With the National PTA’s Standard for School-Family-Community Partnership as a framework, this guide offers advice for resolving common points of contention between parents and teachers, such as the most productive use of a parentteacher conference, the best at-home environment for doing homework, the helpfulness of parental rewards for classroom performance, and a teacher’s role in supporting a student with an at-home crisis. This solution manual draws from real-world experiences of parents, teachers, and administrators to tackle issues of communication, parenting skills, classroom volunteering, and mutual respect.
|Publisher:||Chicago Review Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||10.02(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.33(d)|
|Age Range:||5 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Scott Mandel has been an educator for more than 25 years and is the founder and developer of Teachers Helping Teachers, a website for educators. He is the author of Improving Test Scores and The New-Teacher Toolbox. He lives in Northridge, California.
Read an Excerpt
The Parent-Teacher Partnership
How to Work Together for Student Achievement
By Scott Mandel
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2007 Scott Mandel
All rights reserved.
Mrs. Marshall was frustrated. She wanted to have a conference with Raul Rodriguez's mother about his lack of work, but the mother seemed to be disinterested. Mrs. Rodriguez had not bothered to come in during the scheduled parent-teacher conference the previous week. Notes Mrs. Marshall sent to the Rodriguez home all semester went unanswered. When Mrs. Marshall called the house, Mrs. Rodriguez's English was so poor she did not seem to understand the conversation, so the conversation ended within a minute. Mrs. Marshall sighed — just another parent who didn't care.
Mrs. Rodriguez was frustrated. Her son Raul never seemed to have any schoolwork, and he was receiving poor grades. She couldn't leave her job to go to school for the scheduled parent-teacher conference the previous week, which was held in the afternoon. When she looked through Raul's backpack, she discovered a bunch of notes that his teacher had sent her that he had never bothered to deliver. The teacher called one night, but she was difficult to understand. Mrs. Rodriguez's English was better in person; phone conversations were more difficult. Mrs. Rodriguez sighed. She didn't know how she could help her son succeed in school.
Communication is probably the most important issue in the teacher-parent relationship. Communication is certainly the area through which parents have the greatest contact with the school. Positive parent communication almost always results in excellent teacher-parent relationships. Negative, simplistic, or inadequate communication almost always leads to problems throughout the year.
There are two primary types of communication: informational and dialogue. Informational communication is when one side simply informs the other side of something. The content flows one way. It could be as simple as a note sent home or to school. It can be as complex as a formal teacher-parent conference where the teacher and parent are informing each other about the student.
Dialogue is when the two sides share information back and forth for the benefit of the other. The content flows both ways. Too often, all communication between teacher and parent is of the first type — informational — when both types are necessary for a true partnership.
There are two types of informational communication: personal and impersonal. Personal informational communication primarily happens in the form of teacher-parent conferences — whether scheduled in advance or impromptu. Impersonal informational communication consists mostly of newsletters, Web sites, and other ways of sharing information.
Personal Informational Communication
Traditionally, parent conferences have been the chief way that teachers and parents have interacted. Most are quite productive in sharing important information about the student from both the teacher's and the parents' perspectives. Some are less so. And some could be termed disastrous. Much has been written on how to conduct a successful teacher-parent conference (Mandel 2003). However, a number of principles need to be followed in order to ensure productive, positive communication between teacher and parent.
For the Teacher
The Parent Is an Ally This is the most important concept that the teacher must grasp. Parents are allies; they want what's best for their child and are willing to work with you toward that goal — if they feel that you have the same motivation. However, if parents see you as a threat to their child, they will instinctively protect their young. If you go into the conference with the idea that the parent wants to work with you, to cooperate with you in helping the child, the likelihood that you'll be viewed as a threat will be extinguished quickly.
The Student Must Be Present at the Conference I have often canceled a conference if the student was not in attendance. Having the student present is a critical component for any successful conference, especially if you have any negative feedback to share. Too often, a teacher gives negative information to the parents, who then go home and discuss the situation with the child. The child immediately creates excuses or shifts blame — and can be quite convincing. As a result, the parents are put into the awkward position of siding with the teacher or siding with their child. This is especially problematic if it occurs early in the year, before the parents have established a trusting, working relationship with the teacher.
