When Teachers and Parents Listen to One Another

Building upon earned trust

In order to fully focus upon the needs of children, it is imperative that teachers and parents truly listen to each other with open minds and open hearts. This of course requires a high level of trust as well as the willingness to listen to concerns that one party or another might find discomforting and disquieting. Moreover, a certain degree of caring for the “other” is a prerequisite if people are to listen to each other with understanding and empathy.

I recall in my early years sitting in on some teacher-parent conferences which were more akin to a client meeting with his or her banker. Information was exchanged, questions were raised and answered and that was that. Neither teacher nor parent was able to zero in on the essence of the child. I’m sure both adults left the meeting with an empty, if not hostile feeling, not quite understanding what really had transpired. What a pity!

As the level of trust grew, teachers and parents were going beyond exchanging statements and comments, and were beginning to probe further into what the other was really trying to communicate about the child. They were truly listening to each other!

Parents felt more comfortable sharing their satisfactions or concerns about the child’s school program, in addition to relevant information about the child’s home life. Important bits and pieces about the child were revealed that could help the teacher personalize her relationship with the child or tailor aspects of the curriculum to the child -- the youngster’s interests, his fears, her previous school experiences, his friendships, the comic books collection which he read and reread, her success on the girls basketball team, and so on.

Parents were also more willing to listen to the advice of the teacher or principal, who may have suggested ways to encourage a child to read more at home or stressed the necessity of limiting TV and establishing an earlier bedtime. Proposing that the parent invite a particular classmate home for after school play might be just the right remedy to help a lonely child.

Parents also felt freer to offer more personal information which might help the teachers to better motivate or connect to their child:

  • “She loves to sketch animals in her free time.”
  • “He hates fantasy stories, but adores Garfield.”
  • “She writes little plays at home and puts her younger brothers in all the parts; actually she loves being the boss.”
  • “He could be a stand-up comedian someday--he is so funny and so quick on his feet.”
  • “She doesn’t understand why there was slavery in America. Will you be studying African-American History this year?”

Furthermore, parents became less uptight about giving “tips” to the teachers to consider --suggestions they thought might improve instruction for their child, enrich the classroom or even clarify a situation the teacher might not be fully aware of. A handful of these generally constructive “tips” come to mind:

  • “I think Sam is beginning to be turned off by so much math homework. Isn’t it possible to cut the practice examples in half?”
  • “I read a great children’s book which you might like to read to the children. It’s by Julie Andrews Edwards of Mary Poppins’ fame and is called The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles.”
  • “Are you aware that some of the boys feel you are unfair and call on the girls more often. Maybe you could discuss it with them?”
  • “I work for the telephone company and can arrange a conference call with the whole class and one of their favorite authors”. (In the early 1980s Maurice Sendak agreed to be interviewed and shared how his childhood fears and nightmares influenced the creation of Where the Wild Things Are.)

The invisible curtain of distrust had indeed been lifted! A true parent-teacher partnership was developing for the benefit of the children and a committed home-school partnership pervaded the life of our school. Our focus was on the individual child, the major beneficiary of the positive energy generated between home and school, parent and teacher. Moreover, everyone was a winner -- the children, the parents, the teachers, the supportive staff, the principal and the community. There were no losers! It was a win-win cycle of advocacy and support in contrast to the defeatism and negativity which characterized the earlier years of our school, and reigns yet in many schools which still operate upon the “we-they” adversarial model.

Excerpted from:
Teaching as an Act of Love: Thoughts and Recollections
of a Former Teacher, Principal and Kid © 2007 Richard Lakin