and avoid generalizations. A final strategy is to validate the teacher by showing you appreciate her perspective. Each of these strategies can help you avoid getting emotional and instead focus on the issue of concern.

This is a good time of the year to establish a positive working relationship with your child’s teacher. If a positive relationship is established, it will make any future conflicts resolve more successfully.

This article was published in the Richmond Register Health Beat Magazine in August, 2011.

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