The solution is to always have the student at the conference. (The student should be excused during any portions you or the parents deem sensitive and inappropriate for the child to hear.) Having the child present allows him to give his explanations for behaviors or progress in front of the teacher, and in response to the data that the teacher has to share. The student is held accountable for his actions and is forced to take ownership of his academic progress and behaviors. Ultimately, all the parties can forge a solution by discussing the problems faced and the options offered.
Try to not allow school-age siblings in the room during the conference. This is disrespectful to the student. Siblings will often use the information they hear against the student, which may cause problems at home.
Be Flexible with Your Hours Often teachers view parents who do not come for conferences as uninterested in their child's school life. While this is sometimes the case, it isn't so the majority of the time, especially when dealing with a population in a lower-income area. Very often both parents work, and work in an hourly wage or other position where they would be forced to take off the entire day. For these parents, taking a day off or leaving work for a conference can be stressful or even an economic burden.
The rule of thumb is if parents can't make one of your times, make one of theirs. This may mean an occasional 7 A.M. or 5 P.M. conference. Yes, it may be an inconvenience, but establishing the partnership with that parent will provide much more benefit than skipping the conference. In addition, demonstrating your flexibility will go a long way in the eyes of the parent.
Adapt to Language and Cultural Differences Arrange to have a translator present for conferences with parents who are not fluent in English. Without a translator, not only will the parents be unable to have a dialogue with you about the student, but you may subtly imply that their participation in their child's schooling is irrelevant. If the parents are not in a position where they can freely and completely share their thoughts due to a language barrier, then you will not have true communication, much less a partnership.
Occasionally, parents supply their own translator, such as an older sibling or a family friend. Sometimes you may need to arrange with the school to provide an aide or some other translator. Make arrangements ahead of time, not when the parent shows up. If you aren't sure whether parents are fluent in English, ask the student beforehand.
It is also important that you strive for unambiguous communication and refrain from using educational jargon. This is a good general practice for most conferences. However, when the parent is not fluent in English, it is even more important. Watch for embarrassment from the parents if they seem to not understand what you are saying. Embarrassment is an extremely negative emotion, one that might poison any potential working relationship you want to establish with the parents.
Be aware of cultural differences — these can often lead to misinterpretations or awkwardness. For example, in America a firm handshake is expected as a sign of confidence and respect. However, in some Latin American cultures, handshakes are expected to be "weak," almost as if the hands are simply touching. This is not a sign of weakness; it's merely a cultural difference. Another common mistake is when a teacher sends a note to Asian American parents. Names written in red are a sign of death in these cultures, so avoid using red ink in your notes.
One schoolwide program that can really help communication is a parent coordinator/parent liaison program. A parent coordinator serves as a communication pathway between teachers and parents, especially when there are language or cultural differences within the school population. This person can in-service teachers on areas of cultural concern and help arrange adequate translation assistance when necessary.
Being aware of and adapting to language and cultural differences will go a long way toward establishing a positive relationship with the parents.
Adapt to the New American Family In twenty-first-century American society, it is quite probable that a significant percentage of your students do not live with both of their biological parents. Divorced and remarried parents are beginning to become the norm. This not only puts increased stress on the child but on the teacher, as another variable comes into play in home-school issues. Here are some pointers to consider when dealing with conferencing with these households:
* Whenever possible, have all parties — including stepparents — at the conference. This helps ensure that everyone is on the same page, and there is less of a chance of the child pitting one parent or stepparent against another.
* When the two parents cannot conference together, set up two separate conferences. This is critical if the child is spending time with both. The parent left out will almost always become less supportive, to the point of sabotaging what you are attempting to do with the child.
* Always include the stepparent. He or she is an intricate part of the home life, and the student needs to see the stepparent showing an interest and being supportive.
* Help make their situation better. Often the student will play one parent against the other and try to manipulate the situation to his advantage. Remind the parent to be aware of what is happening, and whenever possible, confront the child with the other parent present. Let them know that they must present a united front — this is critical, even if it is the only thing that the two parents agree on! You can also help avoid potential problems. For example, if there is shared physical custody, assign the student an extra set of books to keep at each parent's house.
* Do not get involved in their negative issues. If the parents try to get you to take a side, refuse. Immediately stop any conversation that strays to negative talk about the other parent. If a parent insists that the other parent is not legally entitled to participate, ask to see the court order stating this. If this is not produced, you are under the obligation to inform both sides of student information.
For the Parent
Conferencing Is a Two-Way Street It is the parents' responsibility to stay on top of their child's education. There should never be surprises at teacher-parent conference time. You should have a very good idea where your child is — academically and behaviorally — before you ever get to the conference. The meeting time should then be used to develop and agree on strategies to help your child's progress.
You should be keeping track at home of what is going on in school and regularly monitoring your child's work. If you rarely see assignments coming home, chances are it is not a matter of the teacher not assigning work. More likely, your child is purposely disposing of assignments before you can see them. Let the teacher know that you have not seen any work for a while. Regularly ask your child when upcoming tests or projects are due. If you do not get a satisfactory answer, contact the teacher by phone, note, or e-mail.
The Teacher Only Knows Half of the Story When teachers give assignments, they have a good idea of how long they should take, based on the material and their knowledge of their students. This is not a hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes there are unforeseen difficulties.
If your child is having difficulty with an assignment — it is taking an abnormal amount of time, or there is a comprehension problem — send the teacher a private note explaining the situation, in a sealed envelope or by email. The key word here is "abnormal." If it always takes your child two hours to do a certain type of homework, or if she continually has difficulties understanding the material, that is a different situation, which may require a conference. However, if your child takes two hours to complete an assignment when she normally takes thirty minutes, or if your child suddenly is unusually frustrated, let the teacher know.
Please note, this does not mean you should send the teacher notes to relieve your child of assignments or excuse a poor grade. This note is informational; it lets the teacher know that something about this particular assignment is abnormal and that the teacher may want to look into the situation.
Keep the Teacher Informed About the Student's Life Outside of School It is critical that you keep your child's teacher informed of problems or situations in your child's life that may affect him at school. These might be long-term situations or they might involve one particular day. Here is a true story:
A student was often misbehaving. Some days, he seemed to be "off the wall" and extremely difficult to control. As a result, the teacher regularly gave him negative consequences for his behavior, especially on his bad days. In April, the mother nonchalantly informed the teacher that the child would be leaving school early one day because his doctor wanted to change his medication. The teacher looked at the parent in surprise and asked, "What medication?" She never knew — because the parent never informed her — that the student was diagnosed with ADHD, and on those bad days, he had forgotten to take his medication. If the teacher had been aware that his misbehavior was a result of a condition and was not voluntary, she would have handled him differently.
It is imperative that you inform the teacher as soon as possible of situations like the ones in the following list. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but it should give you an idea of the type of information that should be shared. All of these items affect your child in school and, more importantly, will affect how the teacher reacts to any change in the child's behavior.
* Parents separating or divorcing. The teacher should be informed as soon as the child learns about an impending divorce or separation, and again when the divorce or separation is finalized. All children become depressed or anxious to an extent at this time, and the school has resources that can help the child cope during this extremely emotional period. At a minimum, the teacher should be sympathetic to the child and inform you of any personality changes.
* Severe illness or death of a close family member. Again, students are very concerned and anxious when a close family member is ill or passes away. Concentration on work significantly diminishes, and the child might act out. An informed teacher can be understanding and help the child through this period.
* Family economic problems. When a parent loses a job or some other economic catastrophe occurs, the child usually feels the resulting stress from the parents. The child might worry about losing her home, missing out on activities, or even having enough food to eat.
* Child is on medication or has a condition that affects learning. Teachers should immediately know if a child has ADD/ADHD or any other condition that may affect schoolwork or behavior. Teachers should also be aware if the child has just been prescribed glasses — often children won't wear them in front of their friends.
* Child did not get normal sleep. Sometimes family emergencies prevent a child from getting adequate sleep. Send a note or call the teacher — that way, the teacher can help the child cope with that day's responsibilities.
* Major fight/disagreement in the morning. If your child has had a major fight or disagreement with you or another family member in the morning before school, the resulting anger might be directed toward the teacher or others at school. Sharing this information with the teacher puts her on alert to emotions the student should keep in check at school.
Excerpted from The Parent-Teacher Partnership by Scott Mandel. Copyright © 2007 Scott Mandel. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Student Learning 43
School Decision Making and Advocacy 79
Collaborating with Community 95